Sunday 26 May 2019

'He was a very odd boy... they nicknamed him Casper': Neighbours reveal childhood of man accused of being world's biggest facilitator of child porn

Eric Eoin Marques Picture: Paddy Cummins/PCPhoto.ie
Eric Eoin Marques Picture: Paddy Cummins/PCPhoto.ie
Laura Lynott

Laura Lynott

Eric Eoin Marques couldn’t connect with peers but the child entrepreneur utilised prodigious tech skills to make money - and eventually grew up accused of being the world’s biggest facilitator of child porn.

33-year-old Marques, extradited to the U.S on on March 23, had surrendered to the FBI at Dublin Airport after a six-year legal attempt to avoid the extradition.

Marques, of Mountjoy Square, Dublin city, had grown up in Clonshaugh, north Dublin.

And the man now facing allegations he conspired to distribute and advertise child pornography on the dark web, had lived an isolated life as a child.

Neighbours in Clonshaugh, who witnessed snippets of Marques’ childhood, paint a picture of a lonely child who couldn’t fit in but who taught himself early tech skills, enabling him to benefit financially.

“The children all called Eric ‘Casper’,” one elderly woman told Independent.ie, as she opened up about her family’s shock at his arrest and extradition.

“He was a very odd boy.  All my kids said he was weird.  He got the name ‘Casper’ because he was so pale, like the cartoon ghost.

“And he never hardly seemed to go out.  You’d see him running up and down the street sometimes but he was always alone, he didn’t play with other kids.

“He tried to play with my kids a few times but they didn’t want to, he couldn’t connect with them. They thought he was weird.”

The woman pointed to a green across the road. During Marques’ childhood in the ‘90s and the early 2000s - that area had been “so full of children, you could hardly see the grass,” she said.

The green was almost empty when Independent.ie visited the area, there were a few  women walking dogs. But not one child was playing there.

“It’s all changed now.  Kids are stuck to their headphones in their bedrooms on computers,” one woman said.

“But they can get in trouble doing that too. Nowhere is safe it seems for kids.  You can’t help but wonder if Eric had had help, he might not have gone down the path he did.

“I don’t know. I just know my kids were really shocked when they saw his picture in the paper for this.

“I mean, he was a quiet kid.  But there didn’t seem to be any harm in him.”

But another older woman, who says her children did attempt to play with Marques when he was around 10-years-old, stated she believed nothing and no one could have altered his path.

“I’m glad the Americans have him,” she said. “Because if he went through the Irish justice system, it would go too easy on him.

“Eric had the chance to play with my kids when he was a child. He didn’t want to. He’d come over to them for minutes and then just wander off and play on his own.

“My kids just thought he was weird, in a world of his own. He couldn’t relate to other kids.

“But there was more to him.  He was very smart. I remember my kids said he used to make some sort of CDs or video games in his room and sell them round the corner.

“He was using technology very early, making things to sell and I think that’s pretty unusual.

“He was motivated to do that and to make money from it.  Other kids were just running round the green, being kids, playing.

“His mother works very hard. She is a good woman.  No mother can imagine having a son accused of something like that. I feel for her.

“And there’s no way we should forget just what he’s accused of. We are talking innocent children whose lives have no doubt been destroyed, if the accusations are true.”

Marques, who holds dual Irish and U.S citizenship, had lived in Dublin since childhood. 

He’s accused of renting out server space used to host a wide range of child abuse images and videos across the globe.

He’s alleged to have made hundreds of thousands of euro from advertising and distributing the material.

“Eric used to stand at the window of his flat, just looking out,” another older resident told Independent.ie.

“He was so pale. He hardly went out.  I remember at around the time of the Millennium, we started having street parties.

“All the children would be at them. They were great events,” the woman added.

“But Eric would never be at them, never,” she said shaking her head, looking towards the ground.

“No one could put their finger on it but Eric just seemed to be alone and wanted to be alone.

“I’m sure his mother did everything she possibly could for him. You still see her walking up the street after work every evening.

“I know she’s a very hard working woman and she’s got to be broken by this. No mother could in their worst nightmare expect their child would grow up accused of this.

“I don’t know what went wrong.”

Arrested in Dublin in 2013, after an international investigation involving the FBI, Gardai and Europol, Marques had fought his extradition to the U.S.

On Monday he appeared in the U.S District Court in Greenbelt, Maryland, where he was remanded.

Prosecuting U.S Attorney Robert K. Hur thanked the Irish authorities in extraditing the accused, stating:  “Criminals cannot hide on the dark web or in foreign countries.

“We will find them and bring them to justice…”

Marques had offered to plead guilty provided he was prosecuted in Ireland, but the Director of Public Prosecutions rejected this.

If he is convicted, Marques will face decades in a federal prison.  Some of the charges carry 30 year terms.

Marques taught himself the web technology which has now seen him accused of providing the web hosting space allowing criminals to operate without scrutiny, circulating child pornography.

Detectives found evidence he had earned €1.15 m between 2007 and 2013, taking in €250,000 in the year before his arrest. 

Marques had been referred to a psychiatrist as a young teenager but there was no official diagnosis.  However when he was assessed in prison, it was discovered he has Asperger’s Syndrome.

“We didn’t understand what that  was years ago,” one female resident where he grew up said.

“We didn’t understand if there was something wrong. We knew he was different, we just didn’t know why.

“And now his poor mother has  to know he’s gone to America and she might never see him again. 

“Could you ever get over this,  what he’s accused of? I don’t think we can blame him having a condition though. I think we have to blame the man. I believe he knew right from wrong.”

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