'With a gun at my head, I thought I was going to die'
Artist Elaine Murphy was also robbed at gunpoint and has every sympathy for socialite Lisa Murphy, writes Barry Egan
Elaine Murphy is still haunted by her terrifying ordeal at the hands of drug-crazed criminals. She says she knows how Lisa Murphy feels. Lisa suffered her own ordeal when she was robbed two weeks ago at the Enniskerry home she shares with Gerald Kean. The ordeal of Eileen and Mike Murphy's daughter was even more horrific -- if you can really gauge such things.
Working in Cartier in Boston, a terrified Elaine was dragged into a room by a man who held a gun to her head; while another man held the rest of the staff at the upmarket jewellery store on Newbury Street at gunpoint.
"There was total panic in the store," she recalls. "These men were on something. They were out of their minds. The other guy was screaming at me. He threw me on the marble floor. My hips hit the floor and I was bruised all over. I was in agony. I couldn't get up.
"He was screaming at me with a gun to my head to get up. I thought I was going to die. Then he took us into the back room and handcuffed three of the girls.
"They told us all to lie on our fronts. I was told to keep my hands behind my back with my face on the floor. They told us if we looked around or made a sound, we were all going to be killed. It was terrifying. Then they told us that we would never get out of there and we were going to be shot one by one. All the girls were panicking and screaming, 'I don't want to die'. I was the only one who remained calm. I don't know why."
Her calm, however, was soon ruptured. And in the most deplorable manner.
"I felt a hand going up my thigh," she says, grimacing.
"The other guy had a gun to my head while the guy was putting his hand up my leg. I was never so terrified in my life. I actually wanted the guy to pull the trigger and kill me. It was sickening.
"Then the guy with the gun stopped him. He said: 'We'll do it later. We'll take her as a hostage.' At that point I wanted the guy to kill me. I had visions of being taken as a hostage and being put into the back of a van and God knows what."
Then there was suddenly an eerie silence. It was because, Elaine remembers, the men had gone and they were in the front of the store robbing the place blind.
"We were waiting for them to return at any moment and kill us. My whole life was flashing before my eyes. I was thinking of the people in my life who I loved and who had loved me," Elaine says.
"Then one of the girls panicked and tried to get up. She stumbled on the floor because she was handcuffed. She was the only one who had the combination to the code of the emergency exit. She was so anxious and terrified that she couldn't remember the code. It was sheer terror, pure pandemonium. Then she remembered the code and she turned the wheel and, suddenly, we all ran out on the street."
It was the day after Elaine Murphy's 25th birthday -- January 8, 1992, at 11am to be precise. She was only a few months in America where she was working at Cartier to earn enough money to support herself while she tried to start a career as an artist.
An hour after the meeting a man in "grotty jeans" came in. Elaine says she immediately had a feeling about him. He said he was looking for an engagement ring for about $5,000. Elaine got the key and went to open a drawer when he pointed at rings that were much more expensive.
"I said they were $50,000. Then I looked up and he had a gun. He put it to my head and told me to open it. I was in total shock," Elaine remembers. "I looked over, a second man had a gun to the head of another girl. It was the worst 20 minutes of my life."
Glad to be alive, Elaine was black and blue with bruises when she ran out on to Newbury Street that morning. "I was in the emergency ward of Boston Hospital all that day. I was in agony," she says.
The psychological agony was worse -- and was only beginning. A year later when the two men were caught by police, Elaine was subpoenaed by lawyers to identify them at the court case.
"I had to get a lawyer to get me off because I would have had to go into a witness protection programme," Elaine says, adding that "these men were gang members. The guy who put his hand up my leg had raped and murdered so many women. That came out in court when they were put away."
The president of Cartier, she says, flew from New York and offered Elaine lifelong psychology and therapy courtesy of Cartier.
"I was so naive. I was a young Irish girl and I thought no one gets therapy and I said no, and I would be fine. I had no idea of what effect it would have on me," Elaine says.
Elaine was "very bad" afterwards. "I think when your life is threatened like that it has a horrendous effect on you. I went to therapy six years later. I left it too long. It was a mistake to wait. I had post- traumatic stress disorder."
Elaine went to a therapist for a "good few years -- six or seven".
She left Boston and Cartier and moved to Naples, Florida, where she felt safe.
All these years later, and still in Florida, Elaine -- now a big star of the international art world with the likes of Michael Flatley among her biggest fans -- says: "I feel okay. I am over it.
"When you go through it, the only people who can really understand are people who have been through it or something similar."
What would you say to Lisa Murphy?
"To go immediately for counselling," Elaine says. "Straight away and not wait six years like I did."