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Cold case New TG4 show takes a look back at murder of Kilkenny widow


Ann Nancy Smith's nephew Des Murphy

Ann Nancy Smith's nephew Des Murphy

Dr Tom Boland

Dr Tom Boland


Ann Nancy Smith's nephew Des Murphy

SEVERAL witnesses who helped bring a murderer to justice nearly 30 years after killing an elderly widow will be seen speaking publicly for the first time in a new documentary.

Kilkenny city was rocked in September 1987 when the community woke to the news that 69-year-old Ann Nancy Smyth, a pensioner who lived alone, died in a fire that destroyed her small cottage on Wolfe Tone Street.

A well-known and popular figure around Kilkenny, her death sent shockwaves through the entire community.

Initially thought to be a tragic house fire, it later transpired that popular Nancy had died from strangulation.

Her nephew Des Murphy recalled that when he went to the morgue to help identify her body he noticed marks on her neck.

Nancy and her late husband Dick had been pigeon fanciers and used attend meetings of fellow fans. When her husband passed away Nancy used to still go to the pub and on the night she died she was given a lift home.

A neighbour, Geraldine Brennan, remembered later that night a man banging at Nancy’s door and demanding to be let in. She declined to tell the gardai at the time that it was John Joe Malone.


Geraldine Brennan

Geraldine Brennan

Geraldine Brennan

“He was outside, he was banging with his fist on the door, then he started banging on the window, then he started kicking the door, ‘let me in, I just want to f***ing talk to you’,” says Geraldine in new TG4 documentary series Marú inár Measc.

“In fact at one stage my mother shouted up ‘will you leave her alone, will you go home and leave her alone’. Nancy was inside saying ‘I just want to go to be, leave me along, go home with yourself’”.

They saw that the man was Malone, who glared at the small group looking at the scene. Geraldine and her mother went back inside and everything went quiet, so they thought he had gone home. They heard the next morning that Nancy’s house had gone on fire.

Nancy’s body was found in the house and most of her possessions were destroyed, including the only known pictures of her.

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“The forensic experts were there, Dr Harbison, a lot of guards up around the street and everything like that,” recalls Geraldine. “My mother had the dinner ready and the first thing she said was ‘poor Nancy was strangled’ and she said ‘Malone strangled her last night’”.

Malone, was aged 23 at the time, was the son of a soldier and was occasionally in trouble with the law.

Jude Curran was a friend of Malone and recalls John Joe being in his house five days a week, but after Nancy was murdered “he wasn’t calling much”.

“We were convinced that he’d be caught and they’d go to court and he’d be found guilty and the whole lot within a matter of weeks, so my mother had said to me ‘you need not make a statement, just tell them you didn’t hear anything’. So that’s all I did,” admits Geraldine.

Other locals too did not want trouble coming to their door and despite Malone being arrested he was released without charge. He admitted being at the scene but said he was arguing with Nancy over a pigeon she had sold him previously.

There was no forensic evidence linking him to the crime and for years after he freely wandered the streets.

Malone had been a member of a local prayer group and confessed to several of them that he had killed Nancy.

He had shared her love of pigeons and locals also suspected he broke into her house after she got a large backdated widow’s pension sum of nearly £900 earlier the day she was killed.

Jude Curran remembered Malone suggesting to him that he had killed Nancy.

“He called one day and he said ‘can someone who murdered someone, can God forgive them’”, remembers Jude. I said back to him ‘King David murdered someone, Moses murdered someone and they were sorry for what they done’. He said back to me ‘what if this person wasn’t sorry for what they done’. ‘Then they’d be wasting their time’ I said.

“At that stage Mrs Smyth wasn’t mentioned, I even knew what he was hinting at. I didn’t want him confessing to me to be honest with you. But he came along and called and said he wasn’t sleeping and that sort of thing and that he had murdered her.”

In 2012, a Cold Case Review was opened and a fresh Garda appeal brought forward new information.

Several people who Malone had befriended came forward, as well as his brother Barney, and revealed that he had confessed to her killing.

Geraldine was one of those who gave evidence in the trail in 2017, at which Malone (then aged 53) was found guilty of murder and wept as he was given a life sentence.

“It wasn’t remorse,” reflects Geraldine on Malone’s ‘confessions’. “I don’t think he was ever sorry. I think he thought he had got away with it.”

• Marú inár Measc TG4 Wednesday 9.30pm.

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