Thursday 19 July 2018

Profile of Elaine O'Hara: 'Elaine just wanted to be loved, she just wanted some attention'

Sarah Stack

Sarah Stack

Elaine O’Hara’s mental health took centre stage in Graham Dwyer’s murder trial and revealed a troubled and disturbing past that followed her throughout life.

She lost a close friend in a road accident when she was a teen and she suffered at the hands of school yard bullies, spiralling her in to a life of isolation.

From then on Ms O’Hara became withdrawn, introverted and started to self harm. She tried to cut her wrists for the first time when she was just 16.

But it emerged her difficulties may have started even before she entered her teenage years. She revealed to specialists she had been tormented by a “play in her head” since the age of 12.

Elaine O'Hara, whose remains were found in the Dublin Mountains on September 13 2013
Elaine O'Hara, whose remains were found in the Dublin Mountains on September 13 2013
Elaine O'Hara
Elaine O'Hara
Elaine O Hara's father Frank pictured with his partner Sheila Hawkins and Elaine's brother John, as they arrived at the Courts of Criminal Justice for the trial of Graham Dwyer. 24/3/15 Pic Frank Mc Grath

The play turned out to be an obsessional fantasy about being restrained. An obsession that appeared to never waver given her extreme sexual interests in adult life and pleads to Graham Dwyer and others for bondage including cuffs and chains.

Her father Frank - who attended the Central Criminal Court every day to face the man who murdered his daughter - and his late wife Eileen had done their best to seek help for their young daughter.

However she lost much of her late teens and young adult life to medication, he complained.

For 16 years she was under the care of the esteemed Prof Anthony Clare, who ruled out psychosis and formed the view that she was suffering from borderline personality disorder and depression.

A palpable air of sorrow descended on court room 13 as the judge, jury and scores of lookers were given an insight in to the mind of Elaine O’Hara who, deep down, just wanted to be loved.

“I wasn’t born for life. No one likes me, I’m a bad person,” she reportedly told the late Prof Clare in June 2005, the medical note - like previous notes - recording her final diagnosis as one of a recurrent depressive disorder as well as an emotionally unstable personality.

Elaine O’Hara’s father Frank
Elaine O’Hara’s father Frank

There were several references in her medical charts recording comments like “I’d rather be a boy” or “I don’t like being a girl”.

In a bid to get to the root of her disturbed behaviour Prof Clare sought advice from Dr Margaret Griffin, a consultant endocrinologist who specialised in the treatment of gland trouble, in November 2006.

Tests, particularly on testosterone levels, ruled out any physical or medical issues. They did not play a role in her behaviour which included her “sexuality being disturbed, masculine even”, he found.

It was not going to be diabetes "that determines the fate of Elaine", he concluded.

Elaine O'Hara
Elaine O'Hara

Ms O’Hara was admitted to St Edmundsbury Hospital in Lucan 14 times between 1992 and 2012, roughly once every 18 months, and her care turned to more therapeutic means.

She suffered major setbacks including the death of her mother in March 2002 - something she never got over – and then the sudden death of Dr Clare in October 2007. Dr Matt Murphy, now retired, took over her care.

For years Ms O’Hara continued to self harm and reported masochistic behaviour - having pain inflicted upon her by others – often as a punishment.

She had attempted suicide on three occasions, including two serious ones in 2005 and 2006. She remained in a coma for 24 hours after her last attempt.

At least once, sometime before the end of 2008, she asked Dwyer to end her life.

There was evidence on an old laptop that her profile was on the fetish website Alt.com as far back as 2006 and that she was visiting the profile of Architect72 – Graham Dwyer – in late 2007.

A graphic photo of Ms O’Hara appeared under the profile Helpmelearn 36/F (her age and sex), where she stated she loved being in chains and serving a master, but "still has a lot to learn", she wrote.

Her ideal master would be “honest, loyal, frank and trustworthy, possibly caring as well” but it was her preferred likes that she ticked that shocked most.

“Bondage, collar and leads/leash, kidnapping, knife play, mummification, sensory deprivation, spanking, slap in the face and verbal humiliation,” it stated.

Graphic homemade sex videos and fragments of emails retrieved on laptops revealed she and Dwyer had a sexual relationship that involved bondage and knives throughout 2008.

Around this time she also told her father she was seeing a married architect from Foxrock who performed sex acts with her when she was tied up.

And she had met at least two other men for sex, but one told the court her sexual preferences were too extreme for him.

The thousands of texts messages retrieved from her laptop – between her and the man she called “Sir” - showed a conflicted mind.

At time she appeared strong. Strong enough to tell “Sir” to f**k off so she can find love and a baby. More often she appears desperate for any attention she agrees to hunt for victims for her Mater and reluctantly concedes to being stabbed for his sexual pleasure.

Ms O’Hara was born on St Patrick’s Day 1976 and went to school in Ballybrack and Killiney, before her final year in the Institute of Education.

In 2005, she moved out of the family home in Ballinclea Heights, Killiney to a rented flat in a converted garage at Rockville Crescent, Blackrock.

“She lives a very lonely life with no friends and finds it very difficult to trust people,” medical records stated at the time.

In December 2008, Ms O’Hara moved to another rented apartment, at Ardmeen Lodge, Newtownpark Avenue, Blackrock.

Two years later she used the affordable housing scheme to get her own apartment at Belarmine Plaza, Stepaside.

However she struggled with money, with her dad often helping her out financially, and suffered from asthma and diabetes and was dyslexic.

Despite her illnesses, Ms O’Hara was said to have an incredible work ethic.

She loved children and worked as a childcare assistant in a school in Ballybrack and part time at Ken’s newsagents in Blackrock, where she was a trusted employee and key-holder.

Colleagues said she would talk openly about her self-harm and depression.

“Some of the things she said, she said to shock,” shop manager Jane Cahill said. “You took it with a pinch of salt, you didn’t actually think it was true.”

Ms O’Hara was also studying at night in Dun Laoghaire to be a Montessori teacher and struggled with the pressures of exams.

In July 2012 she had contacted St Edmundbury herself and was admitted when she said she was depressed and had a noose to hang herself.

She felt safe and secure in the unit, she said, but remained as lonely and isolated as ever.

Under the heading ‘social support network’ the admission sheet had just four words: “Supportive dad. No friends.”

But her father Frank, Dr Murphy and her therapist Stuart Colquhoun all believed Ms O’Hara had been “doing better” before she vanished.

She was not suicidal but was “cheerful, spontaneous” and was forward to volunteering at the Tall Ships the next say, Colquhoun said.

One woman she previously befriended at the unit, Elaine Twomey, had stayed in contact for 10 years but when the continuous calls and texts became too much she ended the friendship.

Another, Edna Lillis, spoke warmly of how she befriended Ms O’Hara at the unit in 2007 but last saw her in late 2011 or early 2012.

It was during this last chat that Ms O'Hara showed Ms Lillis cuts on her stomach and told her they had been inflicted on her by a man she met on the internet who would cut her.

Ms Lillis said she warned Elaine that she was “playing a very dangerous game”.

“Elaine just wanted to be loved, she just wanted some attention,” she added.

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