independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

Man's body identified 32 years after he was lost at sea

Genetic fingerprinting ends turmoil as family to finally bury remains

Genetic fingerprinting has been used to end the Kelly family's turmoil

AN IRISH family's 32-year nightmare over the death of a young man in a freak drowning accident is set to be ended by hi-tech DNA genetic fingerprinting.

The Kelly family will next month hear the outline circumstances of the death of Jimmy Kelly (20) in waters off west Cork in February 1982 and finally get to bury him beside his parents.

An inquest can now be staged into the young man's death after cutting-edge DNA mapping techniques, developed in the UK and Canada, indicated that portions of a human torso found in an isolated bay near Bere Island are almost certainly the remains of Mr Kelly.

An inquest into Mr Kelly's death at Cork coroner's court has been adjourned until February, but the Kelly family are confident it will confirm their belief that it was Jimmy's body that was found in April 1982.

Mr Kelly vanished that February after dropping his young niece to the ferry between Bere Island and Castletownbere.

A massive search operation was mounted for him but was subsequently wound down.

Seven weeks later, a member of the Kelly family found portions of a human torso in the sea near a secluded bay.

No clothing was found, though a torn AIB calendar was recovered nearby. The young man had always kept a small calendar in his pocket.

However, it was impossible to confirm that the partial remains were those of the missing man given the technology available. A pathologist simply indicated that the remains were those of a man aged between 20 and 30.

The remains were later interred in a plot at Droum outside Castletownbere but the family have always maintained that the body was that of Jimmy.

Mr Kelly's sister, Margaret, has waged a 30-year campaign to get the remains identified.

Ultimately, given the advances in DNA technology, west Cork coroner Frank O'Connell acceded to the family requests and the remains were exhumed in December 2009.

However, after initial DNA tests proved unsatisfactory, bone samples had to be shipped to both the UK and Canada for cutting-edge forensic DNA analysis.

These tests were cross-referenced with DNA samples from Margaret.

The Irish Independent understands that the tests indicated a high probability that the remains found in 1982 were those of Mr Kelly. His sister said the family are now praying that the inquest will end a 32-year nightmare for them.

"Jimmy's mother was suffering from cancer at the time he disappeared. He was the youngest in our family and the apple of my mother's eye. His disappearance broke her heart. She died soon after it happened," she said.

Margaret recalled that her brother was a typical young man, respected and liked on Bere Island and "happy go lucky" in his outlook.

He vanished just minutes after bringing Margaret's daughter, Samantha, to the ferry and giving her a few punts for sweets. He also asked the youngster to get him two Valentine's Day cards in Castletownbere. Margaret smiled as she said her brother must have been torn between two sweethearts.

The Kelly family believe that Jimmy drowned after being hit by a freak wave while collecting driftwood along the rocky seashore.

"It (collecting driftwood) is a tradition on the island. My father was having a nap that day and had a premonition about a big wave. When he woke up he asked if Jimmy was home? When he didn't arrive everyone thought he had gone to the mainland.

"The alarm was raised the next day and there was a massive search," she added.

Margaret said her only wish now is to bring her brother's remains back to the island he loved and bury him beside his mother and father.

Irish Independent

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