'Please, please, tell me where my Fiona is buried' - Mum begs chief suspect in case of missing pregnant woman
The heartbroken mother of an expectant mum who vanished without trace 20 years ago has begged the chief suspect in the case to reveal where he buried the woman.
Today is the 20th anniversary of the disappearance of Fiona Pender, a 25-year-old hairdresser and part-time model who was seven months pregnant when she disappeared from her flat at Church Street in Tullamore, Co Offaly, on August 23, 1996.
In a new interview with the Herald, Fiona’s mother Josephine Pender spoke directly to the chief suspect in the mysterious case and begged him to provide key information.
“If I was to say anything to him, I would say ‘you have destroyed my life and you have destroyed my family.’
“He is directly responsible for Fiona’s death but he is also indirectly responsible for the death of my husband Sean, who took his own life in 2000,” Ms Pender said.
“I am saying to the suspect: ‘Please, please, please tell me where Fiona is, I know at this stage that it is not possible to find Fiona alive,” she added.
Ms Pender (67) was speaking from a nursing home in Tullamore, where she was recently transferred after spending around three months being treated in hospital. She is due to undergo a heart procedure in the coming weeks.
Despite a terrible ordeal which has now lasted two decades, Ms Pender said that she has not lost hope she will find out where Fiona is buried.
“I still have hope that I will find Fiona’s little body. If I did not have this hope, I would go crazy,” she said.
She is also certain that there are people in the local community who may have key information which could help gardai.
“There are a few people in the community who would know what happened to Fiona. I am also pleading with them to tell me where she is. My heart is completely broken.
“The person who killed Fiona and her baby, it’s their fault it’s gone on so long. They could ease a lot of minds,” she explained.
Despite serious health problems, Ms Pender plans to attend a special walk along a path called ‘Fiona’s Way’ in Tullamore on Sunday afternoon.
Last August, over 100 people turned out for a walk and run along the bank of the Grand Canal on Fiona’s Way, a marked and measured route located just a stone’s throw from the Pender family home.
Following a lengthy campaign, including a petition containing almost 13,000 signatures, a 4.5km looped walk along the Grand Canal was named Fiona’s Way in May, 2014.
“It’s something to remember her by and I really want to be there on Sunday,” she said.
Ms Pender also revealed that she will not stop in her search to find Fiona, and is hopeful that gardai will continue with their detailed investigations.
“Gardai have told me there will be another search and I hope that this happens soon. However, if the gardai don’t do it, my family will carry out searches ourselves,” she said.
A year before Fiona’s disappearance, her 22-year-old brother Mark died in a motorcycle accident. In 2000, her father Sean took his own life, a death her mother attributes to his heartbreak over the loss of his children.
In 2008, a small wooden cross bearing the name 'Fiona Pender' was placed on the Slieve Bloom Mountains.
"I didn't think Fiona was up in Slieve Bloom - but I knew who put it [the cross] there. Myself and the gardai knew who put it there," Josephine told Newstalk's The Pat Kenny Show.
Although gardai carried out extensive excavations of the area, no body was recovered. "The gardai did a fantastic job but poor Fiona wasn't there."
Over the years, Josephine has suffered from serious ill health due to stress, but she and her son John have never given up hope that Fiona’s body would be located. In previous interviews, Josephine recalled her last sighting of Fiona.
“The last time I saw her we left her at her flat, myself and my son John,” she said.
“We left around 7pm and we gave her a kiss and a hug and she waved goodbye.”
The trio had spent the day buying baby clothes before the arrival of Fiona’s baby.
“She was a hairdresser and a part-time model, but when she went missing she was getting ready to become a mother,” said Josephine.
Fiona’s boyfriend at the time, John Thompson, was previously identified by gardai as a suspect in the case but has consistently denied having any involvement with the disappearance.
Thompson was arrested and questioned by gardai in April 1997 but was later released without charge.
In a newspaper interview after his arrest, Thompson said he last saw Fiona in their flat in Church Street on August 23, 1996 when he left for work at 6am.
He also said she could not have disappeared from a busy town without being seen by someone.
He rejected suggestions that there was any hostility on the part of his father, Archie (who is since deceased) or his sisters, towards Fiona.
Thompson also said rumours that his family, which is Church of Ireland, were against his relationship with Ms Pender, because she was a Catholic, were “not even worthy of comment, but I deny it”.