“The why of the world is an answerless riddle
Puzzlesome, tiresome, hard to unriddle”.
It is fitting that those words from James Joyce adorn the memorial to Bettina Poeschel, as we may never know what drove Rathmullen man Michael Murphy to murder the young German tourist 20 years ago.
Last week marked two decades since the remains of the 28-year-old journalist were discovered in a ditch at Donore, Co Meath.
Murphy had abducted, raped and murdered Bettina in September 2001 while on her way to Newgrange.
It was an incident which shocked the nation, but rocked the small community in Donore to its very core.
Former Mayor of Drogheda Frank Godfrey believes he was one of the last people to see Bettina alive before her death, and says her smile will never be forgotten by anyone in the area.
"I still remember the day like it was yesterday,” says Frank, whose Country Cottage lies just metres from where her body was found on October 17th 2001. “The day it happened, I remember speaking to a visitor at the gate, and she asked how far was Newgrange. I told her, and then I asked was she Dutch, and she said no, she was German, and I have no doubt in my mind, it was that poor girl.”
Frank says he believes she didn’t make it the whole way to Newgrange, as time wasn’t on her side, so must have made her way back.
"There have been a lot of reports from people who said they seen her along the way, so I do believe she made it to Donore, and after she disappeared and was found, dozens of people left flowers at the gable end of my cottage,” he adds. “We had never seen anything like it in the village, and everyone was stunned and shocked.”
Frank says suspicion and rumour were rife in the area, with names being bandied about as to who could have done such a horrific thing to a visitor.
"Where she was found was just yards from my house, and we couldn’t believe someone could have done such a thing on our doorsteps,” says Frank. “People started looking at each other, and it really shook me to think that it could have happened in such a quiet place.”
In the days after Bettina disappeared, garda interest turned to Murphy, then 42, who was working on the construction of the nearby M1.
He had strangled 65-year-old Kitty Carroll in Drogheda in 1983, but only served eight years for manslaughter, released in 1992.
A DNA sample from the remains matched his, and Murphy was arrested and charged with the horrific crime, sentenced to life in prison in 2004.
It was also Frank who had organised the memorial ceremony ten years ago to mark that tragic milestone.
"That was such a sad occasion, and I will never forget her mother pointing to the spot where her body was found,” says Frank sadly. “People still talk about her and remember her, and she will never be forgotten here in Donore.
At a memorial service at the site of Bettina’s death, a local priest called for more vigilance in our communities to combat the continued threat of violence against women in Ireland.
Fr Colm O’Mahony remarked. “In many ways, our memorial today is very appropriate. Now more than ever, in all our news we hear violence against women – young women who are taken too soon, out for a night out, meeting friends, whatever the occasion may be,” said Fr Colm, an Augustinian friar in Drogheda. “We remember not just Bettina, but all the young women; our sisters, our daughters, and those closest to us. We pray that Bettina’s spirit, her presence now with God, may protect all gathered here and their families. We pray that she may be an inspiration to young women, to continue to follow their dreams, to continue to be brave in the world.”
Golden leaves floated gently down from autumnal trees as the small crowd gathered in the spot where the 28-year-old journalist’s remains were discovered, and where a monument now stands in her memory.
Organised by former Mayor Frank Godfrey, a beautiful wreath by Anne Crinion was laid at the foot of the memorial stone, and he introduced local singers Pat Gogan, Rory Mohan and his daughter Sinead, who gave beautiful musical tributes to the tragic visitor.
"We pray this may be a wake-up call to all of us in our communities, that we need to be always vigilant, to take care of each and everyone of us, and to always be open to those visiting our community,” added Fr Colm. “We also remember Bettina’s family in Germany; no matter how long it is, it is always a painful, raw emotion when anniversaries come around. We will always remember Bettina in our hearts, in our prayers and in our daily lives.”
Fr Colm then assisted Mr Godfrey in planting a tree; the Bettina Memorial Tree, kindly donated by Black’s Nursery, and it will serve as another lasting memory to the young woman who felt safe walking our roads in September of 2001.
Cllr Paddy Meade represented Meath County Council and also laid a wreath at the memorial.