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Wednesday 1 October 2014

Phone signal means grim prospect for missing men

Gardai say abandoned car was left in place to divert focus of search

Published 27/04/2014 | 02:30

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The car park at Lough Owel which was sealed after the discovery of the grey Ford Focus. Inset: Eoin O'Connor and Anthony Keegan. Picture: James Flynn

A MOBILE phone signal from one of the two Dublin men who went missing in Cavan last week showed the phone travelling in the opposite direction from the site where their car was abandoned, the Sunday Independent has learnt.

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The signal from one of the phones belonging to Eoin O'Connor, 32, and Anthony Keegan, 33, was last picked up near Kilnaleck a few miles northwest of the town of Ballyjamesduff, where they were last seen on Tuesday night.

Their car was found abandoned on the shores of Lough Owel outside Mullingar about 20 miles south of Ballyjamesduff. Gardai now believe the car was left there as a diversion to draw away any search operations from their actual location. A search around Lough Owel was called off on Friday. The garda helicopter flew over the Kilnaleck area on Friday using infrared detectors to reveal signs of any recently dug graves, but also found nothing. There was no further search of the area. Gardai believe the two were taken away from Ballyjamesduff, then murdered and secretly buried.

They believe the gang responsible for their disappearance was also responsible for the murders and disappearances of three other men.

The gang, which has cross-border links in the drug trade, was also responsible for the high-profile murder of "dissident" republican figure Alan Ryan, 33, in September 2012.

They are also thought to be responsible for the murder and disappearance of drug dealers Alan Napper, 39, and David Lindsay, 38, both from the Coolock area of Dublin, in July 2008. After their murders, the northside gang took over the men's distribution network. Their bodies were never found.

Like last week's victims, Napper and Lindsay were lured out of Dublin and believed to have gone to a house near Newry, Co Down.

Gardai believe they were shot dead by two brothers who have been involved in the drug trade since their early teens.

The gang leader, a 32-year-old with only minor traffic offences, was previously believed responsible for the murder and secret burial of Patrick Lawlor, 23, from Darndale in December 2004.

His body was never recovered despite extensive searches and repeated appeals. Lawlor's friend James Purdue (22) was shot dead in June 2006 by the same gang.

The gang has been linked to around 20 murders since it established itself in the suburbs of north Dublin over 10 years ago. It has been involved in a series of feuds and has won the upper hand in most. It also has a reputation of dealing ruthlessly with anyone who owes its members money or is suspected of informing to gardai.

Several years ago the gang branched out of Dublin to rural areas because of the low level of policing outside the capital.

The border counties area where O'Connor and Keegan travelled to last Tuesday evening has only one sergeant and three gardai to police an area which has expanded significantly in recent years.

Keegan and O'Connor had concerns prior to travelling to Cavan – and in fact had told relatives that if they did not return on Tuesday night to contact gardai – which the relatives did.

Gardai in Dublin received an anonymous phone call on Wednesday saying the two men had been murdered and their bodies dumped in a field in Cavan, prompting an appeal to farmers to search their lands.

A search of the shores of Lough Owel in Westmeath where the men's car was found proved fruitless.

Gardai last Thursday spoke with a Dublin man living in Ballyjamesduff who said Eoin O'Connor and Anthony Keegan had called to his house last week – but they then left on their own. He denied any knowledge of what may have subsequently happened to the pair. The man voluntarily gave his statement to gardai.

Gardai have been told the men wanted to collect a €15,000 drug debt; it is feared they have been the victims of a gangland execution.

Mr O'Connor is described as being 6ft tall and of stocky build with short brown hair and blue eyes. Mr Keegan is 5ft 10in and of medium build with short brown hair and brown eyes.

Previously, two other associates of the same gang expressed concerns when they were lured out of Dublin, having been told to collect drugs from the Border area, in March 2012. The bodies of petty criminals Anthony Burnett, 32, and Joseph Redmond, 25, were found in their burnt-out stolen car near the M1 at Ravensdale Forest, Co Louth.

Among the gang's other victims are the innocent cousins Glen Murphy, 20, and Mark Noonan, 23 who were shot dead at the Tesco filling station in Finglas in November 2010 after being mistaken for members of Alan Ryan's gang.

Sunday Independent

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