'Erased' data helps jurors to build picture of Elaine's life
IF WE have learned anything from the trial of architect Graham Dwyer, it is that there really is no such thing as privacy in this digital life - and that when we press 'delete' not everything is erased.
Few, if any of us, could withstand the type of scrutiny that has been applied to the intimate life of Elaine O'Hara who, the prosecution contends, was murdered by Mr Dwyer for his own sexual gratification.
Mr Dwyer (42) who worked in Adwejchert - a Dublin architectural firm - denies murdering the childcare assistant on August 22, 2012, when she was last seen near Shanganagh cemetery in South Dublin.
When Elaine O'Hara went missing, gardaí retrieved devices including iPhones and laptops from her home.
This week, a series of garda witnesses told how they forensically extracted and analysed data from those devices - data that gained significance after Elaine's skeletal remains were discovered in September 2013 in the Dublin mountains.
The data painted a picture of an ordinary life, including family pictures, a how-to guide to embroidery and movie files including the TV series 'CSI'.
It also included dark details of a life less ordinary, of images of mutilated bodies, an annual contract for the perfect masochistic slave, BDSM and first person accounts - authors unknown - of abductions and knifings.
Last Wednesday the Central Criminal Court heard how gardaí retrieved and interpreted a series of text messages from Elaine O'Hara's Apple Mac laptop with which Ms O'Hara had synced her iPhone.
One message received by her phone from 083 1103474 read "Must get fit for the murder".
The 083 number sending the message was attributed to a person called "Graham" on a calendar entry on Elaine's laptop, Detective Garda Brid Wallace told the jury.
The prosecution alleges the 083 number, saved on Elaine's iPhone as "David," belongs to Mr Dwyer.
Detective Sergeant Alan Browne told the court how text messages from the 083 number were backed up on Ms O'Hara's computer.
They were retrieved by detectives using specialised software and interpreted to make them readable to the human eye. When all the technical jargon was broken down, what we learned is that when computer files are erased or deleted, the content is not totally erased.
When gardai searched Elaine O'Hara's laptop, they recovered not only text messages of relevance to the investigation.
They also found 16 adult porn movies, images of mutilated bodies and naked, as well as partially naked, photographs of Elaine.
Det Wallace of the computer crime unit also explained how images of a torso with healed and partially healed scars were stored on the laptop. As well as images, gardaí found documents on Elaine's laptop including 'Serial Violence: Analysis of Modus Operandi and Signature Characteristics of Killers' by Robert D Keppel and William J Birnes.
The book, part of a series on the practical aspects of crime and forensic investigations, contained graphic images of mutilated bodies and crime scene photos. There were two letters to Stuart, Ms O'Hara's counsellor, which both spoke to her anger and, in the second letter of her recognition that she needed help to get out there and meet people which - she explained - she lacked the confidence to do.
In September 2010, a document called "Outline of Slave" was created on Elaine's laptop. The apparent annual slavery contract for the perfect masochistic slave, offered the counterparty 24/7 sadistic and brutal treatment as well as class 3 National Insurance stamps if they were citizens of the United Kingdom.
The computer was also host to a series of disturbing documents in which the narrator, whose identity was not disclosed, spoke - in one account - of being abducted, and in another of being thrown in a cellar.
Yesterday Det Wallace also told the jury that a document containing an essay was found on Elaine's computer in a folder called Special Ed2. Ms O'Hara was studying to be a Montessori teacher.
The four-page document was headed 'Reading and Dyslexia by Elaine O'Hara.'
The detective, in a soothing Donegal lilt, explained that she concluded that the document had not originated in this particular folder as the total editing time was zero minutes.
The document, the court heard, listed AD Wejchert under the heading "author and last modified" - the document itself was last modified on November 29, 2011.
"What does this mean?" inquired prosecutor Sean Guerin SC.
"It would be the profile name of the person logged on to the computer," explained Det Wallace.
Det Wallace also said she found a book entitled '21 Techniques of Silent Killing' on Elaine's laptop.
The trial has heard details of how Elaine O'Hara sought to contact and meet people on Alt.com, the BDSM website where her username was helpmelearn.
Yesterday we learned that Elaine - who was a 'silver member' of alt.com - met and discussed sex and bondage with people through Yahoo's internet chat/messenger service, addressing her companions as "sir".
But a search of other devices, including a computer Elaine had given to another woman some years ago, showed her efforts to reach out and make new friends, sending emails with her photo to the website makefriendsonline.com.
The trial continues.