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Monday 22 January 2018

Murder suicide dad wrote his young wife out of will

Grieving widow is now suing her late husband's estate for her share

FAMILY TIMES: Rebecca McCarthy with daughter Clarissa, 3, and husband Martin, who later killed himself and the toddler.
FAMILY TIMES: Rebecca McCarthy with daughter Clarissa, 3, and husband Martin, who later killed himself and the toddler.
Rebecca McCarthy carries a teddy bear at the funeral, where father and daughter were buried together
The McCarthy family farm in Ballydehob, Co Cork, now the subject of a legal dispute
Clarissa McCarthy

Ralph Reigel and Maeve Sheehan

A YOUNG mother who lost her only child in a horrific murder suicide is suing her dead husband's estate after he wrote her out of his will.

Martin McCarthy, 50, a farmer from Ballydehob, killed his three-year-old daughter Clarissa and took his own life in March, leaving his young wife, Rebecca, 26, bereft and traumatised.

It has now emerged that in the days before the tragedy, Martin McCarthy had changed his will in an attempt to prevent his wife from inheriting his farm and other assets. He bequeathed the bulk of his estate, including buildings and farm land to his immediate family and a neighbour, according to informed sources.

Ms McCarthy discovered in May that her husband had excluded her from his will, at a time when she was still in the throes of grief. Sources said she was "stunned" by the news.

Ms McCarthy has now launched a High Court action to restore her legal entitlement to her share of the family home and farm on the shores of Audley Cove.

In a separate action, she is seeking compensation from her late husband's estate for trauma and distress over the loss of her little girl.

News of the legal action has stunned the tight-knit community of Ballydehob, where Martin McCarthy was born and raised and where Rebecca Bailey-Cejnar came to spend a gap year from school.

She was a young student from America on her transition year and was staying with a local family in Ballydehob, while attending school in Schull.

Martin McCarthy was a taciturn bachelor farmer in his 40s who worked a neighbouring farm.

The teenager approached McCarthy for help about a school project on farming. The pair soon began a secret relationship which resulted in marriage when she turned 18. Rebecca then left her home in California and moved into the small farm house.

He was regarded as being difficult and quiet. She was more sociable and involved in the community. But they both adored their daughter Clarissa.

It was no great secret locally that the marriage had become strained. Local people talked about McCarthy's fears that his young wife planned to leave him, and bring their only child back to her native California.

Her father, Harry Cejnar, later rubbished these reports. He told a newspaper that Clarissa didn't even have a passport, nor had her mother applied to get one for her.

But it appears that something was eating away at Martin McCarthy.

It has now emerged that in the days before the deaths, McCarthy changed his will to prevent his wife from inheriting his land, suggesting at best an attempt to punish his wife and, at worst, a portent of the tragedy that was to follow.

On the day of the tragedy, McCarthy sought professional advice to find out if he could prevent his daughter from being taken out of the country, according to sources. He was told that he could not.

That evening, Rebecca prepared tea and left Clarissa with her father while she went out. In the short two-hour window in which she was gone, McCarthy wrote a suicide note scrawled in long hand over two pages, in which he explained that he was taking his daughter to Heaven.

For some reason, he left the note in the milking parlour. Then he carried his daughter across the field and down to the water at Audley Cove. His wife returned to find her husband and daughter missing but more than three hours passed before her husband's suicide note was found.

She watched from the low cliffs at the foot of her farm as her daughter's body was carried from the water to the shore by the coastguard volunteers. The emergency search and rescue team spent an hour trying to revive her. Martin's body was found an hour later, farther down the coast and farther out to sea.

The rescue workers – mostly drawn from the local community – later said they were deeply affected by a mission of unspeakable sadness.

The west Cork farmer had inflicted on his young wife perhaps the worst possible pain a husband and father could.

At the funeral masses of her husband and daughter days later, Rebecca McCarthy read words of comfort from The Lord is My Shepherd. But utter bewilderment and unbearable grief screamed from her ashen face.

Yet she insisted that her husband, who referred to their little girl as his "princess", be buried cradling Clarissa in his arms in a single shared coffin. Members of the Bailey-Cejnar and McCarthy families entered Schull Church side-by-side for the Requiem Mass in a moving show of solidarity. McCarthy's sister, Hester, carried a framed photo of her brother out of the church while Clarissa's favourite toys adorned the coffin.

In the stunned aftermath of the murder suicide, questions reverberated around the local community. How could this local farmer, who lived his life like the rest of then, working his land, tending to his cattle and occasionally canvassing for Fine Gael, have committed an act of such cruelty for those left behind?

His neighbours and friends in the local community saw no signs that anything much was amiss. He had been seen the day of his death, going about his business around the town. He was always regarded as a quiet man, although he had had cross words with some of his neighbours.

Ms McCarthy's own family, to whom she was close, were flabbergasted. Her sister Jessica said at the time that her entire family were badly shaken by the tragedy. "I am very close with my sister and have visited west Cork a few times. We are all pretty shaken up over this," she said.

Her father said he could not understand how the deaths occurred. "It just doesn't make any sense at all. I don't understand it at all – I still can't believe it. Rebecca and Martin were good parents. I hadn't heard of any problems between them at all. I just don't understand how this could have happened."

An inquest which is expected later this year will examine the facts and circumstances of their deaths. Gardai are preparing a report on the circumstances of the deaths for the coroner. However, the deeply disturbed state of mind that caused a father to extend his own suicidal urge to kill his only child may never be fathomed.

'On the day of the tragedy, Martin McCarthy sought professional advice to find out if he could prevent his daughter from being taken out of the country, according to sources. He was told that he could not'

Garda sources said Martin McCarthy didn't appear to have a history of depression or mental illness. As Fr Anthony O'Mahony observed at their funeral Mass, "we never know what goes on inside the head of another person".

Ms McCarthy remains "devastated" by the tragedy, friends say. She has lived in a rented house in Goleen and is currently thought to be staying with relatives in the US.

She will never get her daughter back. But the legal action may restore her rights as his wife and the mother to his child. Under Irish law, a husband or wife has a legal right to a share in their dead partner's estate.

So while Martin McCarthy might have intended to exclude his wife from his will, legally his attempts won't hold water. Ms McCarthy has an unchallengeable entitlement to at least one half of her dead husband's estate.

Sunday Independent

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