Saturday 23 June 2018

Jastine Valdez murder: When innocence collided with evil on a quiet country road

Witnesses say Mark Hennessy appeared normal as he popped into a pub shortly before Jastine Valdez was killed, writes Maeve Sheehan

Jastine Valdez
Jastine Valdez
A SHOCKING TRAGEDY: Mourners outside the funeral home in Bray where Jastine Valdez is lying in repose. Photo: Fergal Phillips
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

Mark Hennessy parked his black Nissan Qashqai in the car park on Church Road in Ballybrack. He walked across the road to the Ramblers Rest pub.

The lounge was busy. A group of lads watched the first half of the FA Cup Final on the big-screen TV and Hennessy joined them. Witnesses later said he seemed normal, certainly didn't seem drunk, or even particularly agitated.

Hennessy didn't buy a drink, according to one source. But he was clearly restless and declared that the match was "boring". "He came in. The lads were watching the football," according to the witness. "He left after 10 minutes."

CCTV cameras picked up Hennessy leaving and walking to his car. At 5.41pm, he was striding quickly across the car park, in his T-shirt and jeans, his mobile phone stuck to his ear. At 5.43pm, his Nissan was filmed reversing out of the parking bay.

Hennessy didn't say to "the lads" where he was going, according to the witness. But half an hour later, he was in the nearby Wicklow village of Enniskerry driving his black Nissan behind the 185 bus that was carrying Jastine Valdez home.

Hennessy's abduction and subsequent murder of the 24-year-old Filipino student unfolded last weekend like a warped real-time horror story that struck a terrifying chord from the outset: from the first Garda alerts last Saturday night on reports of a young woman being bundled into a car in Enniskerry, to the shooting of her then suspected murderer by Gardai last Sunday, and the desperate search for Jastine, as hope faded by the hour that she would be found alive.

Jastine's murder came within two weeks of 14-year-old Ana Kriegel's murder in Lucan and follows many other crimes against women, prompting the National Women's Council to call last week for a review of femicides to ask why Irish men are committing such violent crimes against women.

Jastine moved to Ireland to join her parents three years ago. In the tradition of many Filipino families, her parents Danilo and Teresita had come here to work in the 1990s, sending their wages home to their family. She studied accounting and finance at Tallaght IT, working part-time jobs, such as a carer, and in a restaurant in Bray, to fund her studies. "Oh, she is so fun. A really, really nice girl," a friend of Jastine's said last Friday, her eyes brimming with tears. They "hung out" together, they listened to music - Jastine loved all types, she said. "All I can say is that she was a really, really good friend. I still cannot accept that she is gone," she said.

The family of three lived in a cottage on the grounds of Charleville House, a stately home owned by a wealthy family. Danilo is the greensman and Teresita is the housekeeper who looks after the main building. The house is on the R760, one of the main roads leading into Enniskerry, a country road just wide enough for two cars.

Jastine set out from here last Saturday morning to go to Bray. Gardai know that she went to the gym at some point. She went to SuperValu and bought bread.

At 5.40pm, Jastine boarded the 185 bus in Bray town. She alighted from the bus shortly before 6.15pm in Enniskerry, close to the entrance to the Powerscourt estate, and started walking home. Minutes later, her innocent and studious world collided with Hennessy's demented orbit.

RTE Prime Time reported that, chillingly, CCTV on the 185 bus captured Hennessy's Nissan Qashqai driving in Jastine's direction. Was it by chance or was it with murderous intent that Hennessy - a married father, apparently his life spiralling into a drug and alcohol black hole - drove along the R760 behind her?

Two passing motorists witnessed her abduction and its immediate aftermath.

A woman was driving by with her 12-year-old son who saw Hennessy forcibly bundling Jastine into the boot of the Nissan. She dialled 999 at 6.24pm. A second motorist, a man, saw a woman in the back of an SUV, distressed and banging on the window at around the same time. He rang Garda at around 7.20pm, almost an hour later, when he got home. Gardai launched a helicopter and dispatched three patrol cars.

Gardai believe that by then Jastine Valdez was already dead, strangled by Hennessy, who had been frantically finding a place to dump her body. Another witness told RTE that at around 6.50pm, he saw the black Nissan Qashqai driving erratically along Puck's Castle Lane, six kilometres from Enniskerry.

It appears that Mark Hennessy was by then driving around his south Dublin stomping grounds, in a chaotic downward spiral, according to Garda sources. His mobile phone has yielded a string of text messages to suspected dealers last Saturday night, according to sources.

He returned to the Ramblers Rest at 11pm. According to one source, he didn't go further than the front door of the pub and he didn't have a drink. He came as far as the entrance and stood in the doorway and chatted to a couple who knew his family, according to the source. They chatted for about five minutes, then he left. CCTV footage from the pub captures Hennessy walking towards the car park on Church Road after 11pm. One person who saw the footage said: "He was very cool and very calm. He didn't seem a bit drunk when he was walking to his car. He wasn't staggering, or anything like that."

Where Hennessy went and what he did over the next 36 hours are part of the Garda investigation. It was 3am before gardai identified Hennessy as their prime suspect. By last Sunday, Hennessy's family and friends had joined the search for him. According to one source, a friend saw him at Killiney Dart Station but when they called him he walked away at speed, not wanting to engage with them.

Members of his family followed the police sirens to Cherrywood Business Park at 8pm last Sunday night. According to one source, they heard the gun shot as a garda fired at Hennessy, the bullet ricocheting off his shoulder and fatally wounding him.

Hennessy was covered in blood, from injuries he had inflicted on himself, with a Stanley knife, sitting in the driver's seat of his car. Gardai later found the bloodstained note from which they made out the words "sorry" and "Puck's Lane", that led them to Jastine's body.

The Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission is investigating the shooting of Mark Hennessy, whose life is now under scrutiny, to discern any mental health issues or problems he may have had at work or in his personal life.

Outwardly his life appeared ordinary. He came from a large, respected family, originally from Sallynoggin but who moved to Ballybrack. Hennessy lived 15 minutes away in Woodbrook Lawn, a housing estate full of young families overlooked by Bray Head. The 40-year-old was married to Nicola and had two daughters, the youngest born last September. "He was an ordinary Joe Soap," said one local mother. He worked as a banksman with crane operators on building sites, most recently at the National Rehabilitation Hospital on Pottery Road in Dun Laoghaire, right up to last weekend.

Gardai have been told that Hennessy was drinking and doing a lot of cocaine. Videos of him drinking and chatting to women in a pub have been doing the rounds on social media. His relationship was reportedly in difficulty. Gardai have found evidence of dating apps on his phone - including the website Tinder.

A man who knew Hennessy said he was not a troublemaker. He described him as "happy-go-lucky" guy, who always got up dancing when music started in the pub. "He never caused trouble. You'd never hear any complaints about him. He would be the last guy you would suspect."

Gardai have so far found no evidence that he knew his victim or had any connection with her but they have not ruled out that he was stalking her - either having seen her in the cafe where she worked, or even along the roadside.

Although experts have suggested that Hennessy's crime appeared rash and impulsive, the manner in which he abducted Jastine fits the modus operandi of a seasoned, serial sexual offender. Gardai are compelled to investigate whether there is a link between Hennessy and women who have disappeared in the Leinster area since the 1990s. His DNA is being run through the new database to see if it matches samples gathered from crime scenes.

The most immediate concern for Jastine's parents, however, is to get their daughter home. Although he didn't know them before, Mark Congdon, Honorary Consul for the Philippines, spent many distraught hours with Danilo and Teresita Valdez last week, helping coordinate the repatriation. "It was extremely traumatic for them, absolutely shocking," he said. "Teresita and Danilo are extremely beautiful people. They are very humble, they are very appreciative. They are beautiful parents who loved their daughter very, very deeply. They are just in shock."

In the tradition of the Philippines, Jastine lay in repose last Friday and yesterday at Thomas Murphy & Sons funeral home on Boghall Road in Bray. Hundreds of people filed in and out of the chapel to pay their respects over the two days, many of them friends from the Filipino community, but many more total strangers, compelled to stand in solidarity.

Shortly before the reposing, the grieving couple insisted on thanking all those who had helped them through these dark days, issued through the office of the Honorary Consul.

Their statement also revealed the hopes and dreams of Jastine, so cruelly shattered. "Our daughter's plans were to settle in Ireland, buy a house here and make a new life. She is a fun loving, wonderful, caring daughter and friend. She is always in our hearts and in the hearts of the people of Ireland."

Sunday Independent

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