Retired cop recalls rumours of political influence in missing Mary Boyle probe
National crime unit may take on the case following new claims by her twin, writes Maeve Sheehan
Thirty eight years after Mary Boyle vanished on a Donegal bog, Ann Doherty has come out of the shadows to push the authorities for a new investigation into her twin sister's disappearance.
Meeting TDs in Leinster House last week, she told them that she believed her sister was dead and that she knew the identity of the person who killed her. And she firmly believed that there was both political interference and a garda cover-up in the case, Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald told the Dail last week, as Ann Doherty looked on from the public gallery. Ann was supported by her cousin Margo O'Donnell, country singer and sister of Daniel O'Donnell, who also claimed to have been told the name of the culprit. Both have given statements to gardai at Pearse Street garda station in Dublin, in the hope of prompting a fresh investigation.
Was there a cover-up in the country's longest-running unsolved missing person's case in Ireland? Was there political interference?
According to Aidan Murray, who was a detective sergeant when Mary disappeared, there was talk that a politician attempted to intervene, but never any evidence. "I only heard it in garda conferences but I could never prove that," he said. But the one person he believed should have been arrested never was.
Murray was at home on leave on Friday, March 18, 1977, when Mary was reported missing by her distraught parents. Six-year-old Mary had been at her grandparents' house in Cashelard, a remote and boggy townland outside Ballyshannon, where the extended family had lunch. Her uncle, Gerry Gallagher, was the last person to see her alive.
She disappeared after lunch. Mary, her twin Ann, her brother Patrick, and their cousins were playing outside. Her uncle was working outside and then walked across the fields to a neighbour's house to return a ladder. He said he was half-way across the field when he noticed Mary had followed him and he told her to go back. He continued on to the neighbour's house.
She never did get back. Her mother, Ann Boyle, went to check on the children and couldn't see her. At that stage, Mary's uncle was back working at the homestead. He went off to look for her but couldn't find her. Gardai, family and scores of neighbours scoured the 450-yard stretch of land between the only two houses in the area, in a search that escalated over the following weeks into a trawl of bog holes, lakes, streams and the countryside beyond. Not a trace of Mary was ever found. Lists of persons of interest were drawn up. All were interviewed voluntarily. Murray said he did question one individual who he thought should have been arrested. "He was never brought in as a suspect."
According to Murray, there was talk that a politician had put in a phone-call on behalf of this individual but nothing more than that. And without a body, detectives were hindered in the scope of the investigation and their enquiries.
Over the years, Murray accompanied Mary's mother on many trips to see so-called clairvoyants who claimed wrongly to know where she was. "She even went to Scotland, to the Scottish police, thinking that she would get help there. There was somebody who said she was taken over to Scotland through the North. The super said you arrange it with the police force over there and I arranged for somebody to meet her but that came to nothing," he said.
Sadistic paedophile Robert Black later became a suspect in Mary's disappearance after he was convicted of murdering three girls in 1996. He had been a long-distance truck driver whose work brought him across Ireland, North and South. Murray and his inspector travelled to interview Black, but he refused to meet the Irish officers. Murray believes there was "no way" that the paedophile killer was in that remote part of Ballyshannon that day.
The person whom Ann Doherty believes killed Mary has never been arrested. In fact, the arrest was of a convicted sex offender from Donegal last year. He was identified following a review of the case in 2011 and questioned in prison. No further action was followed.
In the book Missing and Unsolved by Barry Duggan, Ann Boyle said the loss of Mary had a devastating effect on the family, but especially on her twin. "She (Ann) didn't seem focused. She wouldn't talk. Mary wasn't talked about for a long time." With the support of her cousin Margo, Ann Doherty started pushing hard for a fresh investigation in recent years. Margo told the Sunday Independent this weekend she could not talk about the case at this stage.
A senior garda source said their concerns, including those relating to political interference, were being taken seriously. A report is being prepared and it is expected that the National Bureau of Criminal Investigations may take over a fresh probe of Mary's disappearance.
Murray said: "I always prayed that it would be solved before I retired; now I pray that it's before I die."
A Garda spokesman said there have been two reviews of Mary Boyle's disappearance, the latest has conducted a significant investigation, interviewed a wide range of people and carried out searches. Gardai are also liaising with Mary's mother, Ann.