Friday 15 February 2019

Father-of-one shot in head, and dismembered body dumped in a suitcase in the Grand Canal, court hears

Kenneth O'Brien
Kenneth O'Brien
Andrew Phelan

Andrew Phelan

A COUPLE out walking by the Grand Canal found an unusual-looking suitcase floating in the water and opened it to discover a human torso, later identified as the remains of missing father-of-one Kenneth O’Brien.

The two told a murder trial they noticed that the case was zipped up, looked new and had red ribbons on it when they decided to pull it out of the water.

When they opened it and looked inside, the man phoned the gardai and said: “I think we found a body.”

The couple were giving evidence in the trial of Paul Wells (50) of Barnamore Park, Finglas, who denies murdering Mr O’Brien (33) at that address at a time unknown between January 15 and 16, 2016.

The Central Criminal Court has heard Mr Wells told gardai he shot Mr O’Brien during a struggle, then “panicked” and dismembered the body, which was later found in the canal.

Giving evidence this afternoon, Brian O’Dwyer said he was out walking with his girlfriend Mary Costigan along the canal  in Ardclough in Co Kildare at around 3.05pm on January 16, 2016.

They noticed a greyish or purplish suitcase that was “zipped all around”, floating in the canal, about two metres from the bank.

Mr O’Dwyer said he got a stick from the hedgerow and reached out to try to drag the suitcase out to the edge. He manipulated it to the bank and tried to pull it out by the handle, but the handle snapped.

He managed to grab another handle and used both hands to get the suitcase out, while Ms Costigan put her hands around his waist to stop him falling in. The suitcase was “quite heavy,” he said.

Mr O’Dwyer noticed red ribbons on the suitcase and no water came out when he pulled it out.

He agreed with Sean Gillane SC, prosecuting, that he wanted to open it but decided to do so cautiously.

“I pulled back the zip… there was some plastic material, clear plastic with red liquid in it,” he said.

“At that point I called the gardai and said ‘I think we found a body’”, Mr O’Dwyer told the court.

He said the officer he spoke to was “a bit reluctant” and Ms Costigan proceeded to open the case the whole way and “she looked in it and said it is a body.”

Gardai came “very quickly.”

Ms Costigan told the court she opened the further while Ms O’Dwyer was on the phone to the emergency services, and saw what she thought were human remains.

“I just saw something flesh coloured,” she said.

She put the case down again and waited for the gardai.

Det Gda Sgt Aidan Hannon said he opened the suitcase and the contents appeared to be human remains wrapped in clear plastic.

Inside that was a black item wrapped in red webbing straps.

The remains were identified after a DNA sample was taken from Mr O’Brien’s mother, Susan.

Gda Sgt Gavin Dunphy said he found a chainsaw chain at the bottom of gorse in the Curragh on February 6, 2016.

Gda David Finn of the Garda Water Unit said he found a steel chainsaw bar in water in the Curragh on the same date.

Niall McDermott said he was out walking his dog by the canal at Pike’s Bridge, near Carton House on January 22 when he happened to look in the water and saw the body of a chainsaw. He thought it was “a bit unusual” and called the gardai.

Gda Daniel Murphy of the Garda Water Unit said he located the motor and frame of a chainsaw in the water at Pike’s Bridge on January 22.

Earlier, Mr Gillane delivered his opening speech to the jury, who heard that Mr Wells told gardai he killed Mr O’Brien when the two men struggled after Mr O’Brien produced a gun in a dispute at the accused’s house.

Mr Wells also maintained Mr O’Brien had wanted his own wife murdered and had asked the accused to kill her, but Mr Wells refused.

Mr Gillane said Mr O’Brien had been in a long term relationship with his partner Eimear Dunne and they had a four year old son, to whom he was “devoted.” They were living at Leland Road in Clondalkin but Mr O’Brien, who worked with machines and diggers went to Australia in January 2013 for employment.

He did not succeed and returned to Ireland but went back to Australia and did find work, staying there for a period of time.

He would travel “back and forth” to Ireland for family occasions such as his son’s birthday and before Christmas 2015, he came back home “apparently for good.”

The jury would hear about “ordinary domestic things” happening and plans to celebrate Ms Dunne’s birthday in early January 2016.

The question of work in Limerick arose on Friday, January 15 and Ms Dunne understood Mr O’Brien was going there that day, although it had actually been cancelled.

She last saw him at their home that morning when she left the house in the early hours. An arrangement was in place for someone from Virgin media to come to do some work in the house that morning and this man arrived at about 10am and spoke to Mr O’Brien there.

In the course of the day, there were text exchanges between Mr O’Brien and Ms Dunne, which were “banal” or “jokey”, Mr Gillane continued.

One said “wear something warm” as there was a cold snap at the time. Later, she was texting him but receiving no reply, which appeared to her to be odd.

She went to bed and heard no more until 3.30am when she got a text from a number she did not recognise. It was clear that the sender was purporting to be Mr O’Brien.

“I’ve lost my phone, I’m staying for a drink, I’m going to stay in a hotel for the night,” the text said.

This was “a little troubling” for Ms Dunne and later, at 7.50am, she received another text from the same number, saying: “Look, I’ve had enough, I’ve met someone else, I’m leaving you and I’m heading for the ferry.”

There was a reference to a family member but the name was spelled incorrectly. Ms Dunne was “very suspicious” that the texts had not come from her partner because of this and because of the tone and language of the text.

Mr Gillane told the jury they could imagine her confusion, thinking: “is this him?”

She rang around family members and acquaintances asking if they had heard from Mr O’Brien.

The jury would be satisfied on the evidence that the texts did not emanate from Mr O’Brien, Mr Gillane said.

Mr O’Brien had known the accused relatively well and Ms Dunne also knew him. He was one of the people she contacted to find out if he knew anything about the whereabouts of Mr O’Brien.

She contacted Mr Wells through his wife and Mr Wells informed Ms Dunne on the phone that Mr O’Brien was having an affair.

Soon after, Mr Wells called over to Ms Dunne’s house, repeated what he had said about Mr O’Brien having an affair in Australia and showed her text messages and photos “of a particular nature” concerning a woman in Australia.

They met in the car park at Liffey Valley the following day and he repeated this.

Mr O’Brien was reported missing on the Saturday evening.

On the same day, at 3pm two people were walking in a “picturesque” area near the canal at Ardclough in Co Kildare when they saw what appeared to be a suitcase floating in the canal. It appeared unusual and “pricked their interest” because it did not appear to be old or rubbish, and there were what appeared to be “red ribbons” attached to it.

The two people pulled the suitcase out of the water and one of them partially opened it, Mr Gillane said, seeing “what they thought was plastic.”

The plastic was wrapped around “what appeared to be flesh and a red-like substance.”

They immediately called the gardai and the scene was preserved for a preliminary examination.

Gardai discovered “what was contained in the suitcase was a human torso” which was within plastic, secured by red straps.

The torso was removed, unclothed, and a post mortem examination was carried out by Deputy State Pathologist Dr Michael Curtis.

It was established that the head had been cut from the torso between the fifth and sixth vertebrae and it appeared to Dr Curtis that the spine and muscles were “neatly sawed, neatly cut from the torso.”

“The upper and lower limbs appeared to have been severed in like fashion,” Mr Gillane said.

DNA samples were taken from Mr O’Brien’s mother and these were a match.

The same week, on January 22, a chainsaw without the chain was found in the canal at Pike’s Bridge, near Carton House, “not a million miles” from where the suitcase had been found.

On January 24, people were fishing in the Sallins area when a bag was recovered which appeared to contain a human lower leg. Gardai carried out an intensive search and a further three Tesco shopping bags, weighed down with bricks, were found containing  Mr O’Brien’s other limbs and skull.

The skull had an bullet entry wound at the back. Another bag contained two arms, one of which had a tattoo with the name “Ken.”

Another bag contained a left thigh, lower left leg and foot, and right lower leg. The hands of the deceased were never recovered.

The cause of death was determined to be a gunshot wound to the left side of the back of the head and “the amputation of the limbs occurred in a manner consistent with the use of a high-powered mechanical saw.”

During the investigation, it was established that Mr O’Brien had sent money back from Australia through a currency exchange system into an account of Mr Wells.

This sum was more than €40,000.

The prosecution’s case was that Mr O’Brien was killed by Mr Wells at Mr Wells’ address - that he was shot there, his body dismembered there and his body parts “dispersed.”

The accused was interviewed and told gardai Mr O’Brien had wished to return to Australia that that “he wished Eimear Dunne, his partner to be murdered and that he wished that murder to be carried out by Mr Wells.”

The accused told gardai that Mr O’Brien “canvassed” the topic with him on a number of occasions and it was “not something Mr Wells wanted or was anxious to do.”

Mr Wells told gardai there was an arrangement to meet Mr O’Brien on January 15 for the transfer of a gun, but Mr Wells did not keep the arrangement and Mr O’Brien “surprisingly” came to Mr Wells’ home at 5pm.

Mr O’Brien “returned to the topic” of Ms Dunne being killed and produced and showed Mr Wells a gun. They repaired to the back yard area where there was a dispute, a fight and the gun fell to the ground.

Mr Wells told gardai Mr O’Brien reached for the gun, Mr Wells reached for the gun and obtained it and fired it a number of times “and that is how the death of Mr O’Brien came about.”

He told gardai he was in fact responsible for the dismemberment of Mr O’Brien’s remains and that he “panicked” and took steps to dispose of certain items.

The accused, wearing a black suit and shirt with a red and blue tie sat in the court as Mr Gillane delivered his opening speech to the jury.

He pleaded not guilty earlier this week.

At that arraignment, Mr Wells stood with his hands by his side as the charges were read out and the court registrar asked how he was pleading.

“Not guilty,” Mr Wells replied.

The trial is taking place before Mr Justice Paul McDermott and a jury of six women and six men.

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