Cold case team finds new leads in unsolved crimes
Regional gardai now following up on old cases
The Garda "cold case" unit has completed its work on almost 30 unsolved crimes, most in the past year, clearing its backlog of cases.
The Serious Crime Review Team, which reviews investigations into unsolved crimes, has been inundated with requests to review cold cases since it was established eight years ago but has only recently cleared the decks.
It has completed files on almost 30 cold cases last year and this year and at least five previously unsolved crimes have been before the courts, some of them still ongoing.
They include some of Ireland's most notorious unsolved crimes, from the perplexing disappearance of 18-year-old student teacher Deirdre Jacob in Newbridge in 1998, to the murder of Charles Self, an RTE set designer; and Grace Livingstone, the wife of a tax inspector, who was shot in the bedroom of her home in Malahide, all completed this year.
Kevin Daly, a detective inspector with the Serious Crime Review Team, said: "At one stage, we had 30 cases on our books. The majority have been closed or concluded and have been returned to the local investigative team."
The so-called cold case team does not re-investigate old crime, but conducts a fresh examination of the evidence to find "new investigative opportunities" which they then flag up with the local investigation team.
"We may identify 20 avenues of investigation that we see potential in, and yet only one or two or three may yield potential eventually. Or none," Daly said.
Garda management are training up cold case detectives in divisions across the country to help the detection of unsolved crimes.
Gardai would continue their day-to-day work in their own regions but would also be required to "peer review" unsolved crimes that were investigated by colleagues, under the guidance of the national Serious Crime Review Team.
According to Daly, local garda have already opened cold case reviews in their own divisions under the guidance of the Serious Crime Review Team.
Gardai in Donegal revisited the evidence in the case of Shaun Duffy, an undertaker who was beaten and stabbed in his home outside Dungloe in 2005.
According to Daly, the passage of time sometimes helps shake new witnesses or new information out of the woodwork.
"It's amazing. It is never really too late. People will always come forward. Whether it is the passage of time, whether it is the guilty mind, whether it is a change in their own lifestyle or circumstances, something in their life could trigger them to come forward now," he said.
Although anyone can request a Serious Crime Review of an unsolved crime, gardai will usually take on those cases that are most likely to yield new investigative avenues.
"There is a matrix system there where we decide on what cases to review. And quite often it is to do with the viability of the review.
"Rather than spend a significant amount of time on a case that is not viable, even though it would be much appreciated by the family, we can divert that energy into a case that is viable and try to come up with a success in that," he said.
It is not always about solving the crime.
"In some cases we may be looking to exonerate somebody, which is also just as important," he said.
Perhaps the most famous unsolved cases are those involving the six missing women, whose disappearances are being investigated by Operation Trace.
Annie McCarrick (26); Jo Jo Dollard (21); Deirdre Jacob (18); Fiona Pender (18); Ciara Breen (17); and Fiona Sinnott (17), all vanished in the Leinster region.
One of those women, Deirdre Jacob, has been the subject of a cold case review.
The 18-year-old was last seen at the gates of her family home in Newbridge, Co Kildare, walking towards the house. But it is believed she never made it to the front door.
The cold case review, completed in June, has generated follow-up investigative tasks for gardai in Kildare.
Daly said the cases of the other missing women are being actively investigated by gardai in their local areas.
"I know that each investigation team is still actively progressing each case and they do have suspects in mind, in some cases," said Daly.
He said the unit is starting work on another case load of unsolved mysteries, including the case of Mary Boyle, the missing schoolgirl who was last seen walking across fields near her grandmother's home in Donegal in 1977.