Saturday 18 November 2017

Revealed: Details of serial killer Mark Nash's gruesome 1997 double murder

Mark Nash was found guilty of the murders of Sylvia Shiels and Mary Callinan in March 1997
Mark Nash was found guilty of the murders of Sylvia Shiels and Mary Callinan in March 1997
Stella Nolan holds pictures of her sister outside court yesterday after Mark Nash was found guilty of the murders of her and Sylvia Shiels in March 1997
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

It would be "hard to imagine two more vulnerable or defenceless victims than Sylvia Sheils and Mary Callinan", the late Dublin TD Tony Gregory told the Dáil in May 2001.

"If for no other reason than the extreme callousness of the murder of these innocents, this case must be brought to finality, the person responsible prosecuted and justice done," he said.

It would take until almost exactly 14 years after Mr Gregory's statement for this to happen and for killer Mark Nash to, at last, receive two life sentences for his indescribably brutal attack on two women asleep in their beds.

Back in 2001, their likely killer was known, having admitted to the crime following his arrest for the murders of Catherine and Carl Doyle in Castlerea on August 16 1997.

But then Nash withdrew his confession and, in the absence of any hard evidence, the DPP chose not to prosecute.

It was only thanks to technological advances and what prosecution counsel Brendan Grehan described as a "spectacular breakthrough" in DNA that Nash could finally be named as their killer, 18 years after their tragically poignant deaths.

In 2009, a blood stain on a velvet jacket worn by Nash on the night of the killings finally yielded up its secrets, in the form of DNA from both Sylvia and Mary.

Around 6am on March 7, 1997, Ann Mernagh (46), a resident in No 1 Orchard View, Grangegorman left her bedroom to make breakfast.

The house was part of an independent but supported living complex for those with mental illness.

Ann arrived at the bottom of the staircase and noticed that her handbag was upturned on the ground and that there was a light on in the sitting room.

Entering the kitchen, she saw that the window was open and the wind was blowing the curtains. The drawers in the kitchen press had been opened and one drawer had been removed and placed on the floor.

She ran upstairs to tell Sylvia Sheils, another resident in the house, but when she entered Sylvia's bedroom on the first floor, she was met by an appalling sight.

Sylvia was lying across the bed with her feet on the ground.

She was wearing a slip which had been pulled up around her chest and there was blood around her neck and around her on the bed.

Realising that Sylvia was dead, Ann ran to raise the alarm.

It was then discovered that resident Mary Callinan had also been butchered in cold blood.

Mary (61) was a grey-haired lady from Cabra in Dublin who had been an inpatient at St Brendan's Hospital from 1966 and had lived in the house in Grangegorman since 1988.

Sylvia Sheils was a 60-year-old former civil servant who was first admitted to St Brendan's Hospital in 1980, suffering from paranoid schizophrenia.

She had been living in the house since 1994.

Pathologist Prof John Harbison conducted a post-mortem at the city morgue.

Both women had been brutally slain in a manner that defied description, the horrifying details of which were not revealed to the public at the time.

Both their throats had been cut and both had suffered numerous horrific genital and facial injuries. Two electric carving knife blades were recovered from Mary Callinan's room and two knives from Sylvia's.

Grangegorman was convulsed by the killings and it was almost the only topic of conversation for months on end.

A Dublin heroin user with learning disabilities named Dean Lyons (23) was implicated by two burglars. After making false confessions to those murders, he was wrongly imprisoned for nine months. Charges against him were dropped, but legal challenges to Nash's trial going ahead continued for years.

Yesterday, former assistant commissioner Jim McHugh expressed regret that neither Dean nor his father were alive to see this day.

Mary Callinan has no living relatives. Only Sylvia Shiel's sister, Stella Nolan (81), was left to see justice for her talented sibling with the beautiful blue eyes.

Irish Independent

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