sinister pattern | 

Neighbour reveals how she saw obsessed killer ‘stalking’ Mary O’Keeffe before her murder

Michael Leonard was convicted of the Cork woman’s murder earlier this month

Mary O'Keeffe

Patrick O'ConnnellSunday World

A NEIGHBOUR of murdered pensioner Mary O’Keeffe – burned alive in a car by her obsessed 63-year-old ex-boyfriend – has revealed how she saw the killer stalking her friend on four or five occasions.

But said the woman – who was a close friend of Mary (72) – she only realised this when she saw murderer Michael Leonard’s face staring up at her from a newspaper this month.

“When I saw his picture in the paper, I realised I had often seen him around here but I didn’t know who he was,” the woman told the Sunday World .

“You might be going to the shop and you’d see him.

“I saw him so often, four or five times at least, I thought he was living around here.

“But he was stalking her … I suppose that’s what you’d call it.

“When I picked up the paper and saw him … I said great God I often seen that man.

“And in the paper it said he was here 45 times.

“Oh, he was obsessed … he was a dangerous man!”

Last week, Leonard of Kilmallock, Limerick, was sentenced to life at the Central Criminal Court for Mary’s at a woodland at Doneraile, Co Cork, on February 4th of last year.

The court heard the former Coillte worker arranged to meet Mary at the wooded area, but within minutes of her arrival he threw two gallons of petrol into the car and set it on fire.

A post-mortem showed that she was still alive when the fire started.

Detective Sgt James O’Shea said widow Mary, a mother-of-three, was in excellent health and worked as a cook, starting at six o’clock most mornings.

Leonard was retired at the time of the murder and became known to Mary in 2016 as they both regularly went to dances.

They formed a relationship for a time, but in 2019 she made it clear she no longer wished to continue seeing him.

This “greatly upset the accused man”, Det Sgt O’Shea said and communications between them suggested he was “emotionally manipulative” in making her remain in contact with him.

Mary O'Keeffe

He said Leonard had an “increasing obsession in relation to her movements and an extreme interest in a person he believed to have been in a relationship with her.”

Between Christmas 2020 and her death the following February, he visited the area around her home 45 times.

On the day of the murder Mary and Leonard arranged to meet at Doneraile and both travelled separately in their own cars.

She arrived at 2.19pm and the investigation showed that she got into his car and by 2.23pm he had poured two gallons of petrol from a bucket into the car and onto Mary and set the car on fire.

Leonard suffered burn marks to his own face and left the area on foot before calling his former wife who arrived at the scene at 3.22pm.

Leonard’s daughter arrived at the scene shortly after that, and she was able to tell gardai where her father was using an app on her phone.

Gardai found him 2.5km away in the River Awbeg, about 12m from the bank.

Gardai rescued him and he was taken to hospital before being arrested the following day.

“Seeing it (the news) on the television this week brought it all back,” Mary’s friend told this newspaper.

“He lost his head and that was it … but he had it well planned.

“Seemingly, she used often take meals down to him there (in the forest) when he was working and things were going well.

“I don’t think anyone around here knew she was having problems with that fella.

“We knew she had a partner but Mary kept her business to herself

“She was a good person and you would miss her.

“To pass her gate now is horrible when you think what happened to her.

“Knowing she should still be in there … enjoying life.

“He gave her a horrendous death

“I know he got life … but what’s life today?”

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