'come forward' | 

Tell family where missing woman Sandra Collins is buried — retired garda pleas

"This is not about seeing anyone brought to justice, we are not out to get anyone. All we want to do is find Sandra and bury her with my mother and father and our brother James"

Sandra Collins disappeared on December 4, 2000.

Ali Bracken

The retired garda who led the investigation into the murder of missing woman Sandra Collins has called on people with information to “have a heart” and help “end her family’s pain”.

These views were echoed by Ms Collins’s younger brother Patrick. He told the Sunday Independent he and his remaining siblings will continue to do everything in their power to find Sandra’s body as it was their late parents’ dying wish.

Sandra (28) was pregnant when she disappeared in Killala, Co Mayo, on December 4, 2000. She was last seen at about 11pm after she bought chips in a takeaway.

Despite a fleece jacket being found by the local pier, it is believed she did not take her own life by jumping into the sea but was rather abducted, murdered and buried in a shallow grave.

In recent weeks, the Collins family launched a high-profile billboard campaign in the Mayo area. They set up a GoFundMe page to assist with costs, with Patrick “thanking everyone” for their generosity to date.

Around Christmas, Patrick received an anonymous phone call with information about the case, which is being treated as credible, and has given some hope that his sister’s remains might finally be found.

“We met with gardaí last week, the investigation is very active. The most difficult thing for us as a family is not knowing where she was left. I was walking through a forest with my brother recently and I said that I hoped she was left in a forest, because she loved animals and nature.

“There are certain things that are hard to deal with. Sandra, did they give you the dignity of wrapping you in something? Did they even have the decency to do that? Whoever did this had some help we believe.

“This is not about seeing anyone brought to justice, we are not out to get anyone. All we want to do is find Sandra and bury her with my mother and father and our brother James.

“If we just found her, I can’t even begin to imagine how we would feel. It would be the greatest gift we could get. We will never forget Sandra. But if we found her, it would allow us to at least get on with our lives.”

Patrick, who was 13 when his sister vanished without a trace, said the entire family was turned upside down in the aftermath.

They had lost their elder brother James in a tragic factory accident just six months before Sandra disappeared.

“There were six of us children, James was the eldest and Sandra was next. We went from being children and adolescents to adults overnight.”

Patrick explained that his mother, Eleanor, died long before his sister’s case was upgraded to murder and she never saw local plasterer, Martin Earley, arrested and charged with her murder. Mr Earley walked free from court in 2014, after a judge ruled there was not sufficient evidence to find him guilty.

Mrs Collins died from cancer in 2004. She always believed that her eldest daughter might come home.

“My mother didn’t sleep well after Sandra went missing. She would be sitting up in the kitchen reading the paper and drinking tea. I would come in and we would talk about it. She had a romanticised notion that Sandra had run off with someone.

“Trevor Deely went missing a few days after Sandra. My mother, God love her, she had a notion that maybe the pair of them ran off together and would come back. I’m glad in a way she didn’t have to endure the case being upgraded to murder, and the arrest and trial.

“Towards the end when she was sick, she asked us to keep looking for Sandra and told us, ‘I promise faithfully to help from heaven.’”

Years later, Joe Collins also died from cancer in 2016 and also without finding out the circumstances of his daughter’s disappearance.

“I think the stress of the criminal trial killed him. Before he went to bed every night, there was a picture of James and Sandra together, and he would say goodnight to them every night. Even when he was in a wheelchair, we would push him into the sitting room so he could say goodnight to them,” Patrick added.

“A few weeks before he died, he said to us, ‘If I’m not here, will you do your best to keep looking for Sandra?’ We said we would of course and asked him, ‘Do you think we’ll find her?’ He replied, ‘I don’t think you will. I know you will.’ So it was both of our parents’ dying wish. That is why we will never give up.”

This weekend, retired garda detective Eddie Naughton, who spent 17 years investigating the 28-year-old’s disappearance, made a direct appeal to the young woman’s killer and those who know where her body was buried to come forward.

“I believe the key to Sandra’s disappearance lies in the Killala area.

“Now time has passed, people’s loyalties may have changed. There are people out there who know where her body might be. Please come forward, even anonymously. It is never too late. Those who know where she is, I would just ask them to have a heart. Do not allow this family to keep suffering.”

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