Inquest: 'Innocent Melissa' (14) strangled and dumped in river by Dunbar
DESPERATE attempts to keep Melissa Mahon in the protective care of the Health Service shortly before she was killed were described today by the man who led the investigation into her death.
Det Supt John O’Reilly said the 14-year-old kept escaping from carers in the hours before she was last seen on September 14, 2006.
Ronnie Dunbar, also known as Ronnie McManus, is serving life for the manslaughter of Melisssa at his home in Rathbraughan Park, Sligo, following conviction in 2009.
But Melissa’s inquest was delayed until today.
Det Supt O’Reilly, who was a Det Inspector when he headed the inquiry, told Coroner Dr Desmond Moran that Melissa was put into the emergency care of the HSE at Ballytivnan, Sligo, on August 28, 2006.
She went absent but was later discovered by gardai and then sent to a foster home in Kinlough Co. Leitrim.
Shortly after arriving she ran away from there to a neighbouring house. On the night of 13/14 September she was taken to Manorhamilton Garda station where a care worker spent the night with her.
A few hours later, still accompanied by the care worker, Melissa went into a public bathroom in Sligo to wash and change her clothes.
She vanished again but just after mid-day the same day she was spotted by two care workers. She was running towards Rathbraughan Park and they lost sight of her. That was the last time she was seen alive in public.
Supt O’Reilly then told the coroner and a jury of six how a murder investigation was started following information made available to gardai when they attended a house in Rathbraughan Park where a number of disclosures were made in January 2008.
The investigation discovered Dunbar/McManus was directly responsible for Melissa’s death in his own home at Rathbraughan Park.
Supt O’Reilly said: “He placed her body in a sleeping bag and tied it with a neck-tie.”
The inquest was told how the body was dumped into a river near Dromahair and skeletal remains were later found by Garda divers about 850 metres away in Lough Gill.
The remains were identified through dental and DNA processes as Melissa.
Supt O’Reilly told the inquest that in 2009 McManus/Dunbar was found to have unlawfully killed Melissa by strangulation between September 14 and 30, 2006, and he was convicted of manslaughter and jailed for life.
The officer added: “He killed this innocent child.”
Supt O’Reilly added that he wished to publicly acknowledge the “tremendous support” to the lengthy and difficult investigation by the people of Sligo.
Dr Moran said it was an extremely sad case and one that for many years brought great distress to Melissa’s family and the citizens of Sligo. He said the inquest may be a milestone in the family’s grief and might bring finality to the citizens.
He added: “Melissa had a great future and met her death in a horrendous fashion. That justice was done may be some consolation but it doesn’t bring back Melissa.”
A verdict of unlawful killing was returned.
Melissa’s two sisters and a male friend were at the inquest but refused to make any comment afterwards.
In 2009 the trial of McManus/Dunbar was told by his daughter Samantha Conroy, Melissa’s friend, that he was the killer.