Tuesday 22 October 2019

'A normal dad'? We now know there was nothing normal about Jastine Valdez killer Mark Hennessy

The random and brutal nature of the attack on the 24-year-old Filipina student Jastine Valdez again sparked fear across the country about the safety of women. Who was the man behind the horrendous crime?

A community mourns: A shrine to Jastine Valdez in Enniskerry where candles and flowers surround a photograph of the murdered woman. Photo: Gerry Mooney
A community mourns: A shrine to Jastine Valdez in Enniskerry where candles and flowers surround a photograph of the murdered woman. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Mark Hennessy
Kim Bielenberg

Kim Bielenberg

Jastine Valdez could have been anybody's sister, anybody's daughter walking along a busy road on a bright May evening - when she was bundled into a car, and later savagely murdered by Mark Hennessy.

It was the sheer normality of the scene until that fateful moment in Enniskerry, Co Wicklow - and the random nature of the attack on the 24-year-old Filipina student - that prompted understandable fear across the country this week.

How could a woman be grabbed in broad daylight - and killed within a short time - after stepping off a bus returning home from her part-time job?

How could a 40-year-old father of young children, who seemed to outward appearances to be living an ordinary suburban life in Bray, take out his wife's car on that May evening - and brutally kill an innocent woman?

In the reports in the immediate aftermath of his death, neighbours described the murderer Mark Hennessy as "quiet", a "bit of a weirdo", an "obliging neighbour" and, most inappropriately perhaps, "a normal dad". But, as we now know, there was nothing normal about Mark Hennessy - and he had shown signs that he was going off the rails. By the time he set off for Enniskerry soon after 5pm that evening after visiting a pub, his behaviour had already become erratic.

Forensic psychologist Patrick Randall says random killings of women such as that carried out by Hennessy last weekend are "extremely rare".

It is no comfort to know that nearly 90pc of the 216 women who have died violently in Ireland since 1996 knew their killers - and over half of the perpetrators are partners or ex-partners.

Checking timelines

Although Jastine had a job in Bray, and her killer lived there, by Thursday of this week no known link had been established between the killer and his victim.

The question is inevitably being asked whether this was the 40-year-old's first killing or violent attack on a woman. In so far as it is possible, gardaí will be using DNA samples to check whether he can be linked with other crimes.

Mark Hennessy
Mark Hennessy

Former Detective Sergeant Alan Bailey, who has investigated several cases of missing women in Ireland, said: "The detectives will firstly checking the timelines to see where he was at the time of other killings.

"In the case of many of the missing women, it will not be possible to match DNA because there is no crime scene evidence from those historical cases. And in a number of those cases, he is likely to have been too young at the time."

Detectives will also try to establish if there were other attacks on women in his past that never came to the attention of gardaí

Hennessy had a job as a general construction operative for the MCR group, and is believed to have been working regularly in Tallaght. Before that, he worked in the Woodie's DIY store in Sallynoggin, and that made him a familiar face to many householders in the Dún Laoghaire area.

He had lived for three years with his Welsh wife Nicole in a semi-detached house in a quiet cul-de-sac on the Woodbrook Lawn estate in the shadow of Bray Head.

The family's relatively short time living in the estate explains why he was not that well-known in the Bray area. He was a much more familiar figure in the South Dublin suburb of Ballybrack, where he grew up on the Cromlech Fields council estate. It is a close-knit community close to the affluent suburb of Killiney.

The family, who still live in the area, were described by neighbours as "well respected" this week.

The father-of-two, who only had a second child in recent months, was not known to gardaí in recent years for behaviour that marked him out as a man liable to commit extremely violent crimes. But he had come to their attention recently.

He had previous convictions dating back to his early 20s.

In 1999, he was convicted of drugs possession after being found with £100 worth of cannabis in St Stephen's Green. That was unremarkable.

But he had shown signs of an aggressive tendency when he was in his early twenties. In September 2000, he was charged with a public order offence in Rathmines, Dublin.

During that incident he was reported to have headbutted another customer in a pub.

He was later convicted of threatening and abusing behaviour as well as being drunk and disorderly and he was fined €250. While he escaped the attention of gardaí for a number of years and appeared to have settled down, recently he had been in trouble again. Hennessy appeared in court just last Monday to face a number of charges relating to drink-driving and leaving the scene of an accident.

This related to an incident in Bray in September of last year, when he crashed into another motorist.

The construction worker was due to appear again in Bray district court again on June 11 to face the music for these motoring offences.

While the charges may have been minor in the context of the violent crime he went on to commit, it was a sign that his behaviour was becoming more erratic in recent months.

He was said to have had a serious drink and alcohol problem in recent months. It emerged in the middle of this week that he had been ejected from at least one pub on Bray seafront over the May Bank Holiday weekend.

The reports that he had ready access by telephone to a drug dealer and was looking for cocaine after the murder indicate that he may have used the drug on a regular basis.

As with so many recent perpetrators of violent crimes, Hennessy left an eerie video record of a couple of brief episodes in his life, and these circulated on social media this week.

In one stilted video, filmed in a car showroom, he is shown commenting on the new Nissan Qashqai that the family had just bought. It was to be used by his wife.

He tells one of the showroom staff that the car is "absolutely beautiful... It drives really well".

It is the car that he used to carry out the abduction of Jastine Valdez - and where he met his end just a few months after buying the car.

In another video filmed in a pub, he appears drunk, joking with two women at the bar. Perhaps one looks at these videos differently in the light of the killings, but behind the smiles and the apparent good humour, there is a cold vacant look in his eyes. In the pub video there is also a feeling of a man out of control. Former detective Alan Bailey said investigators will try to gauge whether Hennessy went out intending to do what he did last Saturday evening, or whether it was a spur-of-the-moment attack.

They will look at the significance of him taking his wife's car to carry out an abduction.

Bailey said Larry Murphy, who was convicted after attacking a woman in Carlow in 2001, also drove his wife's car. According to the detective, a child seat or toys thrown on the back of the car could be designed to make a motorist seem more innocuous.

Forensic psychologist Patrick Randall said Hennessy's behaviour on the evening of the murder indicate a chaotic and disturbed state of mind, and an absence of clear planning.

"One thing that is striking is the number of witnesses," says Randall.

On the evening of the abduction and murder, witnesses - including a 12-year-boy - reported seeing a woman being punched by a male and then forced into the car along Kilcroney Road.

There were reports of Hennessy driving his Nissan around the area like a "rally car", and a report came in to gardaí at 7.15pm from a man who said he saw a woman in a distressed state in the back of an SUV.

"This was not well planned or orchestrated," says Randall. "There was no regard for the fact that there were so many people around who could see what was happening.

"It seems that he was driven by a frenzy where the red mist had descended, and the primitive brain had taken over."

After grabbing Jastine in Enniskerry, Hennessy may have panicked and strangled her sooner than he had planned in order to stop her drawing attention to the car.

An only child

He dumped her body in an area covered with gorse in the grounds of a disused golf course along Puck's Castle Lane.

Jastine was an only child and had moved to Ireland from the Philippines three years ago. She was a student at the Institute of Technology, Tallaght, where she studied accountancy, and seemed to have a bright future ahead of her.

Hennessy met his end just over 24 hours after the killing, when he was cornered by gardaí. A single bullet from a garda weapon hit him in the shoulder but then entered his torso causing fatal injuries. He was sitting in the front seat at the time and had a Stanley knife.

In a moving vigil for Jastine on Tuesday evening, Filipino Bong Mendez urged the crowd to "pray for Jastine and Mark's families".

This is likely to be one of those crimes that leaves a permanent imprint on public consciousness.

It is almost forgotten now that until the 1990s, women and men felt safe enough to hitch-hike along Irish country roads.

But according to retired detective Alan Bailey, this feeling of safety changed radically after a spate of cases of missing women - including ­the disappearance of Kilkenny woman Jo Jo Dullard in 1995.

Women may now feel less safe walking along our roads, even during the daytime.

Rather than restricting the movement of women night and day along city streets and country roads, it may be time to go the heart of the matter and address the real problem of male violence.

Indo Review

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News