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Detectives to resume hunt for Fiona's secret grave

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Missing woman Fiona Pender. Picture: ViewPoint

Missing woman Fiona Pender. Picture: ViewPoint

Fiona Pender

Fiona Pender

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Missing woman Fiona Pender. Picture: ViewPoint

Gardai could begin searching as soon as this week for the secret grave of murdered woman Fiona Pender, the Sunday Independent has learned.

Detectives investigating her murder have received what they believe to be the most significant information to date in their 18-year long probe into the disappearance of the 25-year-old woman. Fiona, who was last seen in August 1996, was seven months pregnant at the time.

A statement made to gardai by a woman living abroad is understood to indicate she was shown a location on farmland near Tullamore, Co Offaly, where, she claimed, a man who gardai regard as a suspect said that Fiona was buried.

The woman had never spoken to police before this month. They were alerted to the woman's claims after she made a complaint that her life had been threatened and she was in fear of being murdered.

She claims that her life was threatened and went to police in the country she is now living in.

She also claims that the man told her that he would do to her "what he did to Fiona". The man was arrested and is being held in custody.

It is understood he has yet to be interviewed by gardai and has denied threatening to kill the woman.

He has not been formally questioned about the disappearance of Fiona, but gardai can apply to travel to the country to question him in the presence of local police.

There are no plans to extradite the man back to Ireland as there is not sufficient evidence to charge him with Fiona's murder.

Under our extradition laws, there would have to be enough evidence to be able to bring him directly before the courts here to be charged.

It is understood that the decision by the woman to reveal her story has given gardai a basis for resuming the search for Fiona's body. In the months after her disappearance, extensive searches were carried out and a three-mile stretch of the Grand Canal drained, but to no avail.

With more specific information arising from the woman's statement it is understood gardai have already identified the location she has described and are preparing to begin searching again.

Fiona was last seen by her family and friends on August 22, 1996. She spent most of the afternoon with her mother Josephine who dropped her off at the flat in Church Street in Tullamore which Fiona shared with her then boyfriend, John Thompson.

A friend of Fiona's called at the flat the next day and could not get a reply.

The curtains were still drawn in the afternoon and she called Fiona's family.

When there was still no sign of Fiona, her family rang John Armstrong who said he hadn't seen her either. He said she was asleep when he left for work on the morning of August 23.

The gardai were then alerted.

Earlier this year Mrs Pender renewed her appeal for anyone with any information about her daughter's disappearance to come forward.

Up to 13,000 people signed a petition as part of a huge public campaign in Offaly for information about Fiona's disappearance.

The stretch of the canal that was drained during the search was subsequently named after Fiona.

A year after the disappearance gardai arrested and questioned five people, but released them without charge.

The case made no further advance though a series of what gardai described as "crank" leads were reported and had to be investigated.

Gardai and Fiona's family strongly believed she was killed by someone she knew and that others assisted in her disappearance and believed secret burial.

While Fiona's name has regularly been included in lists of women missing and believed murdered in the Leinster area during the 1990s gardai never suspected Fiona was the random victim of a serial killer.

Gardai questioned the rapist Larry Murphy about Fiona's disappearance after he began his prison sentence after conviction for the rape and attempted murder of a Carlow woman in 2000.

However, Murphy is no longer considered to be a suspect in the case.

Sunday Independent