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Wednesday 13 December 2017

Why crime and punishment has always fascinated

IRELAND was once a country where certain crimes were simply out of the ordinary; people were not routinely assaulted in public places, burglaries were rare and gangland killings did not exist.

The society of more than 100 years ago compared to the Ireland of 2012 bears no comparison, though many of the laws, a legacy of the British legal system, are still the same today.

There was still plenty of crime. By any measure, Ireland was a much harsher place. Severe poverty, alcohol abuse and domestic violence often went hand-in-hand.

Behind closed doors the reality was often a grim one, particularly for women and children, who suffered dreadfully at the hands of husbands and fathers. Justice was often rough and capital punishment was widely used.

Crime, just as it does now, fascinated the public and the minutiae of criminal deeds, whether they be macabre, cunning or downright foolhardy, seized and held the attention of people everywhere.

In this series of four magazines, the Irish Independent explores some of the most shocking crimes of the last 100 years, some with insights from criminal experts, the reporters who were there and the gardai who were involved.

We look at the causes and affects of different murders, examine crimes of greed and envy, take a look back at some of the most dramatic robberies and kidnaps in the State's history and reflect on the long list of unsolved crimes that remain in the public conciousness.

The 'Crime Files' examines how cases were solved, how clues were gathered, how notable crimes were reported and how they affected the families of victims -- the ones left to pick up the pieces.

Our relationship with crime is complex.

We find it abhorrent yet are compelled by it. Crime authors Michael Sheridan and Terry Prone describe why this is so.

As with last year's 'Rolling Back The Years' series, we have drawn heavily on archived 'Irish Independent' images to shed light on stories such as the brutal murder of Garda John Curtin in Tipperary in 1931 (see issue three) and the hanging of Cork farm hand David O'Shea for the murder of young creamery worker Ellen O'Sullivan.

O'Shea was paraded by gardai through the streets of his Co Kerry village Rathmore, handcuffed and shamed for all to see, an action which would be unthinkable today.

That was a fate avoided by South African Shan Mohangi who killed his teenage girtfriend, 16-year-old Hazel Mullen in 1963.

In this issue, Ms Mullen's family explain why they have completely forgiven Mohangi for the terrible crime.

We also examine the case of callous wife murderer Joe'O'Reilly. Convicted, for example, in 1950, he would almost certainly have gone to the gallows.

But then he would have probably escaped detection in the first place in an age when technology played very little role in catching our most dangerous criminals.

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