NewsNorthern Ireland

£30,000 reward to find killers of teen beaten to death in 1999

Raymond and Hazel Cairns
Raymond and Hazel Cairns

Raymond and Hazel Cairns are haunted by the last time they saw their teenage son alive.

Sixteen years have passed since the night a happy smiling Jonathan waved at his parents as they drove past him eating chips and talking to friends on the Ballykelly’s main street.

Within hours his battered, bloodied and tethered body was dragged from a shallow grave, yards from his parents front door –the victim of a frenzied and savage assault.

Jonathan will be forever 18-years-old, but his killer has been allowed to continue his life, it’s a thought that troubles the Cairns’ family, who believe they know the identity of the murderer.

Justice continues to elude them.

 Jonathan Cairns 

Jonathan was only 18-years-old when his body was discovered in a shallow grave in a forest close to his Co. Derry home.

He had been beaten beyond recognition, his stunned parents were denied the right to kiss their son goodbye for the very last time.

Speaking exclusively to the Sunday World, his still-grieving parents have opened their hearts on 16 years of misery and torment and appeal once more for information on the savage, blood-drenched murder.

“He was beaten so badly that we couldn’t have an open coffin,” said dad Raymond, “he had foot prints on his face and part of his brain was found in a bush in the garden of my mother’s house next door.

“That’s how savage his murder was and how close he was to getting home that night, he was steps from his granny’s and a few strides to ours.”

The couple were told they would not be permitted to see their son’s remains such was the extent of the injuries yet Hazel couldn’t bear the thought of not holding her sons hand for the very last time.

“His head was stamped on and stamped on, like a turnip,” she said, “I was told I couldn’t see him but I had to. He was bandaged all over, all I was allowed to see was his hand but that was enough. I needed to see it because it was so different from my other two children’s. Only when I saw his hand, then I knew that I could accept that it was my son and that there had been no mistake.”

It’s the kind of anguish only a grieving mother could understand, the thought of not touching her son again was unbearable.

“Even though I knew I had lost him, deep down I just had to be sure. I couldn’t bear the thought of not saying goodbye to him, not touching him for the last time and only having his pictures on the fireplace to remind me of him,” she said sadly.

While the killer remains at large, one man, Philip McGroarty has been jailed for his part in the tragedy. Sentenced to five years in 2002 he was found guilty of disposing of Jonathan’s body.

To this day he has chosen to remain silent on who else was involved.

The family had to sit through gruelling evidence before a jury found the then 31-year-old guilty of perverting the court of justice. The court heard that within hours of burying the victim he was playing golf.

Jonathan went missing after enjoying a night out with friends in the county Derry village in April 1999.

Just before he made his fateful yet short journey home his parents, who had been at a charity event, drove by and waved at their smiling and popular son.

Unknowingly those few short seconds were the last they time would ever see their son’s face again.

“I’m glad that we saw him that night because he was happy and when we waved at him he smiled back. I relive that moment over and over in my head every single day since he was murdered. I just regret not stopping the car, I think about that every day too.

“On the night Jonathan was murdered everything that should have happened didn’t. He never walked home alone, if his best friend wasn’t there then he would walk the wee girl across the street home but he was alone that night. And we didn’t stop to give him a lift; we didn’t want to embarrass him in front of his friends.”

Sixteen long years later the memories bring tears to her eyes

The couple know very little about what happened to their son or why. All they know is someone evil beat and kicked him to death and has never been punished.

They pray and hold out hope that Jonathan knew nothing about what was going on due to the fact he had no defence marks on his hands. A contrast to the rest of his body which was battered and broken.

“You torment yourself with thoughts of his last moments, was he chased, was he frightened, did he know that it was the end of time?” said Hazel.

“We think he was knocked out immediately, there was no defence marks on his hands showing he didn’t put up a struggle and Jonathan was a strong lad and fast on his feet. It would also explain why no one heard a thing, no fighting, screaming or shouting.”

After failing to return home just a few hours after his parents unknowingly waved their final goodbye Hazel trawled the streets looking for her son while dad Raymond telephoned around in a desperate attempt to locate him.

Their growing fears were confirmed when a cousin who had joined the search discovered Jonathan’s blood – soaked clothes piled neatly in a park nearby.

“As soon as I saw the clothes I knew he was dead,” said Raymond, “I knew they were Jonathan’s and I could see they were absolutely saturated in blood. They were sat in a neat pile, all folded with his shoes on top, police said they thought they had been put there to be collected later.”

Just hours later another family member discovered the teenager’s remains after a search party stumbled across disturbed foliage in the nearby Loughermore Forest.

A piece of plastic binder was protruding from the soil, when pulled Jonathan’s lifeless arm emerged. Their worst nightmare had just become  reality.

“It was only by chance they stopped there, a horn had fallen off the car because of all the bumping about and Christopher got out to get it, that’s when he saw a piece of plastic with blood on it. They went to have a look and found a dead sheep nearby and thought it was that. It was only when he noticed that something had been dragged through the grass did he find Jonathan.

“If his killer or killers had not used the bail binder to tie his wrists and drag him to that shallow grave we probably would never have found him. We could have been sitting here today in a lot worse state.’

The fact that Jonathan’s body was returned to them has given them a degree of comfort but the couple still struggle with the harsh reality of the son’s death yet they never give up hope of achieving justice, praying that a forensic breakthrough or someone’s conscience will finally give them the peace they crave.

“We didn’t realise that people could be so cruel, have such viciousness and they have continued to be cruel by letting us suffer,” said  Hazel.

“Not only did they take our son, but for the past 16 years they have continued to make us suffer by not letting us know what happened that night and why. “They can walk by, getting on with their lives, laugh with their children while my son is lying in a graveyard and we are still being tormented by what happened, what we don’t know.

“I wonder if they ever look at their own children and think to themselves – ‘how would I feel if someone came and did what I did to Jonathan to them?’ If their conscience is pricked when they wonder what it would be like if someone came along and did what they did to their child, their family, their lives?

“I would never wish such a thing upon them but I would ask anyone who knows anything to please come forward, we want justice and I fear this won’t happen in my time.”

One thing the grief stricken parents know for fact is they will never forgive or forget.

“We will never forgive, never. They may have convinced themselves that they have been forgiven because of their faith but they will never be forgiven by me,” added Hazel.

Anyone with any information on Jonathan’s murder please contact 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800555 111

A £30,000 reward has been offered in reward on information on the killer or killers.