Victims' relatives fear for safety as double murderer Frank McCann eyes parole

New RTE documentary, The Case I Can’t Forget, describes McCann's repeated attempts to kill his wife and child to contain a scandal that he had fathered a child with a 17-year-old student
Esther Leonard

Esther Leonard

Lynne Kelleher

The world will become a much more dangerous place if double murderer Frank McCann is allowed back on the streets, according to his wife’s niece

A relative of the wife and baby girl murdered by double murderer Frank McCann fears the world will become a much more dangerous place if he is allowed back out on the streets.

The former high-ranking swimming coach killed his wife, Esther, and their 18-month-old foster child, Jessica, who was also his niece, by setting their home on fire on September 4th, 1992.

A new RTE documentary, The Case I Can’t Forget, describes his repeated attempts to kill his wife and child to cold-bloodedly contain a scandal that he had fathered a child with a 17-year-old swimming student.

After one of the longest trials in Irish history, he was found guilty of their murders in August 1996 and handed down to two life sentences to run concurrently.

With 25 years served behind bars it is expected he will imminently make a case for parole but Esther Leonard fears for her family’s safety if her aunt’s husband is set free.

Esther and baby Jessica perished in the arson attack on their home

Esther and baby Jessica perished in the arson attack on their home

“I feel like it is very important for me as Esther’s goddaughter and niece and as Jessica’s cousin that I continue to fight for justice of them and also I can’t imagine how dangerous the world would be with Frank McCann walking the streets and I just dread that becoming a reality”, she said on the RTE documentary.

“There is no one in the world who can convince me that my family will be safe if he gets out.”

She was just eight when her family learned Jessica and Esther had perished in the fire at their home in Butterfield Avenue, Rathfarnham.

“I remember waking up early in the morning and hearing my granny screaming crying.  I remember everybody just inconsolably bawling crying, it was like something out of a film, it wasn’t like real life.”

She describes her 30-year-old aunt as “someone who brought a light into the family”.

“We would have seen Esther and Jessica on a daily basis”, remembered her niece, “She was an artist and just exuded life and happiness and joy.”

Esther’s oldest nephew, Thomas O’Brien, said it is hard to live with the knowledge that Frank McCann can still live his life.

The house

The house

“He’s deprived both of them of their lives and he can still carry on as normal.  He’s an evil, twisted, calculating person, no remorse, no nothing, never ever apologised.”

In the Case I Can’t Forget, retired Garda Sergeant Pat Treacy and Superintendent Martin Walker recall one of the most harrowing cases of their career.

In the months after Esther and her 18-month-old daughter Jessica perished in the fire at their home in south Dublin, it became clear that it wasn’t a tragic accident despite McCann playing the part of the distraught husband attempting to rescue his family at the scene of the fire.

He initially attempted to deflect suspicion from himself after the murder through claims he had received anonymous threats before the fire, but Esther’s family witnessed his disturbing reaction to their deaths from as early on as their funerals.

“On the day of the funeral we were going to Tramore for the mass, we stopped halfway in Leighlinbridge for a bite to eat”, recalled her nephew, Thomas O’Brien  in the documentary, “Outside you could see Frank walking around the hearse talking to the car, talking away to himself which I felt then was strange and still today I feel was strange.”

Later coming from the church, he was horrified to see his aunt’s husband calling out the window to passing schoolgirls.

“McCann was shouting out the passenger window of the car that he was free, he was available to these young schoolgirls. This was when he just buried his wife and his daughter.

"He had a sick twisted sense of humour."

A third incident left the family asking questions about his state of mind when he went back to the pub he owned the evening of the funeral to throw his mother a 60th birthday party.

“His mother didn’t want the party, but frank insisted it had gone ahead, it was organised, and he didn’t see a reason why he shouldn’t be at his mother’s party after just burying his wife and daughter,” Esther.

In the months leading up to the fatal fire, the publican and highly regarded swimming coach, claimed he has received a series of threats.  It also emerged that there were several gas leaks reported in the house.

But as detectives dug deeper, they discovered that the stalled adoption of the McCann’s foster baby daughter was at the root of the horrific plot to kill.

“It became apparent that Mr McCann had a child with a 17-year-old girl and a complaint to that effect had been lodged with the Adoption Board”, said Superintendent Walker.

“The formal adoption of Jessica had stagnated to some degree and Esther was concerned about the aspect of it and was going to address the issue directly with Frank on the night, I think, of the murder.”

Frank McCann

Frank McCann

In the documentary, it was revealed how McCann made a number of attempts to kill his wife and baby Jessica with evidence later emerging that gas pipes in the house had been deliberately tampered with and the brake cables in her car had been cut.

“It all added up afterward when you put all the bits and pieces together but unfortunately at the time leading up to it, we didn’t see it. Everything was calculated, devious, he just thought he was in control and he was going to deal with it the way he had to keep himself squeaky clean.”

In his trial, the State’s case was that McCann killed his wife in a premeditated act because he did not want her to find out the reason the Adoption Board had refused their application.

“He didn’t want his career or his good name destroyed. It was an unusual way of protecting himself and his own good character by murdering his wife and child”, said Garda Superintendent  Walker, who was one of the investigating officers on the case.

“He had planned for this and he had tried to carry it into effect on previous dates, he was determined in his effort to kill his wife and baby Jessica. That was obvious.

"On a human aspect, it was very much an eye-opener.  To think a father could do that to a child, to his wife, it is almost inconceivable.”

THE CASE I CAN’T FORGET will be shown on RTE One on Monday 13th December, 9.35pm

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