High-profile detective who was at the heart of the biggest murder cases in the State in the Eighties
Published 09/02/2014 | 02:30
PJ BROWNE, the retired detective superintendent who died last week, was on the beat as a young uniformed guard on the Navan Road in Dublin when he was stopped by a fellow Listowel garda, Gerry O'Carroll, and asked was he interested in "going for detective".
The meeting took place in the early Seventies – the two had not known each other before but knew of each other's families. "I never knew him up till then at all. Of course, I knew of the Brownes of Listowel. I was a motorbike guard and I'd heard there was a Listowel man in Cabra so I went over and we had a long chat. We both decided to go up and a year or so later PJ became a detective," O'Carroll said.
Apart from a period as assistant to Commissioner Patrick Culligan and two years when he was promoted to the rank of superintendent, with the requisite time back in uniform, and posted to Cavan, he remained a detective throughout his career. He was at the heart of the biggest murder cases in the State during the Eighties when he served as "book man" for the head of the then Murder Squad, Detective Superintendent John Courtney, a fellow Kerryman. He prepared the book of evidence against Malcolm MacArthur for the murder of nurse, Bridie Gargan, in the Phoenix Park in July 1982.
He was also chosen to "do the book" in the investigation into the deaths of 48 young people in the Stardust fire disaster in February 1981.
"It was his meticulousness, his incisive thinking, his dissecting of statements and knowing what had to be done in an investigation that set him apart," O'Carroll said. "He had an extraordinary eye for detail and that's why John Courtney had him as his right-hand man and Paddy Culligan made him his private secretary."
In January 1997, while in Cavan, Browne became a public figure when he directed the two-day operation which ended with the safe arrest of Gerrit Isenborger, the heavily armed and distressed German national who shot and injured three sheriffs attempting to evict him from his Bawnboy cottage where his mother was dying of cancer.
After his time in Cavan he returned to Dublin and became Detective Superintendent in the South Central Division based in Pearse Street. Colleagues estimated he oversaw the successful prosecution of more than 50 murders, a third of them gang slayings, between 1997 till he retired 10 years later.
He was, his colleagues recall, a tasking leader who maintained the division's record of having the highest level of murder convictions in the State despite it also having the worst level of gangland violence. At one point he directed detectives to search a Co Kildare tip-head for over a week until they recovered a motorcycle helmet thrown into a bin by a gunman after an attempted murder. The helmet yielded the DNA of the gunman. Friends say PJ's habit of working long hours throughout his career contributed to ill health in recent years and his early death at 61.
He is survived by his wife, Ann and children Yvonne, Patricia and Eoin and grandsons, Brandon and Flynn.