Paul Williams: Nevin displayed the characteristics of a psychopathic narcissist - and thought she'd pulled off the perfect crime
The death of Catherine Nevin marks the denouement to one of the most intriguing, dark tales of treachery and murder in Irish criminal history.
In orchestrating the brutal assassination of her husband Tom in 1996, Nevin was supremely confident she had pulled off the perfect crime.
But her hubris and carelessness, not to mention the team of dedicated detectives who painstakingly unravelled the murder mystery, led to her conviction. Nevin, who always denied her crimes, was sentenced to life in prison. However, she will be taking one crucial secret to the grave which she has never imparted to anyone and has confounded gardaí for more than two decades – the identity of the individual she hired to kill her husband.
Although they never had any hard evidence, gardaí always suspected that the triggerman had been Patrick ‘Dutchy’ Holland. He was a member of John Gilligan’s drugs gang and the assassin responsible for several murders, including that of journalist Veronica Guerin.
At the time of Mr Nevin’s murder in Jack White’s pub in Brittas Bay, Holland was living in the area. It was only when he was identified as the hitman responsible for Ms Guerin’s murder that gardaí realised he had been an anonymous killer for hire to Dublin crime gangs since his release from prison in 1994.
But Holland also managed to take that secret to the grave when he died in an English prison cell in 2009.
The murder of Mr Nevin had been intended to make his wife a very merry millionaire widow. Instead she became one of the most notorious and fascinating characters in the pantheon of killers whose dreadful crimes are etched in the public’s collective memory.
Suitably dubbed the Black Widow, the cold-blooded murderess grabbed our morbid curiosity in a way that has endured for 20 years.
Her plot had been in gestation for several years, as gardaí uncovered evidence she had first tried to solicit a man to kill her husband as far back as 1989.
She later approached at least two other men to do the deed before she found who she had been looking for.
Nevin’s dark plot culminated in her husband being shot in the chest at point-blank range as he sat at the kitchen table counting the day’s takings in the early hours of March 19, 1996.
When gardaí arrived they found his body slumped on the floor in a pool of blood, a pen in one hand and glasses still on his nose. It was clear Mr Nevin didn’t have time to react when his killer walked into the room brandishing a shotgun. He never stood a chance and wasn’t given one.
But from the start, things did not add up – especially his wife’s demeanour. She claimed there had been a robbery and that she had been roughed up.
Pat Flynn, the superintendent who would lead the successful investigation,was suspicious.
In his book ‘Catherine and Friends – Inside the investigation into Ireland’s Most Notorious Murder’ he recalled: “Her attitude was certainly not what I had expected from a woman who had undergone an ordeal.
“First, she just stared at me with a contemptuous look ... I sympathised with her, and asked if I could be of any assistance. She continued to stare at me, and did not reply.
“There was something surreal about Catherine’s behaviour ... She was displaying no emotions or grief, and was certainly not in shock. Most strikingly, there was no visible indication this was a woman who was shattered by the murder of her beloved husband.”
Nevin displayed many of the characteristics of a psychopathic narcissist.
Even by today’s hedonistic, liberal standards, her moral compass was off: she had enjoyed a long string of sexual encounters with men under her husband’s nose.
Her staff would later reveal how she made little effort to be discreet, often entertaining her lovers in her bedroom when Mr Nevin was in a room down the corridor.
Her fatal flaw proved to be her arrogant belief she had masterminded the perfect crime. It emerged she left a trail of evidence in her wake.
The breakthrough in the case came when detectives tracked down three men she had individually tried to recruit for the murder.
TV salesman John Jones, who ran a Sinn Féin advice clinic in Dublin, told gardaí she propositioned him to shoot Tom Nevin in 1989.
William McClean, who had been one of Nevin’s lovers back in the 1980s, said she approached him around 1990 with a similar proposition.
Former IRA member Gerry Heapes revealed Nevin approached him 10 times and suggested a number of ways her husband could be murdered. However, the three men did agree to testify at Nevin’s trial. The jury was then able to also find Nevin guilty of murder, for which she paid her price for the remainder of her life.