News Analysis

Monday 1 September 2014

The unsolved mysteries of the dark and lonely Dublin Mountains

Jim Cusack

Published 26/11/2006 | 00:11

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THE mountains south and south-west of Dublin have a dark record. Over the past years they have come to be regarded by many people as a place where women meet grisly deaths.

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Experienced detectives also mention that most of the killings and disappearances have happened at night - in the dead of winter when the hills are empty of traffic and local people are asleep in their beds. So, as the long, dark winter nights close in, the gardai are urging people to be extra-vigilant.

Several of the high-profile disappearances, such as that of Kilkenny woman Jo Jo Dullard and American student Annie McCarrick, remain unsolved. Other cases resulted in the grisly discovery of a dead body. Yet others involved a brutal attack in which the attacker was interrupted and the victim managed to escape with her life.

This is what happened to the young businesswoman from Carlow who was abducted in a car park in the town in February 2000 by a Baltinglass carpenter, Larry Murphy.

Murphy, then 36, punched the young woman and forced her into the boot of his car where he stripped her. He drove for nearly nine miles out of Carlow before stopping the car on a dirt track and raping the woman.

He then bundled her back into the boot and drove 14 miles into the Wicklow Mountains where he raped her again. He placed a plastic bag over her head and tied a gag around her mouth.

He was in the process of strangling her when two local hunters drove down the lane. He panicked and drove off.

Murphy, who had never come to the attention of the gardai before, was recognised by one of the hunters who lived at Stratford outside Baltinglass, only a few miles from the scene of the attack.

The woman was badly traumatised by the incident and said she believed she was about to be killed. She was unable to give evidence in court.

Murphy was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment for rape in 2001.

He has also been questioned by gardai in relation to the disappearance of three other women whom they believe were abducted and then murdered in the Dublin Mountains.

Detectives investigating Murphy's abduction and rape of the Carlow woman noted that the first site where he raped her was beside where another missing young woman, Jo Jo Dullard, was last seen in November 1995. Jo Jo, who was 21 when she went missing, has never been found.

Larry Murphy was known to have been working in Newbridge in July 1998 when local student Deirdre Jacob disappeared. Gardai believe that Deirdre was abducted on the outskirts of the Co Kildare town while she was walking home.

Murphy was also known to have been working in Glencullen at around the time that an American student, 26-year-old Annie McCarrick, went missing in September 1991. Miss McCarrick had taken the bus from town up to Glencullen for a day's walking when she disappeared.

Murphy has denied any involvement in the disappearances of these three women.

Another man in prison for attacking a woman is Philip Colgan. Colgan is the repeat rapist and murderer who abducted the 25-year-old Dublin prostitute and heroin addict, Layla Brennan, from the south inner city, knocked her unconscious and drove her up into the mountains.

Layla's naked body was found the next day in a ditch near the Hellfire Club overlooking Rathfarnham. Colgan had strangled her with her bra.

Then there is Michael Bambrick, responsible for the killing of two young women in the early Nineties.

Patricia McGawley, 42, and Mary Cummins, 36, had been simply recorded as "missing persons" until Garda management ordered a review of all Ireland's missing-women cases in the aftermath of the disappearance of Annie McCarrick.

A young female garda, examining the missing-person files, noted that both Patricia McGawley and Mary Cummins had been in relationships with Bambrick at the time of their disappearances. Bambrick admitted under questioning that he had killed both and buried them secretly not far from his home in Ronanstown, west Dublin, but claimed they had died accidentally from asphyxiation during sex sessions.

With no evidence to prove murder, the court accepted a plea of manslaughter, and Bambrick was sentenced to 17 years in 1996. He is still inside.

Another shocking attack involved former Army private, Sean Courtney, who is still serving a life sentence for the murder of Patricia O'Toole, the 31-year-old whose body was found in a car park off Mount Venus Road in the Dublin Mountains in September 1991.

Patricia was tricked into giving Courtney a lift as he offered to direct her to a house in Drimnagh. He overpowered her in the car and drove her into the mountains where he savagely beat her before driving over her unconscious body. She died from her injuries. Gardai believe Courtney had intended to rape his victim but panicked after beating her unconscious.

Long before Patricia O'Toole met her violent death, though, the mountains were the scene of other sex killings. In July 1982 Patricia Furlong, 21, was raped and murdered in a field in Glencullen.

She had earlier attended a festival event near Johnnie Fox's Pub. Gardai arrested and charged a DJ, Vinnie Connell, who had been present at the festival that night but he was acquitted in court.

Connell, who had a record of violence towards girlfriends, insisted on his innocence right up to his death in 2000, from a heart attack.

Two of the victims who met their deaths in the mountains and were secretly buried were discovered months, even years, after they disappeared.

Patricia Doherty, a 30-year-old prison officer and mother-of-two, disappeared while on her way for last-minute Christmas shopping in Tallaght in 1991.

Her body, which was in a shallow grave, became visible six months later during a dry spell that had caused a peat bank to collapse off Mount Venus Road in Rathfarnham. Her killer has never been traced.

Nor have gardai caught the killer of Antoinette Smith, the 27-year-old single mother who is believed to have accepted a lift from a stranger in Parnell Square in Dublin city centre late at night in July 1987. Her body was discovered 11 years later buried in undergrowth.

Like Layla Brennan, she had been strangled with her bra.

Another woman, Eva Brennan, 40, who disappeared while out walking in Rathgar in south Dublin in July 1993, has never been discovered.

There is no evidence to suggest that she was taken up into the mountains, but their proximity to the spot where she disappeared has always given rise to the suspicion that she was abducted and murdered.

The last young woman to be abducted and murdered in this area of the country was Lynette McKeown, a 19-year-old heroin addict who was working as a street prostitute in Arbour Hill to pay for drugs. She disappeared in August 2004. A week later her naked body was found in a ditch off the N81 in the shadow of the mountains.

Although gardai were informed by a Cork man who had spotted the body two days after Lynette McKeown disappeared, a garda mix-up meant the body was not recovered until almost a week later - when Lynette's family made a public appeal.

Lynette is believed to have been murdered by a man who picked her up while she was on the street.

This terrifyingly long list of crime against women is in some ways made even more poignant because it has taken place in one of the most scenic parts of the country, a place where people go in solitude or in groups to walk the hills and valleys.

In vivid contrast to the scenery is this gruesome litany of murders, of missing persons presumed murdered, of rapes and of beatings.

While several of the murders have been solved and the killers put in prison, it is of the utmost concern to the public and the gardai that the files on many more of these women's murders and disappearances remain open, while their families wait and wonder . . . and mourn.

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