Monday 16 September 2019

Island most foul

Ireland is becoming just like everywhere else. We may still have one of the lowest homicide rates in Europe but where once it was half that of Britain,

Ireland is becoming just like everywhere else. We may still have one of the lowest homicide rates in Europe but where once it was half that of Britain, now it is on a par. There are more sexually motivated crimes, an increase in the number of gangland killings, and with the list of people who simply vanish without trace increasing every year, we have to ask if we have a serial killer and how long before we produce a Fred West? Geraldine Niland looks at the changing face of murder in modern Ireland

THERE is an uneasy shadow weaving in and out of the scenes of unlawful killings in Ireland over the past decade. It is an elusive yet pervasive presence in a country no longer innocent. Once upon a time, a generation back, Ireland carried the distinction of having one of the lowest rates of homicide in the world. Now it is a place just like any other, where violent crime with its lethal edge of unsolved murders sits alongside wealth and prosperity.

And while more than half of all homicides trace a clear line between perpetrator and victim, the increase in sexually motivated murders and gangland killings is the by-product of a new age of sophisticated and premeditated violence. Statistically, Ireland still holds one of the lowest homicide rates in Europe, and one of the highest detection rates. But this masks the fact that in the past 10 years the number of killings has increased dramatically. There was a time when Ireland's homicide rate was half that of Britain. Nowadays it is on a par with it.

Murder is no longer a straightforward business fuelled by anger and rage. There is a chilling new figure stalking the land, that of a purposeful killer who executes in cold blood. In the case files of unsolved murders, there is a distinct line in the pattern and method of killing. Most of the female victims and the elderly have been bludgeoned to death or strangled in a scene of physical isolation, while most male victims have been shot in public places.

In 1995, Dr Enda Dooley of the Department of Justice published the first study of homicides in Ireland, which examined the incidence and characteristics of homicides between 1972 and 1991. During that 20-year period, the annual average rate of homicides was 33, giving a national average of 10 per million of population. He concluded that "while violent crime has increased, this has not been mirrored in an increase in the overall homicide rate. Ireland has one of the lowest homicide rates in Europe and there is no evidence that the rate is increasing."

The general picture of homicide drawn from this study was the killing of a man in his 30s by another somewhat younger man. The incident was more likely to occur late at night; to be unpremeditated; and to involve stabbing or physical battery. The study noted that frequently one or both parties were intoxicated, the victim and perpetrator knew each other and that the motive was some form of anger or rage.

The detection rate was deemed to be some 96 per cent, out of a total of 610 homicides. However, Dr Dooley noted that this detection rate was based on cases where gardaí "were satisfied as to the likely identity of the perpetrator" following their investigations. A charge of murder the legal term for a premeditated killing resulted in less than 20 per cent of convictions, although 57 per cent resulted in a conviction for manslaughter.

A case which illustrates this situation is that of Michael Bambrick, the 46-year-old, unemployed Dubliner who strangled his common-law wife, Patricia McGauley, in September 1991, and Mary Cummins on July 23, 1992, and disposed of their bodies by dismembering them and dumping them in a nearby rubbish tip and a drain near his home in Ronanstown, west Dublin. He was charged with murder on October 20, 1995, but the Director of Public Prosecutions accepted two guilty pleas to manslaughter, on which Bambrick was convicted. So murder and manslaughter figures are added together to arrive at the number of unlawful killings. And, as this study points out, the true detection rate for homicides is less than two-thirds of all unlawful killings. This is in line with international detection rates and reflects the growing difficulty of modern policing and murder investigations where there is no apparent link between killer and victim.

A further study of homicides between 1992 and 1996 is due to be published by the Department of Justice in the coming weeks. However, research already carried out by the Sunday Independent shows that the homicide rate for the 1992-96 period is an annual average of 55, with a total of 262 homicides, as compared with 33 per year for the previous 20-year period. The roll call of unsolved murders where women have been victims in the past decade includes Grace Livingstone, Patricia Doherty and Margaret Perry, who were killed in 1992; Philomena Gillane and Marie Kilmartin in 1994; Catherine Brennan in 1995; Sophie Toscan de Plantier and Belinda Pereira in 1996; Eileen Costello O'Shaughnessy and Mandy Fong in 1997 and Raonaid Murray in 1999. Most of these unsolved murder files illustrate the complexity of inquiries where the perpetrator falls beyond the immediate known circle of the victim.

Nothing in Raonaid Murray's life signalled the shadow of a killer. At 17, she was a normal, independent-minded teenager anchored by a close, loving family in the settled suburb of Glenageary in south county Dublin. But within yards of her home just after midnight on September 4, 1999, the ferocious hand of a killer would end all that. Over 18 months later, her killer remains at large.

On Friday, September 3, Raonaid worked a late shift at the Sally West boutique in Dun Laoghaire Shopping Centre where she held a summer job as a junior sales assistant. Just after nine that evening, she crossed the road to go to Scott's pub with a colleague. Both girls sat at one of two tables in the stained-glass bay window facing onto Dun Laoghaire's busy main street.

Scott's was a familiar place to her, where she moved easily among her peers. It was a crossroads for the traffic of Dun Laoghaire's youth, out to party on a Friday night. Raonaid knew Dun Laoghaire like the back of her hand; all its nooks and crannies, the Gaps, the winding walkways known as the Metals, and all the places in between. Her life had been rooted there from childhood. It was a place where she felt safe and where she belonged, a place where she had no reason to be afraid.

That evening, Raonaid made two calls on her friend's mobile phone as she finalised her plans for the evening. Originally, she was supposed to be babysitting for the evening but this was cancelled. Then, at 11.20pm, she moved out into the main street and said goodbye to her friend. Raonaid was on her way home to change and pick up some money before meeting other friends at midnight at Paparazzi's nightclub on Marine Road in Dun Laoghaire. It was just a 15-minute walk to her home. In the warm night air, she was a distinctive figure, a tall young 17-year-old with strawberry blonde hair carrying a big Sally West bag and a black and gold coat slung over her left arm.

At 11.53pm, Raonaid was seen at the top of nearby Corrig Avenue and Corrig Road by a woman motorist. The witness noticed a young man in the teenager's company. Her attention was drawn to the couple because the young man seemed to be "hassling" the girl. In her statement to gardaí, the witness said that she got the impression that the girl was trying to walk away from the young man. She also got the impression that Raonaid knew the man.

He is described as 5'10" and between 22 and 25 years old. He was good-looking, slim and of athletic build. He had sandy-coloured hair, which the witness described as messy-looking and tossed, cut in a style resembling that of Oasis member Noel Gallagher. He wore beige combat trousers and a beige or brown sweatshirt or jumper.

Minutes later, the teenager was seen walking alone. At 12.02am, another witness saw her as she made her way along Lower Glenageary Road. Eight minutes later, the voice of a woman was heard telling someone to "F*ck off".

Raonaid Murray was stabbed four times by a six-inch kitchen knife in the tree-lined walkway between Silchester Road and Silchester Crescent, known locally as the Gaps. The ferocity of the attack stunned even the most senior investigators. The assailant plunged the knife downward into the young girl's chest. Raonaid Murray raised her left arm to defend herself and the attacker rammed the knife through the Sally West shopping bag and into her arm. He then plunged the knife into her left side twice.

Somehow the dying teenager made her way along the remaining one hundred yards out into Silchester Crescent where she died alone on the grass verge. At 12.40am, she was found by her elder sister, Sarah, as she escorted a friend to the walkway from Silchester Park.

While gardaí have turned Dun Laoghaire and its hinterland upside down in search of Raonaid Murray's killer in an exhaustive and protracted inquiry, they have so far failed to identify the man seen with Raonaid in the minutes before she was killed. They have also been unable to identify another young man who joined Raonaid and her friends some weeks before at the Abrakebabra restaurant in Dun Laoghaire. Some officers now believe that the unidentified man seen "hassling" Raonaid Murray is her killer.

"Remember what this murderer did," her family said this weekend. "This murderer brutally took Raonaid's life and made her last moments a terrifying nightmare, viciously attacking Raonaid and leaving her to die alone in the dark."

DANIEL Toscan du Plantier told the French newspaper Le Figaro that there is a devil somewhere in the hills of southern Ireland. He was describing the murderer of his wife, 39-year-old Sophie, whose body was found outside her home in a remote laneway in Dunmanus West outside Schull on December 23, 1996.

On Friday, December 20, 1996, Sophie Toscan de Plantier arrived at Cork Airport and drove to her home in Schull, which the couple had bought three years before. Over that weekend, she sought out her favourite haunts and visited friends. Then she decided to return to Paris on Christmas Eve. That Sunday, she phoned her husband at 11.00pm and told him of her planned return the next day. But at 10 o'clock the next morning, a neighbour discovered Sophie's body in the laneway leading to her home. She was wearing a nightshirt, leggings and brown lace-up boots. She had been bludgeoned more that a dozen times with a blunt instrument. Then a large stone or concrete block had been dropped on her head, smashing her skull.

Four years later, no one has been charged with the Frenchwoman's murder. Garda inquiries have focused on a prime suspect, but the absence of conclusive forensic evidence has dogged the investigation.

Isolation also proved opportune for the killer of Eileen Costello O'Shaughnessy, the 48-year-old Galway taxi-driver who was found bludgeoned to death in a country laneway outside Galway city on December 1, 1997. Just before midnight the previous evening, her blood-stained taxi was found at Lydon's Bakery on the outskirts of Galway city. Twelve hours later, the Galway woman's body was discovered by a local farmer some nine miles away in a boreen off Tinker's Lane, Knockdoemore Road, two miles from Claregalway. She had sustained severe head injuries from a blunt instrument.

Separated, with two grown-up children, Eileen O'Shaughnessy had worked as a taxi-driver for Galway Taxis for four years. Despite an extensive murder inquiry, there is no prime suspect in this case and her murder file remains open.

Gardaí also have no suspect for the murder of 26-year-old Belinda Pereira, the Sri Lankan prostitute whose body was found at an apartment in Dublin's Liffey Street on December 29, 1996. She had arrived in Ireland on Christmas Eve to work as a prostitute over the holiday season and was due to return to London on New Year's Day. Belinda Pereira was born in London to Sri Lankan parents who had moved to Britain in the mid-Sixties. She was the couple's only daughter. Belinda had left school when she was 16 and had worked in several short-term jobs including as a temporary shorthand typist. Her life as a prostitute was unknown to her family.

Belinda had visited Dublin before on at least one occasion, in October 1996, when she stayed for between a week and 10 days. She explained these trips to her parents as visits to a friend. She had already worked from a flat with other prostitutes for short periods in Norwich before she came to Dublin.

On December 24, 1996, Belinda took up occupancy of a two-bedroomed apartment at Liffey Court, but this time there were no other girls working with her. Clients made contact with her through an advertisement in In Dublin magazine. Gardaí have established, through telephone records, that Belinda was alive up to 10.00pm on Saturday, December 28, 1996.

Her body was found by the landlord of the apartment the following afternoon. She had sustained severe head injuries from a blunt instrument. Here, as in the other cases, there is no clear link between the victim and her killer, signalling the growing profile of a new kind of murderer in the Irish crime scene.

ANOTHER indicator of the changing face of homicide is the "dark figure" of the unsolved missing persons cases, and in particular the unexplained disappearances of women who vanished without trace between 1993 and 1998.

These women include the 26-year-old American Annie McCarrick, who was last seen on Friday, March 26, 1993; 40-year-old Eva Brennan, from Rathgar in Dublin, who was last seen on Sunday, July 25, 1993; 22-year-old Imelda Keenan, missing from Waterford city since January 3, 1994; 21-year-old Jo Jo Dullard, whose last known whereabouts were in Moone, Co Kilkenny on the evening of Thursday, November 9, 1995; 25-year-old Fiona Pender, who was last seen on Friday, August 23, 1996 in Tullamore, Co Offaly; 17-year-old Ciara Breen, who was last seen on Thursday, February 13, 1997 in Dundalk; 19-year-old Fiona Sinnott, who was last seen at Bridgetown near Rosslare on Wednesday, February 11, 1998; and 19-year-old Deirdre Jacob, who was last seen outside her home in Newbridge, Co Kildare on Tuesday, July 28, 1998.

Although the missing women are the subject of a special two-year inquiry, Operation Trace, there is as yet no breakthrough in any of these cases and, while technically all these women remain "missing persons", it is now likely that most of them have been murdered in as yet undetermined circumstances.

In all these cases, the desperate pain suffered by the families of these lost daughters and sisters in their search for news cannot be over-stressed as the years mount. While investigations by Operation Trace have found no links in these cases to one prime suspect, the haunting spectre of a multiple killer persists. In this context also, the emergence of a small yet persistent trend the unsolved murders of women is a fact which cannot be set aside. The possibility of the killer, or killers, re-offending has become an unknown quantity which places the lives of women at risk.

In the new age of lethal violence, there is cold comfort in statistics. The new brand of killer defies established convention not only when the victim is female but also for males, as professional or contract killings account for some of the dramatic rise in unsolved murders of men in the past three years.

These include the murders of William Christy and Desmond Fox in 1990; John Kennedy, Edward Fullerton and Peter MacDonald in 1991; Michael Travers and Colm Duffy in 1992; Michael McCarthy and Frank Rodgers in 1993; Dominic McGlinchey, Martin Cahill and Martin Doherty in 1994; Eric Shortall, Gerard Connolly, John Cusack and Martin Crinnion in 1995; Michael Brady, Peter Judge, John Fennell, Gerard Lee, John Kelly and Harry O'Reilly in 1996; John Kennedy in 1997; Gerard Moran, Felix McCann, Thomas Lockhard and Edward Fitzmorris in 1998; Thomas Reilly, Kevin Fennell, Noel Heffernan, John Dillon, Pascal Boland and Richard Ferron in 1999.

Thirty-two of these victims were shot and three were beaten to death, including the elderly Mayo shopkeeper, Edward Fitzmorris, who was viciously assaulted during a robbery.

According to criminologist Paul O'Mahoney, the ready resort to lethal violence by criminals, and the presence of a number who are prepared to kill in cold blood for pay or under instructions, marks a very unwelcome development in Irish crime. He says that public concern about this new level of brutality is entirely justified the vast majority of such killers and those who control them go undetected.

The amalgamation of the two separate worlds of city and rural life, and the development of a criminal infrastructure buoyed by a lucrative and ever-expanding drugs trade with easy access to firearms, are key factors which now make Ireland just like everywhere else. In the Fifties and Sixties, Ireland stood apart with one of the lowest homicide rates in the world.

"In that respect, we are no longer unusual," Paul O'Mahoney said.

He believes that the far-reaching social changes of the past three decades are part of Ireland's metamorphosis from a traditional agricultural society into a largely urban, consumerist population composed of far more isolated nuclear families.

"As everything becomes more developed, so too do the forms of killing," he said. "For example, crime-related assassinations are at the root of the big boost in homicides. The emergence of sex crimes is another worrying development.

"We are undergoing a process of globalisation, but it is also happening within the country so that the way of life in Sligo is not that much different now from that in Dublin. There is no longer a huge cultural gap," he explained.

O'Mahoney maintains that the present self-image of Ireland must expand to include the rape of elderly women; professional assassinations; the buggery of children in the care of the clergy; the torture of elderly farmers in isolated farmhouses; the killing of children as part of a sexually motivated attack on their mothers; the murder of four children as part of two different suicides by parents; a growing number of random violent attacks on young men and violent late-night street brawls which led to the deaths of several young men last year.

He believes that the rising levels of rape and sexual assaults on women, the recently exposed levels of child sexual abuse, and domestic and institutional violence underline the insidious nature of the problem of violence and intimidation and its pervasive spread throughout Irish life.

In this context, violent crime has no boundaries and touches both urban and rural communities across the country. The communal restraints which regulated violent crime are fast disappearing, making women and the elderly in particular more vulnerable to acts of violence. Some would say that it is only a matter of time before Ireland uncovers a Dennis Nilsen or a Frederick West.

"Twenty years ago, you would have been shocked at the idea of a serial killer. But the human personality in Ireland is being stretched in the same way as New York, London or anywhere else," said O'Mahoney.

As images of lethal violence become increasingly woven into the fabric of routine Irish life, the shocking nature of this brutality and its meaning in a wider context is merely a soundbite in the life of the Celtic boom. But the final moments of Raonaid Murray, Sophie Toscan de Plantier, Eileen Costello O'Shaughnessy, Belinda Pereira, Marie Kilmartin and others script a scene of a quiet killer who moves with impunity on an unsuspecting world.

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Also in this section