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Shadow of evil lurking at heart of a seemingly ordinary world

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Graham Dwyer

Graham Dwyer

Graham Dwyer

As a student in Bolton Street in the early 1990s, Graham Dwyer excelled at computers. According to many stories circulating about Dwyer this weekend, his early work included Photoshopping blood on to images of naked woman.

"I'd say that none of his group thought anything of it - it was laughed off as Graham messing with Photoshop," said a source, who'd heard the story, but he thought it strange. Twenty years later, it all makes sense.

Stocky, plump and rosy-cheeked Dwyer, with his geeky hobbies - his model airplanes and his cars - who organised nights in at his Foxrock home with "the lads"; one half of a busy professional couple raising a family, paying the childminder. That was his public persona, not only the face he presented in court every day of his trial but the one he showed to the people in his circle.

The jury believed the prosecution. He was "wicked", "abusive", a "manipulative sadist" and a "brutal pervert". He had "nothing on his mind other than murder". Even his defence lawyer acknowledged that there was no point trying to "sell" him to the jury as a "nice man". How could he, after the jury had seen videos found on his computer devices of this apparently happily married man stabbing women during sex.

It's likely that the many people who interacted with him in his normal life, who worked with him, whose children went to school with his, who went to his house for dinner, will be raking over their encounters for clues. How could someone who seemed so like everyone else turn out to be a notorious sex murderer?

Keeping up outward appearances was vital, according to what we heard from Dwyer's trial. Having nurtured his sadomasochistic desire to kill since his teens, the more adept he became at concealing his fetish beneath layers of "normality" and middle class respectability.

A school friend remembered him as ordinary and inoffensive child. But according to a contemporary, the traits that marked him out were his volatile temper, a devious and methodical nature, and a neediness that manifested itself in him constantly seeking approval.

But the only people who saw past his respectable middle class veneer to the sadomasochist that lurked beneath were the vulnerable woman he lured into his sadistic realm, - such as Elaine O'Hara and Darci Day.

Dwyer was raised by Sean and Susan Dwyer in Deepark in Bandon, with his brothers and sister, Mandy, went to Hamilton High School and joined the Boy Scouts. His younger brother, Brendan, later testified how he, Graham and their older brother James had revived an annual camping trip with their father.

In 1991, he moved to Dublin to study architecture at the Dublin Institute of Technology in Bolton Street, where he was in a class of 50 or so students.

He is remembered as a guy who was slightly on the periphery, and slightly needy. But what his classmates didn't know was that by his late teens he was sexually active and already harbouring sexual fantasies about stabbing women. He was still in first year when he started going out with Emer McShea, another DIT student. By 1992 she was pregnant, with their son, Sennan, and they moved in together.

In her difficult and painful testimony at his trial, she revealed that he was already showing signs of disturbing sexual deviancy. One night, when they were together, he told her about his fantasy, she testified. He told her he wanted to stab a woman while having sex with her. After that, he started bringing a kitchen knife into their bedroom, and would pretend to stab her during sex. He never actually did. Their relationship later ended. She returned to Donegal, to get away from him, where she raised their son.

Another person who knew him in his college years said: "I would say that those close to him generally brushed off any strange behaviour as minor quirks in personality. Most of the girls thought he was lovely and were googoo eyed about him as he had a small baby," said the source.

He used his child to his advantage, with his lecturers - he claimed he was raising the child almost single handedly, which was a "complete fabrication that he had concocted to gain favour with those marking his work.

"The lads frequently heard him boasting about how he would chat up women, telling them how difficult it was to have a young child and they [the women he was chatting up] would practically fall over themselves for him."

Dwyer graduated from Bolton Street with a 2.1 degree in architecture. He wasn't generally thought of as a "creative" architect by his peers but he made computer generated 3D visualisation his speciality at a time when most architects were still drawing with pencils. He was resourceful and methodical, a planner.

He set up a company in 1997 specialising in architectural computer graphics that was registered to his flat in Lurgan Street.

When he started working, he bragged about the money he was earning. "He was quite boastful," said one of his contemporaries. "He was always boasting about his computer, and how good he was at it. He used to go on and on about what he was earning. He was doing that from day one, when he was at college and when he was working."

His short fuse was the thing people most remembered. He had a vicious temper that would erupt in seconds, often at the merest slight. He got into physical fights. He was rumoured to have smashed a beer bottle and threatened a friend with it.

One story goes that he was in the pub with a group of work colleagues one Friday night when he claimed he had hacked into the computer network and found out what they were all earning. He bragged that he was earning more than some of his colleagues who had been with the firm for years. Dwyer eventually became enraged by his colleagues reaction and stormed out of the pub.

The following Monday morning, his colleagues arrived into work to find two office work stations had been destroyed and a feeble attempt made to put them together again. He had also hacked into the colleague's computers and deleted their nixers, according to this tale. When challenged by management, Dwyer denied having anything to do with it. He left the firm a short time later.

In 1997, Dwyer started dating Gemma Healy, the daughter of a well-known Sligo surgeon, Dr John Healy, when she was still at Bolton Street studying architecture. Three years later, they bought Number 9, Gullistan Terrace in Rathmines for €200,000 and spent €60,000 remodelling the tiny cottage to make maximum use of space.

They got married in Sligo in 2002. Five years later, they put their cottage on the market with an asking price of €590,000, and prepared to move to Kerrymount Close in Foxrock. Their cleverly redesigned cottage attracted publicity. Gemma was, by then, working as a project director with DMOD Architects. They got a write-up in The Irish Times and were interviewed by Eddie Hobbs for a financial magazine.

Dwyer would have "loved" this, said a source. He liked the "validation" of publicity. He once wrote a dull article on tiling for an Irish architectural magazine and made his television debut in 2000 on the RTE television show Beyond the Hall Door on his plans for a bath-cum-aquarium.

As Dywer later told gardai, the move to Foxrock caused him financial stress. When they moved there in 2007, he was a partner with A&J Wejchert, the firm he worked for until his arrest, on a salary of €87,000. But the recession hit, his salary was reduced to €70,000 and Gemma, who had been working at DMOD, lost her job in the crash.

He set up a firm called Daylight Consultancy - which offered a computer graphics service to architects - to earn more cash on the side.

But according to an acquaintance, he liked to give the impression to his pals that he was doing well. He cultivated his friendships. He told detectives that he had loads of garda friends that he went drinking with.

He had hundreds of Facebook friends. Acquaintances said he was always actively keeping in touch. He was big into "reunions". He tried to organise one for his Bolton Street class, and also planned one for his school year, but neither came off. But for someone who was so sociable, he was actually always on the periphery, said one source.

Why would someone so deeply deviant crave so many "normal" friends? "I think it was for validation," said one source. "He wanted to be able to tell people how well he was doing, and that's all he did at these things [get-togethers]. More and more, as the years went on, he would brag about how great he was doing."

Gemma's testimony at his trial related primarily to the routine of their domestic life. She knew nothing of his nefarious activities. She outlined a life of suburban normality - of child-minding and careers, organising his 40th birthday party and sending anniversary or birthday cards to his sister and her family.

She said he was "fantastic" at computers, and was passionate about model air planes, practicing in the evenings and at weekends, often going straight from work to the flying club on Wednesdays. He met friends at the Hellfire Club, liked mountain biking and buying and selling cars. "There was a Porsche 911 he was very fond of. He kept it longer than any others... He called it his baby," she said.

We now know that he hid his blood lust behind his "normal" pursuits of work, family, cars, bikes and model airplanes, giving him the cover to evolve into the fully fledged, blood thirsty, sexual predator who scoured underground fetish websites for vulnerable prey, actively planning to kill.

He clearly believed he would get away with murder.

A month after her body was found in September 2013, he was happily mingling at a Boy Scout reunion in Bandon. "He was drinking away, not a bother on him, no one had an inkling," said one guest. Days later, detectives were at his door.

It was telling that when detectives spoke to him, his greatest fear was losing the illusion of a "normal life" he had so carefully constructed. "I think I would like to preserve my marriage, thanks very much," he said, in another example of his deluded confidence.

Sunday Independent