ON THURSDAY, February 23, 2005, Theresa Murphy, aged 33, sat in her little flat in Cabra Park, Dublin and carefully destroyed all her photographs and letters. She put aside her two favorite wooden bongo drums and a plant for her closest friends and disposed of the rest of her personal possessions into a bin bag. She then hammered three nails above the kitchen door. Carefully,
ON THURSDAY, February 23, 2005, Theresa Murphy, aged 33, sat in her little flat in Cabra Park, Dublin and carefully destroyed all her photographs and letters. She put aside her two favorite wooden bongo drums and a plant for her closest friends and disposed of the rest of her personal possessions into a bin bag. She then hammered three nails above the kitchen door. Carefully, she tied a rope into a noose and hangedherself.
Theresa Murphy was beautiful and bright, a young woman full of gentleness and kindness, a woman who spread charm around her to hypnotic effect. Theresa Murphy mesmerised those who knew her. Her harrowing death, a death without the use of alcohol or drugs, has left her friends and loved ones traumatised and angry.
Theresa was the sister of 'Niamh'*, the woman at the centre of the sexual abuse allegations at White's Villas, Dalkey. Beside Theresa's body lay a 37-page suicide note and, poignantly, a note to the Dun Laoghaire Credit Union apologising for her late payments. The thoroughness with which she prepared this, her last note on this earth, reveals Theresa's determination that its horrific contents be taken with the utmost gravity. It also reveals the brutal pain within her.
The letter was addressed to her sister: 'Niamh' Murphy, c/o Eamonn O'Reilly, Dun Laoghaire Garda Station.
Theresa's story is one of the most horrific I have ever encountered. After I read it, I ran to the bathroom and retched. It is full of savage, bleak, appalling facts. In the letter, Theresa describes the quiet howls of terror and whines of fear, all muffled behind blankets nailed to the windows of this house of horrors.
It details a litany of evil abuse, humiliation and degradation and confirms the gross deeds that took place in White's Villas. It describes the appalling abuse she endured with her brother, Michael. It describes the smell of urine and faeces. It describes things that should never be believed. It was simply too sickening for words. Attached to Theresa Murphy's suicide note was an extra page. This page names the two family members who abused and raped her.
Theresa Murphy was a passionately private woman. For 33 years she kept her inner torment firmly within the lyrics of her music. She wrote this suicide letter for one reason and one reason only - she wanted to be heard.
Her brother Martin, who told Theresa he had been raped and buggered by his father, hammered three nails above his own door 10 years earlier and hung himself. On the day Theresa died, she was wearing his locket, one of her most treasured possessions.
Another brother Michael, who claimed to have been abused and raped by her father and uncle (now deceased) was buried last Wednesday. His body was found at Killiney Dart Station after he had been missing for nearly three years. The uncle who abused him was a convicted paedophile sent home from the UK on licence and allowed to live freely in the community of Dalkey. He was just one of a known group of paedophiles living there.
Theresa supported her sister Niamh's story of murder and abuse. She was increasingly convinced that gardai and some local people had covered up the abuse. As a young child, she kept secret all the sins of her family; the fact that Niamh's mother, in an effort to conceal the crime of incest, stabbed her newly-born grandchild 40 times with a knitting needle in front of her; the fact that the second child delivered stillborn to Niamh was buried in garden. The fact that Josie Murphy forced her daughters to go to their father's bed to be raped.
The finding of her brother Michael's body at Killiney Dart station was the last straw for Theresa. In a desperate effort to find some information about him, she was forced to ring her parents' house and heard her father's voice taunting her. She had not heard his voice for years. It triggered memories of years of sexual abuse at his hands, those same mocking laughs brought back all her pain. She could take no more. The past haunted Theresa every day and every night of her life. She made theultimate sacrifice. Her beautiful self.
Born in White's Villas on August 23, 1971, Theresa was the youngest child in a family of 10. She grew up chronically unloved. Family friend Michelle Hanlon remembers the Murphy house well.
"I have never seen a family like it in my life. When they were old enough, the kids got out of the house as quickly as possible. From Joe right down to Theresa, every one of them. I remember being in the house and seeing Theresa's grandmother sitting in a snug under the stairs with a CB radio. She was calling, 'Ladybird, ladybird, I'm looking for a badger,' and taking slugs from a bottle of sherry. It was so weird to see her doing this.
"She was filthy and smelly. Her hair was never washed. She wore these smock dresses with the aul' lads' ankle socks. It was obvious to the naked eye that something just wasn't right in the house. The children were all extremely dirty-looking kids," says Michelle.
"I remember calling to see Theresa one day. She was about six. I just pushed in the front door. She jumped when she saw me. She was sitting in a communion dress on the sofa, rigid with fear. It wasn't her communion day. I still remember the haunted look on her face. It was horrible."
At the age of 12, Theresa learnt a cruel truth. She discovered that Margaret, whom she had thought was her sister, was actually her mother. She was absolutely devastated. Technically, she was a niece of Niamh's. Technically, the man who abused her was actually her grandfather.
"I remember the parents were drinking in the town hall the night that Martin hung himself in the house. The father, being the caretaker, had several sets of keys for the town hall, as had his friends. God knows what went on there. One source has told me that when Niamh made allegations to the gardai in 1995, her father was seen taking two 'small friends' of the family to the Town Hall every Saturday morning. After Martin's suicide, the Murphys fled from Dalkey. No one would serve them," said Michelle Hanlon.
Last week, Theresa's friends felt compelled to share their story with me, their words corroborate Theresa and Niamh's descriptions of devastating acts of inhumanity. They are horrified that the system has left them down. They are appalled that Theresa's parents are still denying what happened, even though they were the people who tormented her with their depravity. They are appalled that three of her sisters now deny the abuse even though they made statements to gardai in 1995 confirming the abuse. These 10-year-old statements exist. Why don't gardai produce them now?
When I approached Peter Murphy and asked him to comment on the allegations, he became antagonistic, said 'I know nothing about them', and locked the door.
Theresa's friends have lost faith in the gardai and the DPP who rejected Niamh's case for the fifth time, citing "the length of time and the difficulty of securing a conviction as a result". The DPP decided not to prosecute Niamh and Theresa's parents either for murder or sex abuse. Other reasons included "the lack of independent evidence and any admission of guilt".
I, like many others, find it incredible that no prosecution of any nature had been deemed appropriate.
Alan Shatter, TD, has said: "I am gravely concerned about the lack of prosecutions in this case. It seems to be from published information, there is a prima facie case to be brought alleging murder, assault and sexual abuse."
But the huge scab of scandal and pain gets more septic by the day. Theresa's suicide was a defensive act of protection from the pain of her parents. It cannot be forgotten.
I know Niamh personally, I know that she has never had regression therapy and has willingly handed over her medical notes to gardai. I know that gardai are also aware that she has never had regression therapy and I know that the recent coverage in the media, reporting that she has had regression therapy, is a huge effort to discredit her. It is also a huge lie.
Over several pots of tea, Theresa's friends - Kevin, Steve, Shireen, Miriam, Mark and Hayley - produce a DVD of her last performance in the Temple Bar Music Centre. The room is quiet. The prevailing mood is one of mourning.
I can see why. Theresa was a singer of outstanding talent. She had just finished recording an album of funky, organic soul music. She was a professional dancer who had an uncompromising attitude and style. She worked for the Edge in Dalkey and he told her that she had an amazing voice. He told her to sing with a DJ. And that is what she did.
It took her lifelong friend Kevin Harran's practiced eye to discern that the energetic musical performances of Theresa, her exuberant personality, were calculated distractions from a pain-filled past that would shock the most hardened of humans. Theresa was incredibly vulnerable. Her secret life was a condition of all her friendships. She didn't want to be in the limelight. She was afraid that she would be associated with her family. Beneath her mischievous rumbustiousness lay a melancholy from which her distinctive style of singing emerged. Her lyrics say it all.
"I'm taking no shit no more, no more. I'm going to stand up and fight you. You'll have no place to go. Do you hear me? You're not in me, no more, no more. I've made up my mind. Goodbye, my love, I'm smiling, goodbye."
"I went out with her for four years," says Kevin, "and I've been her best friend ever since. It took a long time for her to tell me anything. The last time I saw her was the night before she killed herself. She was in good form. I brought her to see a friend and she gave her a couple of presents, a wooden statue and a nightdress. Recently she had been upset. When her brother Michael's body was discovered in Killiney Dart Station, she went downhill rapidly. His father, just as with Theresa, had abused him.
"Theresa tried to kill herself many times. I used to find her crying. I used to get panicked phone calls from her wherever she lived. From the time I knew her, she was like that. She sometimes woke up screaming and shaking. I got used to it. I loved her. She locked herself into her room to recover from the pain of the past. Theresa had looked for help everywhere - the Rape Crisis Centre, the Rotunda, even Cluain Mhuire, who told her she was fine, but the system failed her."
"I called her Tessa," says Miriam Moran. "She was the most beautiful person I ever met. It's always been awkward for me to talk about her because her life makes my life look like Mary Poppins. Tessa did what her two dead brothers couldn't do; she left evidence of her abuse in the form of a letter that needs to be listened to. Tessa and Niamh are standing up for everyone that is incapable of standing up to the powers that be. This is the last message she left for me on my mobile. 'Hi hon, sorry ain't been in touch. Hard times lately but hope the move goes okay. Love txx'."
But for all her liveliness and inventiveness, there was something inhibited and cautious about Theresa. Her friends Hayley Casey and Shireen Stapleton noticed it.
"She liked a glass of Chardonnay," says Shireen, "but that was about it. She was a clean-living, body-conscious woman. She exercised, She used weights. She didn't like not being in control. There was no foundation for trust in her life. She never knew trust. Even though she was naturally sexy, she never wore revealing clothes. She was quite moralistic. She didn't need to show any cleavage or flesh."
"When we first met Tessa in 2002, she was healthy and happy," says Hayley. "She was our closest friend. We all danced together. When she was out with us, she was always singing brightly but when she was alone, she seemed sad, tortured and scared. In a small group, you have to share. But Tessa couldn't share the pain of her past. When we asked her about her family, she always said, 'You don't want to know, babe'," Hayley adds.
"Tessa was very possessive of her own history. She didn't want people to know things about her," says Shireen. "She feared being exposed. For this reason, she did nothing to excess. She did not like to lose control. She tried all her life to gain control of the body that had been taken away from her by her parents."
"If Tessa saw someone from Dalkey," says Kevin, "she'd walk across the street. She dreaded anyone asking her who she was because she knew that they would immediately connect the name Murphy with her family in Dalkey. She froze if anyone mentioned 'Dalkey'.
"Tessa tried to kill herself before. She tried to kill herself when she was nine, which will give you an indication of what she went through. She took an overdose of paracetamol when she was in England and ended up in the King's Hospital for a month. When I lived with Tessa, I had to take the nails out of the wall on several occasions.
"Tessa would disappear for weeks and months," says friend, Steve Whiteside. "It was just a pattern that her friends accepted. One day she moved to a cottage in Moynalty, in County Meath. The location was highly convenient. It was as far away from her parents and the village of Dalkey as she could get.
I spent a lot of time with her in Moynalty. She loved Moynalty. She'd cook spaghetti carbonara, walk the lakes. There was no-one around. It was peaceful," says Steve.
"I met Tessa in 1999," says Mark. "What struck me about Tessa was that when you met her, you just said 'wow'. You were in awe of her energy. I knew about the abuse, I knew that she was tormented as a human being. To be abused sexually by your mother and father is truly the worst."
Theresa's friends believe that the investigation into the abuse that took place in White's Villas and the murder of Niamh's baby is full of holes. "It has reached the stage where it is already a complete tragedy," says Steve. "It's an insult to Niamh, to Theresa. We don't want them called liars. They are not liars. When Niamh was 11, Theresa was only five. The social services should have said these children are all fucked up, get them into a home. Everyone ignored their plight, their misery. Theresa's father is 76, her mother is 70. They still walk down to Dun Laoghaire every day. Is that fair or just?"
"When I was told that Niamh and Theresa's memories were false, I was disgusted," says Maria Zapata. "There is nothing false about her memories. I have known Niamh for nearly 40 years and she is telling the truth. I can't say why now or give the details but there are things she told me while all this was happening that back up her story. All of Niamh's school friends and old neighbours are behind her. The community of Dalkey fully supports her, we will not have her called a liar.
"When little Martin was just eight, he told me he wanted to tell me a secret. 'Something is buried in the garden,' he said. "I believed him. When I saw the gardai digging the garden, I was very depressed. I felt that these people were very clever." The gardai need to do a bit of regression therapy and get their facts right."
When I interviewed Detective Inspector Eamonn O'Reilly last year we discussed the post mortem that had been performed on Niamh's first baby, the baby she delivered at the age of 11. He showed me a drawing of the baby which had been stabbed 40 times by a sharp instrument with a pointed surface, probably a knitting needle. She had stab wounds on her face and neck, three wounds on her chin, 18 wounds on her chest, one behind the ear, 15 on the neck and several more. He went through every stab wound, described each one, where it was on the body, and named each wound.
Who authorised the body of a baby with 40 stab wounds to be buried in the Holy Angels plot in Glasnevin? Who was the father of that baby? Was it Peter Murphy, Niamh's father, or was it one of his friends in Dalkey at that time?
It is a known fact that some members of the gardai in Dalkey were friends of Peter Murphy, who had told them years previously that Theresa and Niamh were mad. They believed him and liked him. They drank with him in the Queen's bar and the town hall several times a week for years. These victims have not received justice.
Niamh sticks by her claims of abuse, despite a denial of any impropriety whatsoever by her three elder sisters last week. Yet Niamh and Theresa's parents have not been prosecuted for murder.
In what seems like a savage irony of the saddest order, it has taken Theresa's death to confirm her sister's accusations of barbaric abuse. Thisis the only evidence we have.On March 1, 2005, 200 people attended Theresa's funeral. Kevin Harran, the love of Theresa's life, granted her final wish to be cremated in peace with neither of her parents present. Theresa's ashes were surrendered to the sea in Dun Laoghaire, a place where she had always found peace.
When Niamh asked the priest if could she say a few words at the funeral service, he said yes. She asked him was he sure? He said yes. But even he was not prepared for what Niamh said.
She told the congregation that she and her siblings were abused, she said that two of her siblings had committed suicide because they were abused and that they just couldn't live with the fact that they would never get justice. She pointed out that it was suspected that a third sibling, her brother Michael, also committed suicide because he was abused too.
She said that they had all suffered these crimes, for week after week, month after month, year after year, on child after child after child. Yet no-one apparently noticed and no-one was ever punished. She said her own daughter, had she lived, would have been 32 years old on that day, and she had been fighting this battle for justice since her daughter's birth. She said that she would never give up, and that she was now fighting for her siblings too, as well as her son John, buried in the garden in Dalkey.
The priest was in tears. On the altar, Niamh was supported by her husband, who held her while she spoke. He has stood by her loyally through all this. They have been together for over 18 years. Niamh spoke from her heart, she spoke the truth,but the 200 people who stood up to applaud her already knew that.
* Not her real name.
For the record: no people interviewed in this article were paid for doing it. 'Niamh' was never paid for her interview with me in April, 2004.