MARIOaRA Rostas must have seemed easy prey to the sexual predator cruising the Dublin streets on that cold Sunday afternoon in 2008.
The Roma teenager patrolled the city with her gypsy family, begging strangers for money in cars stopped at city centre traffic lights. She had arrived in Ireland three weeks earlier and didn't have a word of English. She was 18 but she looked closer to 14, dressed in her blue jeans, black jacket and a pink scarf, appealing to passing motorists for money. Marioara and her 15-year-old brother, Dimitru, were on Lombard Street, her father was around the corner on Pearse Street and her mother and other siblings begged nearby.
Her brother saw her leaning into the silver Ford Mondeo that had pulled over across the street. When he approached the car, Marioara was sitting in the passenger seat. She told her brother she was going for a McDonald's and the driver, a dark-haired man, leaned across and gave him €10. That was the last Dimitru saw of her.
Gardai long suspected that the dark haired suitor who lured her into his car four years ago was a 29-year-old criminal known for his sexual depravity, and who hired himself out as a hit man for warring crime gangs.
According to one detective, he probably picked her up in the belief that no one would look for her.
"She was on the street. He wouldn't have known that her mother and father were close by. She was in a strange country. No one would miss her or report her missing," he said.
When her tiny frame tightly bound in swathes of industrial-sized plastic sheeting was pulled from a shallow grave in the Dublin mountains last week, her injuries confirmed what they long suspected; that this penniless beggar had been abducted, raped and murdered.
Her body was curled into a protective foetal position; her teeth appeared to have been ripped out and bullet holes in her head left no doubt as to the cause of death. At a press conference last week a chief superintendent said the teenager was "brutalised" before dying an "appalling death". His words barely hinted at the depravity it appears she was subjected to.
Detectives believe she spent her final days tethered and locked into an upstairs room in south inner city Dublin, the plaything of the psychotic criminal and his henchmen pals. Her unlikely prison was a three-storey terraced house on Brabazon Street in the Coombe. There was a pub next door and a mixed community of staunch Dublin locals and bohemian blow-ins lived nearby. Dozens of people passed its front every day, unaware of the gruesome depravity on the other side.
The young teenager who spoke no English was repeatedly raped by the criminal and his criminal friends, detectives were told. On the third day, he killed her. At one point she was put in a car and brought on a long journey, at the end of which she was raped again, after which she was returned to her prison in the Coombe. Detectives know this much because on her second day in captivity, she somehow got hold of a mobile phone and made a short call to her brother back in the family home in Romania.
According to an official translation later provided by Romanian police, she told him she was locked up and had been "violated by men". She tried to spell out the letters of a street sign she could see from the window of the house but she was illiterate.
She told him she was brought on a journey and mentioned 200km -- detectives suspect her abductor may have brought her to one of his relatives who is a serious criminal figure who lives near Newry.
On the third day, detectives believe, her abductor either tired of her or panicked. She was shot through the head several times, in a "very deliberate act" intended to kill her, according to one source.
Seven bullet holes were later discovered in a wall in an upstairs room in the house.
Her missing teeth led to suggestions that her killers tried to disfigure her body before dumping it to prevent her body from being identified if she were ever found. Some sources said her body was dismembered but detectives close to the investigation discounted these stories as wrong.
Marioara's killer was certainly intent on covering his tracks. He bought in large quantities of plastic sheeting in which he tightly rolled up her body, and apparently wrapped a carpet around her. Gardai believe two women and two or three other male gang members helped him dispose of her body.
They took her to the Dublin mountains and followed a forest track, off the Sally Gap, near Manor Kilbride. They dug a shallow hole in dense woods and threw her body into it.
On February 29, the house on Brabazon Street was burnt to the ground -- thought to be another attempt by her killer to destroy evidence.
Two days elapsed before Marioara was reported missing by her family. One of the main reasons for the delay was their lack of English, according to detectives. Marioara's father searched the city that Sunday. The following morning, he went to Pearse Street garda station.
He didn't have the vocabulary to report her missing but he presented his daughter's identity card. They thought he was trying to find out if she had been arrested for begging and told him that she hadn't.
No one in Marioara's family possessed a mobile phone. The only person in the family who was contactable by phone was Marioara's brother in Romania.
Her father phoned several times from public phone boxes and on a couple of occasions borrowed a mobile phone.
When gardai later reviewed CCTV cameras to see if they could pick her up in the area, her father kept re-appearing in the footage, wandering the streets looking for his daughter and making calls from phone boxes.
He only learned of Marioara's chilling call to his son the following Tuesday. He was desperately worried by then, according to detectives. A Roma friend told him to go the Four Courts to find a Romanian interpreter.
He was too late and returned the following Wednesday morning. A translator brought him to the Bridewell garda station across the road and he finally reported his daughter missing.
He told detectives that she was one of 15 children born in Timisoara, in rural western Romania. Begging was how her extended clan made money. With Romania's accession to the EU in 2007, the Rostas clan were among those who set up camp on a grassy intersection of the M50 roundabout in Ballymun.
They were repatriated but another group returned, including her parents and her younger brother, Dimitru. They lived in a derelict house in Donabate which they shared with other Roma families, including up to 13 children.
Marioara's father later told gardai through an interpreter that she had been assaulted in their hometown in Romania and they wanted to bring her to Ireland to recuperate.
She had no passport or birth certificate and the only official record of her existence in Romania was when she applied for travel documents to leave. She arrived in Dublin on a Ryanair flight on December 7, 2007. She begged with her family by day while living in the squat by night.
Detectives investigating her disappearance were appalled at the conditions when they visited the squat: no electricity, no running water, babies sleeping under a broken roof, rain pouring down the walls.
Her photograph went up on a missing persons' website that evening and her picture was carried in some newspapers on the Thursday after she went disappeared.
Such was the evil of her murder that rumours about the girl's gruesome ordeal swirled around the criminal underworld.
On June 2, 2008, an anonymous caller rang the RTE Crimecall helpline with crucial information: she was brought to a house, where she was raped and then shot.
He could not provide an address for where she was held and detectives could not follow it up. On September 23, 2008, a woman called 999 with more information. She gave the same account as the previous anonymous caller, but she was able to provide the address where the atrocities occurred: the house on Brabazon Street.
When detectives got there, the house was burnt out. All they found in the charred shell were the seven bullet holes in the wall upstairs and a jacket with traces of blood, which it turned out was not Marioara's.
There were no other leads. The gangster and his cohorts were arrested but offered nothing.
Over the next four years, he continued his drug-fuelled shootouts. He offered himself as a gun for hire to warring gangsters until he ended up in jail last year, where he is awaiting trial for a serious crime.
The break came late last year from the most unlikely of sources. Mick McCaffrey, a journalist with the Sunday World, wrote a story about the criminal's sexual activities. He wrote how he was detained twice by gardai while indulging in bizarre sexual activity at isolated locations around Dublin.
On one occasion he was wearing women's underwear and on the other he had covered himself in animal excrement.
The criminal was enraged and, from his prison cell, ordered the assassinations of the journalist and the detective whom he -- wrongly -- suspected of leaking the information. The criminal offered a substantial amount of money, thought to be in the region of €30,000, for the murders.
The crackdown led to crucial new information: where Marioara's body was buried. They found her on the 13th day of a laborious forensic dig. The press had long decamped but the gardai continued their laborious search of a 100sqm patch of forestry.
When her remains were dug out of a shallow grave in the Dublin Mountains last week, silence fell on those present. A prayer was said.
Her body -- oddly preserved beneath the plastic sheeting -- has provided vital clues as to her killer but only a handful of people know the true extent of the depravity inflicted on Marioara Rostas, in the days before she died.
Gardai expect to arrest those suspects in the coming weeks.