Family vows to find out why Mark Burke came to grisly end
It is a murder mystery that haunts a family and a riddle that stretches into the heart of one of the nation’s most affluent suburbs.
Dun Laoghaire, in south county Dublin, is surrounded by Victorian splendour with houses commanding eye-watering prices. But it was here that a tragic soul met a desperate end.
Mark Burke was 36 years old and crippled with chronic alcoholism when he vanished from the pavements of Dun Laoghaire, only to be found in pieces in a recycling plant 25 kilometres away.
His end could not have been more grisly.
A leg and part of his foot were first noticed at the facility during a scorching night in July 2014.
A massive Garda operation over the following week retrieved 60 per cent of his body – but no parts that could identify him were found.
Missing was his face, hands and teeth, along with all internal organs. Not a drop of blood was found on the remains, while a strong acidic smell was also discovered.
In November of 2014, Noel Burke walked in to a Garda station and reported his son missing.
He hadn’t seen Mark for months, but that was not unusual. Mark was living homeless in Dun Laoghaire and would go long periods without getting in touch with his family.
“He was a happy, lovely child and he never brought any trouble to my door,” says Noel.
“As he got older things started going wrong for him. I remember all of a sudden he went in to his room and closed his door and he would just stay there. He wouldn’t talk to his kids or to me. He was drinking all the time.
“We got him into the St John of Gods [psychiatric hospital], but no matter what we did we couldn’t seem to help him. He seemed to be suffering from depression and maybe other mental health issues and he was a chronic alcoholic.
“God love him. He eventually ended up living homeless. We would keep in touch, but nothing we did seemed to bring him back from whatever darkness he was feeling.
“He was known to the Gardaí but for petty stuff. He would skip a Luas fare or whatever. Mark was tragic. His liver was failing on him and he could barely walk because of it.
“The last time I saw him he had a huge swollen belly and he was dragging himself around.”
Noel watched the awful news reports in July 2014 when body parts were found at the Thorntons Recycling facility in Ballyfermot.
When the appeal included details about how surgical screws were found on the victim’s body, he did consider it could be his son, but the reports stated that the surgery had not been conducted in Ireland and that the victim was possibly foreign – and the opportunity was missed.
It was the following November, after another appeal, that Noel took to the streets to look for his son.
“I went to Dun Laoghaire. I went to all the usual places I would find him, but nobody had seen him. I reported him missing and asked Gardaí to check if the recycling centre body was that of my son.”
His worst fears were realised when a DNA test proved that the body parts did belong to Mark.
Today, Noel is still searching for answers and along with family members is appealing for help in solving the unexplained death of his boy.
He regularly takes to the streets in Dun Laoghaire to retrace Mark’s steps in an effort to find anyone who remembers anything about his son’s final days.
“I believe that Mark was murdered and that his body was dismembered and dumped in a skip in the Dun Laoghaire area,” he says.
There are many mysteries surrounding Mark’s last days and how he died. Last year, an inquest heard the remains had been crudely dismembered prior to its discovery at Thorntons.
Evidence was given that tool marks were found on the bones and there was a strong chemical smell from the body parts, as if they had been soaked in acid. No identifying parts or organs were discovered.
In Dun Laoghaire, Noel, along with Mark’s sister’s Emma and Bernadette and brother Noel Jnr, hand out leaflets and hope that somebody in the town has some answers.
They are convinced that Mark never left Dun Laoghaire and that the dismembered remains were dumped in a skip in the town.
He believes the mystery centres on a small area between an off-licence, some derelict buildings and the homeless hostels that his son used to call home.
“After he died we discovered through medical records that Mark had been beaten up a number of times. Who would do that?” says Noel.
“He slept rough or in hostels and he always bought his cans on Marine Road. I will continue looking for answers until I know what happened.”
As the third anniversary of Mark’s disappearance and death approaches this week, the family are hoping for an end to their nightmare.
The last confirmed sighting of Mark was on George’s Street in Dun Laoghaire on Monday, July 28, at 2.30pm. After that he vanished.
Anyone with information can call Mark’s family on 0857830081 or Crimestoppers Freephone on 1800250025.