Sunday 20 October 2019

Two little girls - one was murdered by persons unknown, the other vanished without a trace

Bernadette Connolly in her Irish dancing outfit.
Bernadette Connolly's sisters, Trisha, Ann and Kerrie pictured holding a photograph of murder victim, Bernadette (see story).
Members of Bernadette Connolly's family pictured at the graveside.
Bernadette Connolly's funeral.

Anita Guidera

Doors were routinely left on the latch. Children played freely in untamed countryside

But the unthinkable happened not once, but twice that decade, when two little girls vanished near their family homes in broad daylight. Despite extensive investigations, the tragedies remain unsolved.

Today, the smiling images of a shy, medal-festooned Bernadette Connolly (10), abducted and murdered in Co Sligo in 1970, and a beaming Mary Boyle (6), who disappeared in Co Donegal in 1977, are a painful testament to stolen innocence.

In an ironic twist, both families had returned to the north-west of Ireland from Birmingham, believing it to be a safer place to rear children.

Bernadette, known as Bernie, was less than 3km from her home in Doorla when she was abducted in the early evening of April 17, 1970, just as the Apollo spacecraft was returning from its moon mission.

The champion Irish dancer left home on her bicycle, heading to a neighbour's house a few kilometres away to pick up some groceries for her mother.

Bernadette Connolly's sisters Patricia, Anne and Kerrie.
Bernadette Connolly's sisters Patricia, Anne and Kerrie.
Bernadette Connolly in her Irish dancing outfit.
Bernadette Connolly's sisters, Trisha, Ann and Kerrie pictured holding a photograph of murder victim, Bernadette (see story).
Bernadette Connolly's funeral.

Her treasured bicycle, a gift from the previous Christmas, was later found partially concealed on an embankment along the route. Her mother's purse lay on the grass verge.

Almost four months later, Bernadette's decomposed body was found at Limnagh bog over 20km away, on the northern slopes of the Curlew Mountains.

Three miraculous medals that had been stitched to her vest helped confirm her identity. She had almost certainly been sexually assaulted.

No one has ever been charged with the crime.

In a school essay called 'Myself' written weeks before her tragic murder, Bernie wrote: "My name is Bernadette Connolly. I have two sisters. I have one brother. Mary Flynn is my best friend. I want to be a teacher when I grow up. I have curly hair. I have brown eyes. I have glasses. I sit beside Patsy Kerins.''

But those dreams were never to be realised. Somewhere along that remote country road near the village of Collooney, evil was visited upon her.

There were witness reports that a green Ford Escort van belonging to the Passionist monks from the nearby Cloonmahon Monastery had been seen driving in the area.

A petrol pump attendant, now deceased, said a priest from the monastery -- whom he named -- appeared to be in a hurry when he called for petrol in the van that evening. This claim was later denied by the priest.

Ann Boyle pictured in March around the 30th anniversary of the disappearance of her daughter Mary. Ann is holding a photo of her three children Mary, Paddy and Ann
Ann Boyle pictured in March around the 30th anniversary of the disappearance of her daughter Mary. Ann is holding a photo of her three children Mary, Paddy and Ann
Ann Boyle with pictures of her missing daughter Mary

Another resident of the monastery moved in with the Connolly family in the aftermath of Bernadette's disappearance to console them. He was transferred to Africa soon afterwards and died in 2001.

Senior members of the original inquiry have since revealed how a copy of the murder file, which named two priests as suspects, was handed over to the Catholic hierarchy.

Suspicion of a church cover-up was fuelled by revelations by a senior detective in the case that he had been told to "forget about it" on the evening before he was due to bring one religious suspect in for questioning.

Convicted UK paedophile Bob Reynolds, who had worked in the Sligo area as a TV repairman in 1970, was also questioned in connection with the rape and murder but he was ruled out.

Following an appeal from the family, the case was reopened in 2009 but a subsequent review of the investigation found "no evidence that the investigation was impeded or inhibited in any way".

Bernadette's distraught parents died without ever knowing who had murdered their daughter.

Her mother, Maureen, died 12 years after the tragedy, never having recovered from the shock and grief. Bernadette's father, Gerry, who died in 1999, told the family he was "99pc" convinced that he knew the identity of his daughter's killer.

Today, her still-grieving siblings -- Ann, Tommy, Patricia and Kerrie (born two years after the murder) -- have all but given up hope of ever knowing the truth of what happened to Bernie.

Even her bicycle, her mother's purse and the precious medals she had been wearing, which were in garda custody, cannot now be found.

As the 42nd anniversary of the unsolved tragedy approaches, the family has pleaded for privacy.

"It is over 40 years now and it is just very painful. It is too painful. Obviously, we will never forget Bernadette but at this stage we just wish it would lie. We all just hate it coming back up again," said her sister, Kerrie Aldridge.

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