Two men, a van and five arrests... but still no sign as gardai continue hunt
The massive garda investigation into the suspected murder of Fiona Pender is still ongoing, but there has been no arrests in the case for many years.
So far, five people have been arrested – including Fiona’s boyfriend John Thompson – but all were released without charge.
The last major development in the case happened in December 2014, when gardai spent over two weeks searching the edge of a remote forest in the Slieve Bloom mountains in Co Laois.
The search, carried out close to a small car park about 2km from the village of Rosenallis, was based on new information received by gardai.
This information came from a woman who was living in Canada with a suspect in the Pender case and who had alleged that she had been sexually assaulted by the Irishman.
Gardai travelled to Canada and spoke to the woman who made a number of allegations which then led to the unsuccessful search in the Slieve Bloom mountains almost two years ago.
The 2014 operation was not the first time that gardai searched the area for Fiona’s body.
In 2008, hillwalkers found a cross with Fiona’s name on it at Monicknew woods in the mountains, but searches by sniffer dogs of the surrounding hinterland failed to locate any trace of the missing woman.
The cross was inscribed with the words ‘Fiona Pender. Buried here, August 22nd, 1996’ but gardai believe it was placed there as a cruel hoax.
Gardai suspect Fiona was murdered and her body concealed at a remote location.
Sources say this belief is based on information supplied by two key witnesses. One claimed he saw two men lifting something wrapped in a carpet or blanket into the back of a 4x4 vehicle parked outside Church Street late on August 22, 1996.
A second witness claims he saw a 4x4 being driven at speed on a remote road in the Slieve Bloom mountains near the Carlow-Laois border later that same night.
Fiona was last seen by her partner John Thompson at the flat they shared on Church Street. He told gardai she was still asleep when he went to work on the family farm on the morning of August 23, 1996.
When one of Fiona’s friends called to the flat later that day, she got no reply. The curtains were drawn and she presumed Fiona might be in bed.
On August 24, when there was still no sign of Fiona, her family rang Thompson who said he hadn’t seen her either. That evening, Josephine reported Fiona missing to gardai.
In the following weeks and months, searches took place across boglands, woods and rivers. Four miles of the Royal Canal was drained to no avail.