NewsCrime Desk

Last to see Elaine O'Hara alive

Crime DeskBy Eugene Masterson
David van der Zwart
David van der Zwart

THE LAST man to see Elaine O’Hara alive before she fell into the clutches of Graham Dwyer has spoken for the first time about the kind girl next door who once told him: “I can’t give you relationship advice, I’ve never had a boyfriend.”

David van der Zwart was Elaine’s neighbour in the Belarmine apartment complex where evil Dwyer called to have sex with her and groom her for his ‘perfect murder’.

It was behind the door pictured here that gardai found key evidence of the killer’s semen on a mattress where he would play out his sick fantasies on his vulnerable victim.

It was here that Dwyer contemplated targeting a female Asian resident as one of his potential victims.

But the clandestine affair went on behind closed doors and neighbours here were as stunned as everyone else when details of the sordid double life of Graham Dwyer unfolded in court.

Speaking this week, Elaine’s friend David (35), prefers to remember her as the kind neighbour who would offer help and with whom he had regular chats over the balcony, which was adjacent to hers.

Elaine O'Hara

The Dutch-born telecom account manager has been living in Ireland for 10 years and found Elaine helpful when he moved into the apartment complex at Belarmine Plaza in 
Stepaside, south Co. Dublin.

“I remember when I moved in here at the end of December, 2011, I did not know how the boiler system worked and I just knocked on Elaine’s door and we talked about this,” David tells the Sunday World.

“We were neighbours for about eight months. She was reserved, quiet and hard working. She would take pride in the things that she accomplished. I would normally see her once a week, maybe every two weeks. Our balconies are next to each other so we would talk over the balconies.”

He also invited her inside his apartment and she noticed he had no ashtray, so she kindly bought him one.

“She came in and we talked a little bit. She was very social as well as reserved,” he says. “I know that she studied and stuff.”

David and Elaine had heart-to-heart chats and he confided in her about the breakdown of his relationship.

“At the time I was dating an Irish girlfriend and they had the same profession, they both worked in childcare,” he explains.

“She did once speak once about relationships, because I had broken up with my girlfriend in April 2012 and I saw her in the building.

“I invited her in and I told her then that I had broken up with my girlfriend and that she shouldn’t be surprised not to see her any more.

“Then she told me that she never had a boyfriend or a relationship and she didn’t have a lot of experience with these kind of things. 

“She said ‘I would like to help you, but I cannot really advise you about it because I have no experience’.”

From his balcony David would regularly see Elaine walking to the nearby Dublin hills where she would tragically meet her death.

He was also the last person she knew personally to see her alive before she was killed by Dwyer.

“I got home from work and it was five o’clock,” David remembers.

“It was hard to see who it was, but when she was passing me by she was driving a Fiat Punto and then I knew it was her. I honked the horn to acknowledge her.

“I couldn’t tell if she saw me, but she would have recognised my car. The last time I spoke to her was probably some time in July, or maybe three weeks before.

“We talked over the balconies on the Saturday and then she showed me the leak as well in her apartment, because her bath tub was leaking and that was the last time that we talked.”

Two days after she disappeared on August 22, 2012, David was questioned by Gardai, asking him about her last movements.

“With all due respect, when she was found, or before the whole year when she went missing and when she was not found, I thought to myself her car was found at the graveyard of her mum and this was near the sea and she told me once that sometimes she would be depressed,” he says.

“I really thought, ‘okay, maybe she done something to herself’, not that she mentioned this, she didn’t say anything about it obviously.”

Elaine never mentioned any websites to him and he never saw Dwyer visiting the apartment complex.

“I’m shocked that he was coming here,” he admits. 

“I was also shocked because before the trial started as there were a lot of rumours in the press and I got upset when I read this.

“I read it in the news that she was found and that somebody got arrested,” he adds.

“You read and hear these type of things, it’s quite shocking. But I did not expect this to come out.”

He is also keen not to tarnish Elaine’s reputation over her liking of sadomasochism.

“I think it is very rare. Maybe I’m being naive, but this type of interest is not very common.

“To a certain extent I say to myself ‘look, live and let live’, but the stuff I read it’s all very strange.”