Saturday 24 September 2016

'Someone knows what happened to our Leidy' - final appeal from family of missing woman

It was 38 years ago today that a young Dutch woman vanished from a country road outside Kenmare. Now her heartbroken family make a final appeal.

Graham Clifford

Published 03/07/2016 | 02:30

Vanished: Leidy was last seen on a remote road near Kenmare.
Vanished: Leidy was last seen on a remote road near Kenmare.
The remote road outside Kenmare, Co Kerry where Leidy Kaspersma was last seen in 1978. Photo: Don MacMonagle.

Little has changed on the remote hillside road over the last four decades and the purple foxgloves still joyfully dance amongst the ferns on either side. But this narrow country road holds the darkest of secrets.

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It was on the afternoon of July 2, 1978, at this very spot that a 26-year-old Dutch woman, who had been visiting Kenmare, was last seen. No trace of the well-educated, well-travelled and well-loved Leidy Kaspersma has been seen since. The mystery has haunted her family in the Netherlands, who told me they know someone took their bright and engaging girl from them. Both her parents have passed away since that terrible day in 1978.

Aleida 'Leidy' Kaspersma, the youngest of three girls, arrived in Ireland six weeks before her disappearance. Her sister Nelly described her as being "a hippie-girl, but someone who loved children and animals, and who wanted to marry and start a family".

Returning from a previous visit to Ireland, Leidy met her English boyfriend-to-be Nick Wheatley, then 29, on a ferry between Dublin and Holyhead. Love blossomed and Nick, whose marriage had just ended, decided to head for Ireland with Leidy in May 1978. Leidy had worked in a nursing home in Hamburg, as a nanny in Dallas and as a kindergarten teacher in Holland - she spoke Dutch, English, French and German and was well capable of travelling and living independently.

Nick, a budding poet, wanted to set up home with Leidy and so they made their way to the mountains near Kenmare. In the 1970s, many young Europeans ventured to Ireland for bohemian experiences and lifestyles, with Kenmare attracting many such visitors.

Leidy and Nick camped in a hayfield in Earneen beside the home of Andrew and Cissy Woods - friends of Nick's. However, in an interview with RTÉ crime reporter and author Barry Cummins for his book Without Trace - Ireland's Missing, Wheatley said he had broken up with Leidy shortly before her disappearance.

On the afternoon of July 2, 1978, Leidy and Nick travelled in their Opel Record Estate to Kenmare to do some shopping and Leidy is known to have dropped into a coffee shop. Locals later told a reporter she had seemed uneasy.

Nick told investigators that on their return, at around 4.30pm, as they approached the secluded Woods family home, Leidy asked him to stop the car. He said she turned to him, looked him directly in the eye and kissed him on the mouth. Wheatley claims Leidy then got out of the car and started walking back along the road they'd travelled. He believed she may have wanted some space to be by herself following the break-up and so continued back to the Woods home.

But Leidy did not return that evening. She was wearing contact lenses, which would have had to have been removed within hours, but her glasses were back in the Woods family home - as was her passport. When she stepped out of the car, Leidy was wearing brown boots, brown corduroy jeans and a cream woollen jacket and carrying a cream woollen shoulder bag. Her AIB bank account, which she'd just opened and into which she lodged £10, was untouched.

Incredibly, Leidy was not reported missing by Wheatley for 23 days and on the day after she vanished, he left for Dublin to carry out some gardening work for a friend. He did not return to Kenmare until July 25.

Since the day Leidy went missing, Wheatley has never contacted her family, and in the months after her disappearance, he travelled to the Lebanon to set up an English school.

In recent years, Wheatley said: "There are only three solutions to what happened to Leidy: one is she went off and perhaps took a lift with someone or met someone and disappeared into that person's world; that she took her own life or perhaps met with an accident while walking... and the one which I try not to think about, is that someone killed Leidy."

Her brother-in-law Hans Otte, who is married to Leidy's sister Nelly, told me: "For us, there is no flickering hope that Leidy is still alive somewhere. Initially, when she went missing, we did not know what to think. But within a year, we realised something terrible happened after combining so many facts and rumours. We doubt the integrity of those who knew her in Kenmare. We know someone took Leidy from us."

By the time gardaí began their investigation into Leidy's disappearance, she'd been missing for three weeks. A full-scale Kerry Mountain Rescue search did not take place until March 1979 - some eight months after she vanished, and the whereabouts of the couple's car remains unknown.

Dutch crime reporters started asking questions. Why did gardaí use a very old picture of a long-haired Leidy on their missing person's information? When members of Leidy's family came to Earneen, they were refused entrance to the Woods family home.

"If she was a 26-year-old Irish girl, you can be sure so much more would have been done. She is someone's daughter and someone's sister," said one local woman who remembers Leidy.

And local farmers told me: "There's no way that girl is in these hills. If she was, we'd know and also her clothes and belongings would have shown up long ago."

Wheatley was questioned on numerous occasions. In late 1979 and 1980, members of the garda murder squad carried out a review. This case was clearly not being treated as your average missing persons case. In 2001, detectives travelled to England again to interview Wheatley as part of a cold-case review. But their questioning came to nothing.

And then, out of the blue, in 2013, a Facebook page set up in Leidy's memory received a message from a man asking the Kaspersma family to contact his father. It was claimed the father, who was dying and now living in the West of Ireland, knew what happened to Leidy and who was responsible for her disappearance. It seemed like a major breakthrough, but the Irish Independent understands the father mentioned may have passed away before details of his information could be confirmed and verified.

In this their last public comment on the disappearance of Leidy, her family are urging anyone with information to contact gardaí in Kenmare. Their hope is that someone locally is ready to part with information they've closely guarded for decades, so finally some closure can be brought to a nightmare which has lived with them for so long.

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