One of the IRA Disappeared, found last year after a 36-year wait, was shot in the middle of the forehead before being dumped in a makeshift grave in a bog, an inquest into his death has been told.
The remains of Brendan Megraw were discovered in a drainage ditch on Oristown bog, near Kells, Co Meath, on October 1, 2014, as forensic investigators prepared for an extensive dig.
Dublin Coroner's Court heard the grave was one-metre deep with Mr Megraw's decomposed body found bent over, with his head close to his legs and feet which had been crossed.
He had a balaclava on and the clothes he was last seen in - a beige duffle coat, blue jeans, a wool cardigan and brown lace-up brogues.
The 22-year-old was abducted after his pregnant wife Marie was drugged in their home while he was out shopping with his mother Brigid on a Saturday afternoon.
Geoff Knupfer, lead investigator with the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims Remains (ICLVR), said the indication was that Mr Megraw was murdered at the bog soon after his abduction on April 8 1978.
"I think it would have been possibly shortly after that date of his abduction," the forensic scientist said.
A bullet, believed to be from a .38 calibre gun, was found with the remains, the inquest heard.
State Pathologist Professor Marie Cassidy told the hearing that from her examinations of the remains, Mr Megraw had been shot in the front of the head, with the bullet exiting at the top of his spine.
She also said Mr Megraw, from Twinbrook, west Belfast, had possibly been shot in the upper right arm but there was no concrete evidence of this.
"It is possible there was a second gunshot injury and it possibly continued across to the chest cavity, but there is no pathology to substantiate this," Prof Cassidy said.
The jury was told death would more than likely have been instantaneous.
Coroner Dr Brian Farrell told the family: "The only consolation I can offer the family is that he may have died instantaneously and that his eyes may have been covered by the balaclava."
Mr Megraw's body was recovered in the third search at Oristown. The inquest heard the ICLVR, set up to find the bodies of 16 people who were abducted and secretly buried by republican terrorists during the Troubles, was acting on refined information.
The makeshift grave was on six hectares of bogland.
As there is no date for the time of death, the family buried him in Glenavy cemetery beside his parents Brigid and Robert over a year ago with a bronze plate on his coffin marked with October 1, 2014 - reflecting that his death was only legally confirmed the day his body was unearthed in a drainage ditch.
The jury returned a verdict of unlawful killing on or about April 8, 1978, caused by a gunshot wound to the head.
Dr Farrell added that the family had been through long sorrow over a protracted period of time.
"I'm sorry this has been extremely difficult for you all," he said. "I've heard the family say that Brendan's mother was particularly traumatised.
"As Brendan will be in your thoughts today and you are in our thoughts today as well, I'm so sorry to hear what happened.
"We extend our sympathies and condolences and wish you best wishes," he said.