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Long read The nightly ritual of abuse in Dalkey's House of Horrors


Gardai at the house in Dalkey where it is believed the newborn baby of Cynthia Owens (inset) was violently killed

Gardai at the house in Dalkey where it is believed the newborn baby of Cynthia Owens (inset) was violently killed

Gardai at the house in Dalkey where it is believed the newborn baby of Cynthia Owens (inset) was violently killed

The little girl’s heart beats so hard in her chest that she is terrified it will explode right through her tiny body.

Beads of sweat form on her forehead as she curls into a tight ball and squeezes her eyes tight shut. It is almost time. ‘Please not tonight,’ she whispers as she begins to shake with fear.

Then she hears it; the crunch of her father’s shoes outside the window, the cursing and fumbling as he searches for his keys in his filthy trouser pants.

The lock turns in the door and she hears the old shoes slapping on the thin grey lino in the room below. Then she counts the steps. One, two, three…..

She can smell him now, the reek of sweat, drink and cigarettes intersperses with the overpowering stink of urine in this room that doubles up as his toilet. He is standing over her now.

She cowers into the corner of the big old double bed as she pulls the dirty coats and old bedclothes tighter around her.

He grunts and curses as his belt finally hits the floor and the breathing gets heavier as he lugs himself onto the bed snatching the blankets roughly off her body.

Then there is that familiar stench of beer and the heat of his breath on the back of her neck as he pulls her tight and begins to unfold the tiny arms and pull open the small legs.

Suddenly, a pain so excruciating and so deep that the child thinks she will die. The sickness, the panic, the terror - and then it is over. He turns, pushes her away and begins to snore. Another night in the Dalkey House of Horrors.

And eight-year-old Cynthia Murphy closes her eyes and waits for morning to come in the bed she now shares with the monster that is her father.

Some nights he leaves her alone, too drunk to rape her after a particularly good night down in the local pubs of Dalkey village.

On other nights her hell continues as he probes further and further into her childish body, exploring her every orifice until he runs out of energy or his sick sexual desires are satisfied. The child doesn’t really know what is happening but she knows it is wrong and she is ashamed.

Her mother Josephine knits a lot and drinks throughout the night in front of the fire downstairs. Sometimes she sleeps beside them in the single bed while Peter defiles his terrified daughter. Sometimes she orders her up to the room to wait for the beast to come home.

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In the 1970s, in the Dublin suburb of Dalkey, renowned for its huge coastal houses and wealthy residents, there was a clear divide between those who had and those who hadn’t.

And the Murphy family of Whyte’s Villas, a council estate located just off the village Main Street, were most certainly from the latter.

Peter Murphy Snr had been reared in an orphanage before he met Josephine at a dance. She had already had a child out of wedlock, but just like Fred and Rose West, theirs was a twisted love affair that would lead to death and destroy two generations of children.

The couple married and first moved to a tiny cottage on the outskirts of the village where they began their family, before moving to the two-bed semi the council gave them to house their growing brood.

It was behind the walls of that house that some of the most horrific crimes were played out, where a newborn baby was stabbed to death, where teenage girls went untreated for miscarriages and where rape and abuse became commonplace.

For the six girls and three boys that grew up in that house, nobody escaped the clutches of evil that, Cynthia would later claim, extended to a paedophile ring she says operated in the town. She claims the children were often sold for the price of a bottle of sherry, a pint or a packet of fags.

When it comes to a scale of Houses of Horror, Dalkey was one of the worst and, incredibly, nobody has ever been brought to justice for what went on in that idyllic seaside town.

Like other homes where a parent becomes a predator, at Whyte’s Villas the filth was evident to anyone who managed to get inside.

The children went unwashed and were dressed in hand-me-down rags and oversized shoes. Lice crawled in their hair. Food was sparse and they were always hungry. They were beaten without mercy for the tiniest of misdemeanors and never shown any of the kindness or love that children so desperately need.

The curtains were never opened, the house never aired, the bedclothes were never washed and stank of urine and the rubbish overflowed from the bins that were never put out.

In school, the kids often fell asleep on their desks, classmates bullied them for being smelly and they never had a packed lunch or neatly-combed hair.

Josephine spent her days in bed while the older children tried to look after their younger siblings as best they could, often dragging them along to school in over-sized rags.

When she did get up, she roared and screamed at the children from her seat by the stove where she drank herself into a stupor night after night.

Peter Snr never spoke in the mornings when he raised for work as a caretaker in the Dalkey Town Hall. Every evening he trawled the pubs, drinking beer and smoking away the wages he earned for his family.

When he returned he often fought with his wife before making his way up the stairs where she ensured a child would be waiting in his bed.

There were only two bedrooms in the house and, by all accounts, each was a terrifying place of refuge for the children.

In the front room, Peter used a bucket in the corner to urinate throughout the night rather than make his way to the outside toilet in the back garden.

It consisted of a double bed and a single. It also housed a cot when the children were small enough. He picked his way through the children as they grew up evidently preferring a pre-pubescent child to defile and having no preference for boys or girls.

In the back bedroom, it was alleged others followed in his footsteps and brutally beat and raped the siblings too.

Cynthia, now 59, has undergone years of therapy since her escape from that house and she later detailed graphic account of her childhood in a book, Living With Evil.

In it, she described how, as a child, she would be forced to sleep next to her father and how night after night ended in the same routine. Initially, she wondered did her mother know what was going on while she sat by the fire downstairs and sometimes when she lay asleep beside her while she was being raped.


 Cynthia Owen is a survivor from the Dalkey House of Horrors

Cynthia Owen is a survivor from the Dalkey House of Horrors

Cynthia Owen is a survivor from the Dalkey House of Horrors

“Daddy slept in the bed with me every night now. I’d given up trying to imagine it might be part of growing up that would end any day soon, and I certainly didn’t think it was any sort of privilege or special treatment any more, because he hurt me so very much. It felt so wrong. And I couldn’t’ tell anybody about it,” she wrote

No day or night was safe at Whyte’s Villas. Not even Christmas Day. Then Josephine would cook the meal and chose a child to bring up Peter’s turkey and ham on a tray as he lay in bed.

“Daddy was too busy eating to talk to me, but he looked quite calm and relaxed. When he finished eating he put his knife and fork down tidily on the plate and put it on the chest of drawers nearby,” Cynthia recalled.

“‘Move closer to me,’ he ordered suddenly. ‘Come over tome.’

“The way he said it made goosebumps bubble up all over my skin. He wasn’t smiling. It was like his face had turned to stone. Suddenly the images of the presents and the smiling children and the tinsel downstairs vanished. That agonising shooting pain I had felt before had taken over my mind and body again. I was paralysed by it and by the fear…The smell of the turkey hovered over the bed. I wanted to be sick. Daddy had spoiled Christmas.”


Peter Murphy Snr and his wife Joesphine pictured at their Dalkey home

Peter Murphy Snr and his wife Joesphine pictured at their Dalkey home

Peter Murphy Snr and his wife Joesphine pictured at their Dalkey home

By the age of 11 Cynthia alleges she was being raped by three men in her family and when the schoolgirl noticed her belly growing she had no comprehension that she was going to have a baby herself. One day she rushed home from school to tell her mother that something was banging inside her stomach – the sensation scared her.

With no expression in her eyes and no show of sympathy Josephine harshly informed her daughter that she was having a baby.

What happened next has haunted a community for decades to come and remains one of the most-gruesome unsolved murders in Irish criminal history.

On the night of April 4th in 1973 an unimaginable evil occurred at Whyte’s Villas that would result in a lengthy garda investigation that, to this day, has come to nothing.

In a statement to gardai made in 1995, after years of therapy, Cynthia recalled how she gave birth in the same room where she had been repeatedly raped by her father and as he lay in bed watching her.

Just a child, she vividly recalls the unbearable pain as she winced and pushed while she crouched at the bottom of the double bed beside the stinking urine bucket.

She remembers the baby on the floor and could see it was a little girl with soft hair and pink skin.

Then she recalls Josephine reaching for the child, knitting needle in hand and stabbing it into the baby’s face over and over again. Cynthia later wrote: “Mammy was reaching for her now. She had the knitting needle. I saw it flash as she lifted it above my baby’s face. I wanted to scream but nothing came out. I was afraid of making Mammy any angrier. I was afraid of what was going to happen.

“I looked on in helpless horror as she stabbed the needle into my baby’s beautiful little face. She did it once, and then she did it over and over again. She stabbed her in the neck too. I could hardly breathe through my shock. My baby’s face wasn’t perfect any more. She was bleeding, but just a moment ago she had been so flawless. I couldn’t take it in.

"Daddy was watching Mammy, but started to tut and shake his head, like he was in a hurry. He walked away, and I heard him sink back into bed. I had to touch my baby. I had to fee her warm skin. I stretched out my trembling hand and nearly reached her, but mammy jabbed the top of my hand sharply with the knitting needle.

“’If you ever tell anyone about this, you are next,’ she spat - she had the scissors in her hand now. It looked like she was going to cut the bloody rope that was hanging out of the baby’s tummy, but then Mammy paused, and just ripped it out of my baby instead. The baby cried, and Mammy put her on the pink double candlewick bedspread off Daddy’s bed and left the room with her. I couldn’t move. My body felt very heavy, and my eyes started to go black. I was slipping away, blacking out with pain.”

In the panic that ensued, Cynthia recalls Josephine running downstairs and stuffing the baby into the oven as she cried and squirmed. Then she took her back out and stabbed her in the neck and in the chin again. Eventually the cries stopped and Josephine stuffed the newborn infant into a green polythene bag and ordered Cynthia out the door, walking her as far as Dun Laoghaire where they eventually dumped the bag in a laneway.

“I held the bag to me tightly, trying to cuddle my baby through the plastic, and then I sat with her for a long time, crying and talking to her. I told her that, someday, no matter how or when, I would get my mammy for what she had done to my baby,” she wrote.

The following day the bag and its contents were found by two local children who reported it to gardai. As a nationwide appeal for the mother of the newborn baby was launched, Cynthia returned to school at Loreto Abbey in Dalkey.

Investigating officers went on Garda Patrol, and the news of the baby’s murder was all over the television and radio, yet nobody noticed anything about Cynthia Murphy they thought worth reporting.

She returned to school after the Easter Holidays, no longer sporting the large bump that many of her friends would later say they noticed. Meanwhile, life went on and back home she was seen again as fodder for the paedophiles that surrounded her.

It would be years later after she eventually plucked up the courage to report the crimes that went on in that house, that she would discover she wasn’t the only child to suffer at Whyte’s Villas.

In an inquest held in 2007, which followed Cynthia’s claims to gardai, it was ruled that the unidentified murdered baby in the Dun Laoghaire laneway that died as a result of stab wounds was Noleen Murphy – the daughter of Cynthia.

The garda file on the Dalkey House of Horrors contains a dossier of claims.

Of the six female children raised in the Murphy house, five have said they were either abused or knew about the abuse. One, a niece, Theresa, who was reared by her grandparents died by suicide in 2005 but left a 32-page note detailing how she was raped along with her brother Micheal, who was found dead more than two years after he disappeared. Another brother, Martin, also died by suicide in the family home after telling relatives he couldn’t cope with the abuse.

Cynthia has been the most outspoken of her family in her quest for justice against the perpetrators of the crimes against her and her siblings.

She has made allegations that Peter Snr and Josephine pimped out their children to a paedophile ring and named 13 abusers. Any of those who were alive were quizzed by gardai and a file was sent twice to the Director of Public Prosecutions but was sent back with no recommendations for prosecutions.

Among a long list of questions that remain unanswered in the case are why the hold-all bag containing the dead infant and a number of other items contained within it were missing when gardai re-ignited the investigation in 1995, when she admitted she had given birth to the baby who was named after the inquest as Noleen Murphy.

The body of the child had been buried within five days and the investigation into her murder was shelved, unsolved, in a matter of weeks.

Five decades on from that brutal crime, all that remains is a legacy of destroyed souls and a family torn apart gruesome secrets.

In a final push to solve the case gardai have issued an appeal to the public to come forward with information. Superintendent Martin Creighton says that he hopes that the passage of time will help those with information feel able to come forward now.

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