Tuesday 16 July 2019

Baby John probe: New house-to-house visits and DNA tests of more than 20 men and women

The grave in Cahersiveen, Co Kerry of Baby John, whose killer is unknown. Photo: Mark Condren
The grave in Cahersiveen, Co Kerry of Baby John, whose killer is unknown. Photo: Mark Condren
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

The cold case Garda team investigating the baby stabbed to death 35 years ago have taken DNA samples from more than 20 men and women in a bid to identify the infant known as Baby John.

Among those selected for DNA sampling is a Dutch woman who was living outside Tralee in 1984 and who later took her own life in an "ongoing" line of inquiry, according to a Garda source.

The woman was nominated by a hospital worker. Her family in the Netherlands has been contacted by gardai with a request to provide DNA samples.

Gardai are also considering a fresh round of house-to-house inquiries close to the south Kerry beach where his body was found.

Last September, gardai conducted a door-to-door canvass of Valentia, which lies off the coast of White Strand. It had been suggested the body of the infant christened Baby John could have been carried to the beach from the island. The next phase of the investigation, it is understood, will revisit the communities close to White Strand beach.

The primary purpose of the canvass is to gather information from local people to help gardai select people for DNA sampling.

"For every person who is approached there is a reason," said the source.

"Valentia was targeted in a high-profile canvass of that area. It is something that other areas could be targeted for a detailed canvass, there are local communities down there in the area of White Strand," said an informed source. "The investigation will be continuing, it is ongoing, and the selective sampling of people will continue."

The newborn infant was found by a local man on White Strand beach on April 14, 1984. He had been stabbed 28 times and had lived for a number of days. He had been dead for two. The original Garda investigation soon switched to North Kerry and Joanne Hayes, the woman gardai wrongly accused of being Baby John's mother. A false confession was extracted from Hayes, who was charged with the murder. The charges were dropped when her own baby's body was found buried on the family farm, leading to a Tribunal of Inquiry.

The State apologised to Joanne Hayes in January last year after fresh tests on Baby John's DNA proved that she was not the mother. She and members of her family started legal proceedings to sue the State in March.

The case is reviewed by the Serious Crime Review team and local gardai every four to six weeks to gauge progress. One line of inquiry is the "scoping out" of historic files on local families who came to attention for child protection or child welfare issues. These were often under-reported at the time.

"The baby was stabbed nearly 30 times. You have to look at who would do that, and why they would do. That is a big mystery," said the source.

There is only one way of ruling a person out of the inquiry, he said, and that is with DNA: "Gardai are totally reliant on DNA science. All they have is a DNA sample from Baby John. It is the trump card and the investigation is very much working on using that as a tool to progress the investigation."

"We may target other areas again," said a source. "It is not like a normal canvass in a conventional incident when you are trying to get eyewitness accounts, access to CCTV," said the source.

Superintendent Flor Murphy, who is leading the inquiry, has previously said he believed the answer to the mystery lies in the local community "Maybe, because of their associations and friendships, they may not have been in a position to come forward at the time," the superintendent said. "But time can change a lot of things."

Sunday Independent

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