Detectives are focusing on reports of “unusual activity” noticed in woodland on the evening missing woman Deirdre Jacob was last seen, as search teams descend on a Co Kildare site.
Fresh searches are underway today in woodland in Taggartstown as part of Garda investigations into the murders of two missing women, Deirdre Jacob and JoJo Dullard
The major operation is taking place close to Usk Little near the county border with Wicklow and will hope to recover crucial evidence related to the missing women.
Detectives do not believe the murders of the two young women are directly linked but are carrying out the searches as part of both inquiries.
Inspector John Fitzgerald, of Kildare Garda Station, told a press briefing this morning that there was unusual activity noticed in the wood, a short distance from Usk Little on the evening Deirdre Jacob was last seen.
He said that, while the search was related to Ms Jacob’s disappearance, they will ‘bear in mind’ that Jo Jo Dullard was last seen a short distance away in the town of Moone.
The search, Inspector Fitzgerald said, is expected to last up to three weeks and will cover an area of around four acres.
He said a previous cursory search of the site was carried out but that a decision was made to carry out a more detailed search. This followed a review of the evidence and statements gathered by the Garda Serious Crime Review Team.
A warrant was obtained from the district court and up to 15 members of the divisional search team will comb the land each day along with other units and forensic specialists.
Inspector Fitzgerald said that October was identified as the best time to carry out the search due to the terrain and easier digging conditions.
Both investigations have been upgraded to murder inquiries in recent years after the cases were reviewed by the Garda’s ‘Cold Case’ unit.
Retired Garda Detective Alan Bailey, who investigated the disappearance of Ms Jacob, said that “very credible information” has recently been passed to the investigating officers.
“This is a huge undertaking and it will take a number of weeks. In investigative terms, it is a very significant development,” Mr Bailey said on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.
Mr Bailey said Ms Jacob’s disappearance was “most unusual” as she was standing at the front gate of her own home and just disappeared without a trace.
“She was seen standing at the gate and waved to a number of neighbours and friends that passed by on the road, a busy road leading into Newbridge, but no trace has been found ever since.
“We’re satisfied with our investigations from the very start that she didn’t leave of her own will. Certainly, the person that took her was not known to her,” Mr Bailey said.
Mr Bailey said that convicted rapist Larry Murphy does remain a person of interest in the two disappearances, in that he had the same “modus operandi” for the crimes he was convicted of.
"For those reasons, alone he would certainly be a person of interest,” Mr Bailey said.
The area being searched by gardaí this morning is just a ten-minute drive from where JoJo Dullard went missing, Mr Bailey said.
The former detective said the families of both Ms Jacob and Ms Dullard have had “many false dawns” and said they are going through a “very difficult time”.
“Hopefully this search can bring some sort of closure to at least one family and at the same time provide vital evidence to assist and solve the murder of their loved one.
“After serving in the Garda Cold Case Unit for many years, I’ve learned that the conscience is a funny thing and it does trouble people and the passage of time doesn’t change that. It’s never too late. This new evidence has only just been received recently but it’s as significant now as it would have been when the disappearances occurred,” Mr Bailey said.
A senior source told the Irish Independent yesterday: “This search is being carried out as a result of credible information received.
“The intelligence relates to suspicious activity in the area at the time of the disappearance but this was only passed on recently.”
Gardaí are satisfied that the two murders were carried out by different people and are not directly connected.
Garda Headquarters announced details of the searches on Sunday relating to what they said were “investigations into the disappearance of women in the Leinster area”.
Notorious rapist Larry Murphy remains the chief suspect in the murder of Ms Jacob (18) who was last seen near her home in Newbridge on July 28, 1998.
The last sighting of her was from CCTV footage at an Irish Permanent office on the town’s Main Street at around 3pm.
The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) is currently awaiting the review of an extensive file, sent to a specialist barrister, on whether charges will be preferred against Murphy.
He initially became of person of interest in the investigation after it emerged that he had visited a shop owned by Ms Jacob’s grandmother prior to the disappearance.
Detectives travelled to Britain in 2018 and with the assistance of the London Metropolitan police attempted to interview Murphy, who refused to answer any questions.
He was previously convicted of kidnapping, repeatedly raping and attempting to murder a young woman in the nearby Wicklow Mountains on February 11, 2000.
The disappearance of Ms Dullard was upgraded to murder last year following inquiries by the Garda’s Serious Crime Review Team (SCRT).
Ms Dullard was 21-years-old when she disappeared without a trace from Moone, Co Kildare, on November 9, 1995.
She had missed her bus home and had to take an indirect bus to Naas, before hitching two lifts to Moone.
Later that day the young woman was on the phone to a friend from a phonebox to notify her of her whereabouts, when a car pulled up for Ms Dullard. She has not been seen since.
Both of the murder inquiries are being led by local detectives with assistance from the SCRT who specialise in cold case investigations.