Crucifix murder victim had sent a thank-you note to accused, trial told
A pensioner beaten to death with a crucifix in her home wrote a letter to the woman accused of her murder a few months before the chilling attack to thank her for her being a good neighbour, a court was told.
Marie Rankin (81), who was allegedly attacked with the crucifix by her next-door neighbour, had also bought a Christmas present for her alleged killer's young son but was murdered before she could give it to him.
Belfast Crown Court heard yesterday that a few months before the killing, murder-accused Karen Walsh, a pharmacist originally from Galway, raised the alarm with neighbours that Mrs Rankin had left the front door of her Newry home open. The court was told that Mrs Rankin later wrote a letter to Ms Walsh, thanking her for her help.
One of Mrs Rankin's daughter's also told the court that her mother had bought a present for Ms Walsh's young son.
Brenda Rankin said: "Mummy bought presents for everyone in the terrace. (On Christmas Eve) the present for Mrs Walsh's child had not yet been delivered."
Mrs Rankin was found dead in the bedroom of her Dublin Road home on Christmas morning 2008.
She was murdered some time between 10.50pm on Christmas Eve and 10.30am on Christmas Day and was sexually assaulted after her death.
Mother-of-one Ms Walsh admits being in Mrs Rankin's home on Christmas Eve for a festive drink, but denies murder.
Ms Walsh ran her own pharmacy business in the Republic before being charged with the murder.
Her husband, Richard Durkin, is a leading auditor and chartered accountant in Dublin.
In 2007 he was appointed to the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland, a regulatory body for pharmacists, by then Health Minister Mary Harney.
He later resigned from the position.
A neighbour who lived close to Mrs Rankin and Ms Walsh told the court yesterday that a few hours before the mother-of-eight's body was discovered, he had spotted a blonde-haired woman sitting on Mrs Rankin's wall.
Paul Rafferty said he looked out of a window in his home when he heard voices outside at around 7.20am on Christmas morning and could see the back of a woman with "blonde, untidy, shoulder length hair", wearing a "red 50s-style jumper".
The prosecution claim that this person was Ms Walsh.
However, under cross- examination -- when he was shown a photograph of the back of Ms Walsh's head taken while she was in police custody -- Mr Rafferty admitted it did not match his description.
He was also shown a red jumper with grey stripes, which is believed to have been worn by Ms Walsh on the morning the murder happened, but said he was not certain if that was the same jumper that he saw. Mr Rafferty added that it was dark outside when he saw the person on the wall.
The trial was also told that Mrs Rankin was an alert, active and independent woman.
Three of Mrs Rankin's children -- her daughters Brenda and Mairead and her son Diarmuid -- gave evidence to the court.
They said that on Christmas Eve their mother had been in good form, "house-proud, happy and full of fun". They all joked that Mrs Rankin, who had been recovering from a chest infection, had opened some of her presents a few days early.
The trial continues.