STUDENT Emer O'Loughlin may have been sexually assaulted and her throat slashed before her caravan was set ablaze in 2005.
A Garda cold-case review has gathered significant new evidence in the investigation into the 23-year-old, allowing detectives to upgrade the case from a suspicious death to murder.
Officers exhumed her body from a cemetery in Ennistymon yesterday as her father and brother looked on. The O'Loughlin family have always maintained that Emer was murdered by a man who then faked his own death. Her charred body was discovered in a burnt-out caravan on the Galway-Clare border in April 2005, but a post-mortem never established a cause of death.
The investigation was taken up by a cold case team last year and they exhumed Emer's remains yesterday, believing that scientific advances could provide a breakthrough.
A fresh examination was carried out at University College Galway hospital yesterday by Deputy State Pathologist Dr Michael Curtis and forensic anthropologist Dr Lorraine Buckley. Initial reports from that study suggest that Emer suffered serious injuries to her throat that may have been inflicted by a knife attack.
One line of inquiry is that she may have been sexually assaulted. Emer's father, John, maintains that the main suspect "is still out there".
"It is only a matter of time before he is found by gardai," Mr O'Loughlin said.
Gardai have previously confirmed that they are interested in speaking to a man whose clothing was found near the cliffs at Dun Aonghasa two weeks after Emer's death.
Three days after her body was found, the same man was involved in a stand-off with gardai at the cliff as he threatened to jump. He was taken into psychiatric care.
Detectives believe he later returned to the cliff and placed his clothes there in a bid to lead authorities to believe he had taken his own life.