News Analysis

Tuesday 23 September 2014

'The next victim has every chance of being your mom ... or even you'The team handling the Garda's 'cold case' inquiries faces huge obstacles, writes Jim Cusack

Published 04/11/2007 | 00:00

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IT IS hoped that, by next year, the Dail will enact legislation for the creation of a DNA database where samples of suspects are retained for use in future investigations.

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The scheme has already been challenged by "human rights" groups, some of whom have cited the "intrusive" and "Big Brother" nature of the massive national DNA database operated by the UK Home Office. By the end of last year the UK database had 3.4 million DNA profiles, or about 5.2 per cent of the population.

The Home Office, however, is sanguine about the criticisms levelled against it. "Any intrusion on personal privacy is proportionate to the benefits that are gained," is its simple response. In 2005-2006 45,000 crimes were matched against records on the database, including 422 homicides and 645 rapes.

They cite one particular case in their arguments on behalf of retaining the DNA profiles of so many people. "In Canterbury in 1988, an 11- year-old and a nine-year-old girl were raped and indecently assaulted. In Derby in 2001, a shoplifter was arrested and a DNA sample taken. His DNA matched the 1998 crime scene samples. The offender pleaded guilty to the 1988 offences and was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment."

Under the existing legislation here, dating from the early 1990s, gardai have to destroy DNA samples after a six-month period. They have to do this even in cases where the suspect is someone they believe to be a killer or rapist likely to strike again.

Minister for Justice Brian Lenihan is due to make the Criminal Justice (Forensic Sampling and Evidence) Bill 2007 his top priority in the new Dail term and have the legislation in place by the middle of next year.

It may have come too late for the families and friends of the 200 or more victims of unsolved murders in Ireland, but may benefit other bereaved families in the future. Despite the cries of alarm from the rights groups, the forthcoming Act will include provision for "a presumption in favour of indefinite retention".

The present state of affairs is a daunting one for the hand-picked team of eight 'cold case' detectives led by Det Superintendent Christy Mangan, now investigating cases going back to 1980. Sources close to the investigation team say it has already encountered instances where there are almost no files or evidence left in cases of unsolved murders.

In the past 25 years there have been major upheavals, including the closing down of old Garda stations and a major programme of new stations, where evidence and files lying around in old evidence cupboards have been lost or thrown out. Files were handed from one team of detectives to another as officers retired or were transferred.

There is no central warehouse where unsolved murder files complete with evidential matter are stored. The coldcase team is spending almost all its time at present simply trying to amass as much evidence as can be traced before beginning renewed investigations.

The same problem has been encountered internationally since the whole notion of cold case investigations was started by the Miami-Dade Police Department in 1984, leading to the solving within a few months of the murder of a two-year-old girl, two years earlier. Other US police departments quickly followed the Miami-Dade example and began setting up their own cold case units, leading to the solving of murders dating back to the 1950s.

The key in almost every case, as has already been the experience here, is in the retention of evidence that could be re-examined under the new DNA technology. The New York Police Department, with thousands of unsolved murders, found it almost impossible, at the outset, to retrieve files and evidence because the division charged with retaining evidence had been understaffed and so overwhelmed with physical evidence that most of it had been lost or thrown out. The NYPD, as a matter of urgency in the late 1980s, began introducing a system for the management and retention of evidence in homicide cases.

The importance of evidence retention is clearly highlighted in the Irish experience. The only cold case success so far in Ireland is that of Phyllis Murphy, the 23-year-old Kildare woman raped and murdered by former soldier, John Crerar, in December 1979. Crerar was caught in 2001 by a team led by then Assistant Commissioner Tony Hickey after the mass DNA screening of potential suspects in the Kildare town area.

The success of the case hinged on the fact that a local garda had taken particular care in preserving all the files and evidence in the case, including samples taken from the body. When the murder happened, DNA sampling had not been heard of. By 2001, analysis of semen taken from the body would conclusively lead to Crerar's conviction and sentence of life imprisonment.

In many of the cases now under review, there is little likelihood that such diligence shown by that garda in Kildare will have been repeated.

The list of cases facing the new cold case unit is a daunting one. A spokeswoman for Advic (Advocates for Victims of Homicide in Ireland), which represents the families of around 100 victims, said yesterday she hoped the new cold case unit would not simply concentrate on high-profile cases which continue to attract public interest.

Among the 'murdered' and 'missing, presumed murdered' cases facing the cold case unit are:

MARIE KILMARTIN

Marie Kilmartin is a 35-year-old single woman who disappeared from Portlaoise in mid-December 1993. Her body was discovered partially hidden in a drain beside a bog road on the Laois-Offaly border six months later. Marie's murder slipped from the public notice within a short time.

However, in a remarkable twist, in 2000 a young adopted girl discovered that she was Marie's natural daughter given up for adoption in 1980. Last December, on the 13th anniversary of the murder, her daughter, Aine, returned to Portlaoise and distributed leaflets asking for assistance in finding her mother's killer.

Aine's website seeking help carries a single photograph of the mother she never met and sums up the plight of the families and friends of unsolved murder victims: "My search for maternal relations was replaced by a search for answers and, most importantly, the search for justice. For every unresolved murder case in Ireland in the last 30 years, as far as we know, there is still at least one murderer out there.

"As awful as it sounds, that murderer has every chance of reoffending and the next victim has every chance of being your mom, a loved one, a friend, or even you."

SANDRA COLLINS

This is among the most distressing cases of all those who disappear and are believed to have been murdered. On December 4, 2000, Sandra Collins simply disappeared from her home in Killala, Co Mayo, having been last seen leaving a chip shop in the town. A few days later, her fleece jacket was found on the pier at Killala.

Her family and friends said the 29-year-old was not unhappy and do not believe she committed suicide. There are suspicions locally that she may have been in a relationship that had soured and that her murder was made to look like a suicide by her jacket being left at the pier.

SOPHIE TOSCAN DU PLANTIER

Possibly one of the most high-profile murders in recent history, the wife of one of France's most prominent cinema figures was bludgeoned to death at the gate of her holiday home above Schull on December 23, 1996. Despite the controversy and theorising that has surrounded the case ever since, it remains unsolved.

PHILIP CAIRNS

Another case that has baffled gardai and left a family in a state of suspended grief since October 1986, when the schoolboy disappeared while on his way to school in Ballyroan, near Tallaght. The 13-year-old left home after lunch on his way back to school but never arrived. His schoolbag appeared in a lane off Anne Devlin Road, Ballyman, later that day. An exhaustive search and investigation failed to find any hard evidence of what happened to Philip.

RAONAID MURRAY

Almost every year gardai issue an appeal for assistance into the murder of the 17-year-old who was stabbed to death in a dark laneway as she made her way home on a foggy night in September 1999.

Again, huge public interest, and the reopening of investigations on a number of occasions, have failed to produce any significant evidence of who murdered her.

Various theories and suspects have arisen and been dismissed. Evidence from a taxi driver -- who said he gave a lift to a young man whose trousers were drenched with blood on the same night -- did lead to one strong suspect, but there was no evidence to charge.

MARY BOYLE

This six-year-old girl's disappearance in March 1977 may be related to the case of the British child serial killer, Robert Black, a van driver whose work took him across Britain and to Northern Ireland and Donegal in the 1970s. Black is serving 10 life sentences for the murder of young girls.

Four years after Mary disappeared from her home near Ballyshannon, nine-year-old Jennifer Cardy disappeared from her home in Co Antrim. Jennifer's body was found a short time later in a nearby pond. She had been strangled, as had Black's victims in England.

BRIAN STACK

The chief officer of Portlaoise Prison was shot twice in the back of the neck as he left a boxing tournament at the National Stadium on the South Circular Road in Dublin in March 1983. He died 18 months later from his injuries. Gardai believe the Provisional IRA carried out the murder but were never able to trace the killers. Mr Stack's family has appealed for the case to be re-examined following a number of claims, some of which gardai say are erroneous.

The cases of young women believed to have been abducted and murdered by a serial rapist and killer in the Dublin and Wicklow Mountains are also to be re-examined.

DEIRDRE JACOB

Deirdre, 18, disappeared while walking to her home on the outskirts of Newbridge on July 28, 1998. There was no trace of her whereabouts and although she, and others, are still officially only "missing persons", gardai firmly believe she was abducted and then murdered.

There is a very strong suspect, Larry Murphy, still in prison serving a 15-year term for the abduction and rape of a young woman from Carlow in 2000.

Murphy, a carpenter, was working in Newbridge the day Deirdre disappeared. He was questioned by Assistant Commissioner Hickey's "Trace" cold case unit but refused to answer questions.

JO JO DULLARD

The last place that Jo Jo, 21, was seen was near a phone box in Moone, Co Kildare where she was hitching a lift home to Callan, Co Kilkenny, in November 1995.

The phone box is near to a field where Larry Murphy carried out the rape of a young woman he abducted from Carlow five years later.

Murphy was caught only because two hunters came across him in a forest above Baltinglass as he was in the process of strangling the young woman. They recognised Murphy, who drove off at speed.

The two men rescued the young woman, who was naked and close to death. She recovered and was able to testify against Murphy.

ANNIE McCARRICK

The case of the American student who disappeared while on a day trip to Johnny Fox's pub in Glencullen in March 1993 attracted a great deal of public attention, but was never solved.

She, too, was in area where Murphy was known to be active at the time, though there is no evidence to link him to her disappearance.

PATRICIA FURLONG

The 21-year-old's body was found in a field in Glencullen after she had been at a festival near Johnny Fox's pub. She had been raped and strangled. Gardai arrested and charged DJ Vinnie Connell, a man with a history of violence toward women, but he was acquitted and died seven years ago still protesting his innocence.

PATRICIA DOHERTY

THE 30-year-old prison officer was on her way to do some last-minute Christmas shopping in Tallaght from her home on the foothills of the Dublin Mountains in 1991 when she disappeared. Her body was found the following summer, partially buried in a bog off Mount Venus Road at Kilakee.

ANTOINETTE SMITH

The 27-year-old single mother is believed to have been abducted in Dublin city centre in July 1987, taken to a lonely mountain bog and murdered not far from where Patricia Doherty's body was found. Examination of Antoinette's remains showed she had been strangled with her bra.

In a remarkable coincidence, gardai discovered the body of another young woman strangled with her bra. Layla Brennan, a 24-year-old heroin addict and street prostitute, had been abducted and murdered by Philip Colgan, a repeat rapist who murdered Layla after being released from prison in 1999. Links between Colgan and some of the Dublin Mountain murders will be examined by the cold case unit.

EVA BRENNAN

The 40-year-old Dublin woman disappeared from near her home in Rathgar in July 1993 and has never been seen since. The simple fact that she disappeared in an area not far from the mountains has continued to raise fears that she, too, was abducted and murdered.

FIONA PENDER

The 26-year-old was seven months pregnant when she disappeared on the evening of August 23, 1996. She was last seen leaving the flat she shared with her boyfriend in Church Street in Tullamore. She had spent the previous day, Sunday, shopping for baby clothes and was in good spirits.

FIONA SINNOTT

From Bridgetown, Co Wexford, 19-year-old Fiona was last seen leaving a pub in Broadway, Wexford, on the night of Monday, February 9, 1998.

CIARA BREEN

The 17-year-old disappeared from her home at Batchelors Walk, Dundalk, in the early hours of Thursday, February 13, 1997. She took no possessions with her.

GRACE LIVINGSTONE

The murder of the middle-aged housewife, tied up on her bed and then killed with a shotgun blast to the head at her home in Malahide, has mystified investigators since December 1992. A partial fingerprint on masking tape used to gag Mrs Livingstone failed to produce a match. Her husband, James, was arrested and later released. He is suing the State for damages.

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