Saturday 24 March 2018

Unsolved Crimes: How Grace Livingstone's killer got away with murder

Twenty-four years after the Malahide mother was shot dead in her bedroom, gardai have completed a cold-case review. Maeve Sheehan sifts through the evidence.

Grace Livingstone on a family holiday
Grace Livingstone on a family holiday

Meave Sheehan

On a still day, December 7, 1992, a fog rolled in from the Irish Sea and lingered over Malahide in north Dublin.

The Livingstones and their two children lived in number 37, The Moorings, in a small cul-de-sac of about a dozen or so houses. Daughter Tara, then 22, was away in France.

Grace with her two children
Grace with her two children

Grace Livingstone saw her husband James off to work at 8.25am. He worked for the Revenue Commissioners at Setanta House in the city centre. They were to drive to Castleblaney at 8pm that night for a Mass for his late brother Peadar, a priest. Their son Conor, then 20, took a lift to O'Connell Street with his father. Livingstone was in a car pool with his colleague, Art O'Connor, and picked him up on the way.

Grace went to Mass at 9am, dropped into the supermarket and came home. She chatted to a neighbour, a garda, in the driveway shortly before noon. Another neighbour, Anne Watchhorn, who lived across the road, spoke to her for 20 minutes on the porch before 2pm. At 2.10pm, Anne Watchhorn went home and Grace went back inside.

That afternoon, neighbours in the quiet enclave went about their business, preparing evening meals and caring for children returning home from school.

Ena Marisa Brennan, then 17, lived a few doors down from the Livingstones in number 32. She walked home from school with friends and stopped to chat before turning into her cul-de-sac. It was around 4.30pm. She noticed a young man walking towards them, who turned into the cul-de-sac. He wore a beige trench coat, black boots and had mousey, collar-length hair. She thought he was about 20.

The family home at The Moorings in Malahide, Co Dublin
The family home at The Moorings in Malahide, Co Dublin

Her friend, Hilary Maguire, noticed him, too. She later said he was around 6ft tall, his hair was blond and the long coat was "fawn".

Ena Marisa turned into the cul-de-sac. She said she overtook the man outside number 39, 40 or 41 and continued on past the Livingstones' house towards her home. When she looked back, he was gone.

"He obviously went into one of the houses. It was either the Livingstones' or [the houses on] either side of them," she would later tell the High Court.

Ena Marisa's mother, also Ena, was in her kitchen browning meat for a casserole for the evening meal when she heard a loud noise. She wasn't sure about the time. At first she told gardai she heard it between 3.45pm and 4.15pm, but later said it was 4.20pm because she had looked at the clock on the cooker to time the stew.

A family photo of Grace
A family photo of Grace

At number 36, the Livingstones' immediate neighbour, Ann Egan, was packing away her Christmas shopping when she heard a "very loud booming noise" that "echoed through the house". She put the time at around 4.30pm.

Margaret O'Sullivan, who lived on a street parallel to The Moorings, heard the noise in-and-around 4.30pm, too. She watched Emmerdale Farm, the afternoon soap. When it finished, she went out to check the washing on the line. She said she thought the noise sounded like a banger.

Across the road from the Livingstones, Philip McGivney, a landscape gardener, finished work felling treetops at number 27. He got into his van but had to turn it, so drove into the driveway across the road. As he drove in, his headlights shone into the porch and he saw a man standing inside, picking up what looked like a yucca plant. He said the man was in his early 20s with dark, collar-length hair and a thin build. He put the time at around 4.40pm.

In the normal course of events, these happenings would have been insignificant but for what followed a short time later when James Livingstone pulled into his driveway and turned the key in his front door at around 5.50pm.

James Livingstone, who was considered a suspect for the murder of his wife
James Livingstone, who was considered a suspect for the murder of his wife

Apart from a swim with colleagues at Marian College at lunchtime, Mr Livingstone had been in the office all day. He left the car park at 5pm with his Revenue colleague, Art O'Connor, and dropped him off first at Charlesfort Avenue. O'Connor later said he got home at around 5.50pm. The Livingstones' house was minutes away.

When James Livingstone crossed the threshold he found the house in darkness apart from the landing. There was no smell of cooking wafting from the kitchen - which he had expected as they had planned to leave at around 6pm for his brother's Mass.

A sweeping brush was propped against a wall, a mound of dirt beside it and a dust pan on the floor. Upstairs, he saw his .22 rifle leaning against a door, the bedroom in darkness and his wife lying on the bed. He turned on the light and found her on her stomach, blood all over her head. Thick, black insulating tape bound her hands and feet and gagged her mouth.

Mr Livingstone raised the alarm. He ran to Anne Watchhorn's house but got no answer so went to another neighbour, Margaret Murphy, who was a nurse. When she got to the house, he was on the phone to the emergency services. The call was logged at 5.58pm. John Hughes, a fireman, later told the High Court that he thought it odd that Livingstone didn't mention that the injured person was his wife.

Margaret Murphy and Dr Barry Moodley, the doctor who pronounced Grace dead at 6.35pm, separately told gardai they believed Grace had been dead for around two hours. Margaret Murphy said the body was still warm, the bleeding had stopped and the blood was congealing.

Grace’s funeral in December, 1992
Grace’s funeral in December, 1992

Dr Moodley noted "slight warmth" still in the body and that the blood was partially congealed. But Dr John Harbison, the State pathologist, came to a different conclusion. He arrived five hours later at 11.30pm to begin his examination of Grace's body. He put the time of her death at around 6pm.

Grace was wearing an apron, black trousers, two cardigans and a silk camisole. A dress and shoes had been left out in the bedroom. A hammer lay on the bed in Conor's room. The rifle case in the landing was open. The shot gun that Mr Livingstone kept in the wardrobe was gone. This was the weapon used to murder Grace. It was found in the garden hedge later that night. It was one of eight guns he kept in his house. No prints were ever found on it.

Four neighbours reported the loud noise on the day of the murder, while the gardener and the schoolgirls reported the sightings of the long-haired young man.

A motorist had also come forward to report a long-haired man driving an old red car erratically between 4pm and 5pm.

Gardai never traced the long-haired man. According to sources, they believed the person the gardener saw in the porch was probably Grace Livingstone, while the loud noise could have come from the sea or from workmen in the area using aluminium ladders. The investigation quickly focused on James Livingstone.

Mr Livingstone is the son of a gunsmith and jeweller who had a shop in Castleblaney, Co Monaghan. His hobbies were fishing, shooting wild fowl and the FCA. He met Grace at a dance near Dundalk. She was his opposite. She loved flower arranging and gardening and anything to do with nature. He once said that Grace used to make him put the worms he used for bait back in the garden when they came back from fishing trips because they were good for the soil.

Mr Livingstone was made of tough stuff. He set up the special investigations unit of the Revenue Commissioners to go after tax evaders and ran it for 14 years. His targets included IRA smugglers and diesel launderers, criminals and people who tried to put their money offshore. He kept an unlawfully held .45 Webley revolver in his bedside locker and a licensed .22 rifle in a case on the landing.

On the night of Grace's murder, he offered up his clothes for forensic examination. He also gave the names of some potential suspects he had been investigating, including members of the IRA.

The suggestion of IRA involvement was regarded as improbable by gardai - the view was that the IRA would have murdered Livingstone, not his wife. Nevertheless, a garda met an alleged IRA chief on the border, who denied any involvement, and a suspected IRA money launderer in Dublin, who did likewise.

Gardai focused on James Livingstone. They had a time of death of 6pm and the murder weapon belonged to the husband. There was no forensic evidence to link him to the crime and his clothes were clear of firearm residue. There was nothing to suggest the marriage was in trouble.

Mr Livingstone had an alibi. Detectives set up several tests to see if he could have arrived home earlier, once making the journey by 5.36pm. Art O'Connor, a precise man whose job was perfecting anti-tax evasion legislation, insisted Mr Livingstone dropped him home shortly before 5.50pm.

There was a fingerprint on the adhesive side of the black tape that bound Grace, but it was not her husband's. It remains unidentified to this day.

From the start, James Livingstone denied involvement in the murder. He and his children sued the State over the investigation and his alleged wrongful arrest in 2008. Gardai denied the allegations but the case was settled out of court after five days. A statement said he was entitled to the "full and unreserved presumption of innocence".

Before the settlement, the court heard how the day after they buried Grace, the Livingstone family were having a meal in Malahide when gardai asked them to give blood samples. They agreed. Tara, who was pregnant, was reduced to tears after being questioned about her parents' marriage: was her father violent or unfaithful? She claimed a garda told her they were "sure it was her father" who had murdered her mother.

Three months later, on March 3, James Livingstone was arrested at his home for possession of a firearm on the day of his wife's murder. The High Court heard that while in custody, he was shown photographs of his wife's dead body and told that his daughter was a whore and his son was on drugs. Mr Livingstone was released without charge.

In August 1993, gardai completed their investigation file on Grace Livingstone's murder. It effectively maintained that James Livingstone was the chief suspect but could not prove that he had done it. Later that month, deputy commissioner Tom O'Reilly drafted in Tom Connolly, then a highly experienced detective superintendent, to review the file.

In his book Detective: A Life Upholding the Law, published last year, Connolly included a chapter on Grace Livingstone's murder, outlining how he and a small team set themselves up at Malahide Garda Station to review the files.

He questioned the suspicion that James Livingstone had shot his wife when he came home from work before 6pm. He questioned why no one - not the nurse, the doctor, nor the two gardai first at the crime scene - detected the distinctive odour left by a discharged firearm. He questioned why no one reported hearing a noise at 6pm. He set up elaborate tests to show that the gunshot odour should have lingered for up to an hour-and-a-half.

He spoke to Dr Moodley, who said his professional opinion remained that Grace Livingstone was dead for about two hours when he saw her at 6.35pm. When Connolly put this to Dr Harbison, he replied: "I could not argue with Dr Moodley's opinion."

A Crimeline reconstruction broadcast on RTE in 1994 shook out more witnesses. There were now three people who had noticed a motorist with collar-length hair driving erratically in a reddish car in the vicinity on the day of the murder - but this motorist was never traced.

Another witness came forward with information about a hitch-hiker. He said the morning after Grace Livingstone's murder, he picked up a man in Limerick. He was young, tall, thin, and wore a long coat and black boots. The hitch-hiker told him he left Dublin at 3am that day, got a lift to Limerick for a "look around" and was returning to Dublin to collect his dole. When news came on the radio about the Livingstone murder, he said the man became agitated. The motorist reported this to gardai later that day, but no one from the investigation team contacted him.

Connolly's team took up the lead. They gleaned enough information from the motorist to trace the hitch-hiker in the UK. He turned out to have a conviction for assaulting a woman, and used to have a girlfriend whose sister lived close to the Livingstones. He admitted to detectives he was the hitch-hiker in question but denied the motorist's claims that he had got upset at hearing the news reports of the Livingstone murder. He also denied owning a long coat. His fingerprints did not match those found on the black tape.

Connolly also revisited five charity workers who were collecting money in The Moorings between 4pm and 6pm on the day of the murder. Their fingerprints had been taken, but not from the correct finger, according to Connolly. Only four of the five were available when the review team went to re-take them. The fifth had moved back to England - he, too, was tracked down. His charity colleagues accused him of stealing - which he denied - and he had convictions for theft. He, too, proved a negative match for the fingerprints.

Connolly's review concluded that Grace was murdered in her bedroom in Malahide between 4.30pm and 5pm.

This weekend, I asked Tom Connolly who he thinks killed Grace. "Considering all of the circumstances and the evidence available, it is most likely in my view that the crime was committed by the man seen in the porch by the landscape gardener," he said.

"The landscape gardener was asked a number of times in the first investigation was it possible that it was a woman he saw. He was quite sure that the person he saw was a young man.

"This is a murder investigation. This is the number one suspect and he was written off on the theory that the witness made a mistake in believing that it was a man."

James Livingstone declined to be interviewed for this article but it is believed the family have their own suspicions.

Mr Livingstone sold The Moorings many years ago but still lives in Malahide. Now 78, he remains close to Grace's family. Grace's only surviving sister spends Christmas with James and the children every year. When I rang him last week, he was on the Shannon with his grandchildren, getting great joy from teaching them how to fish.

The Garda's Serious Crime Review team have completed a cold case review 24 years after Grace Livingstone's murder. This weekend, the Garda press office said its recommendations are "being actioned by the investigative team in Coolock".

Sunday Independent

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