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Galway tragedy 'Body in the Woods' mystery was solved after chance conversation, show reveals


E-Fit photo released by gardai

E-Fit photo released by gardai

E-Fit photo released by gardai

A CHANCE conversation between two colleagues allowed gardai to finally solve a tragic case that had baffled them for five years.

Tonight viewers will see how Gardai painstakingly chipped away at discovering the identity of the man whose body was found in woods near Barna, Co Galway in 2014.

For years, officers had been unable to identify the man's remains - despite checking through missing person's reports, searching DNA databases and issuing public appeals.

The investigation, which features on RTE’s The Case I Can’t Forget, began when a body was found in Rusheen woods in Connemara on September 27, 2014.

“It would have been obvious from the scene that this man would have taken his own life,” explains Inspector Paudie O’ Shea, who was the initial case investigator.

“This was an awful tragedy. There is a body, there is a man who ended his own life and at the same time there is a person behind it.

"He was somebody’s son, he could be a father, he could be a brother. When you don’t have a family pushing, we have to step into that breach as members of An Garda Siochana on behalf of the coroner, and see can we reach out to the family and bring these types of investigations as far as we can.”

An unsigned note was found, which indicated the man did not want to be identified.

The man’s clothing and a watch both pointed to him having once lived in the US. American police were contacted but gardai were told they could not be given assistance as the man had not been illegally killed.

“Once this person wasn’t the victim of a crime they were really puzzled as to why we were still pursuing it and still trying to establish this person’s identity, that’s not something they would do,” explained Detective Sergeant Colm MacDonnachadha.

“In Ireland we have a dual role even with deaths which are not suspicious we assist the coroner how and when did they die.”

No DNA matches from 140 families missing a loved one were found. The man’s details did not get a hit from the missing personal database either.

Facial reconstruction was then undertaken at Dundee University and the face of ‘the Barna man’, as he became known, was widely seen in Galway and across the country.

The Gardai also continued their media appeal.

“My personal instinct was that someone in the community knew who this person was, “ Det Stg MacDonnachadha points out.

“That’s why I felt it important to keep the case a live, the story alive, the image, to keep that in the public domain, so in that regard I felt more local media appeals were required, because I really thought that was where the breakthrough was going to come from.”

Sergeant Patricia Grady adds: “At the time there were posters in every shop, every pub, every chemist, the church. We tried to appeal as much as we could to the members of the public.”

And Inspector O’Shea notes: “Five years is quite a long time ands it would have felt that probably unlikely that anybody would come forward, but then again like with anything someone always has information somewhere and there was always the potential that something would come to light eventually.”

The came the breakthrough when a Polish worker was on a trip with his boss.

“July of 2019 he was on a business trip with his manager and he started telling him about the story about this man who came to rent a room in 2014, who left all his belongings behind and just disappeared,” explains Det Sgt

“And his manager said to him did you ever hear of the ‘Rusheen or Barna man’ and the Polish man said he never heard of him, so he sent him a link.”

The pursued it further.

“It clicked with his manager that this was potentially the man that had been found in the woods, obviously having had the story in the back of his mind somewhere, it rang some bells,” Inspector O’Shea points out.

It emerged the man in question had rented a room from the Polish worker in the Summer of 2014 and left all his belongings behind him and disappeared.

He had only stayed for about a month, kept to himself, and then disappeared. They found his bag and a note which said if he had not returned to dump his bag and readvertise the room.

The Guards called to the house to be told the locks had been changed. But they had better news when they were told the old lock was kept in a drawer.

They put in the key they had found on the body and it fitted. The passport photographed matched the E-Fit image.

Gardai contacted the man’s family in Poland and in January DNA samples showed he was their relative. His name was Teodor Bruzgo and he had lived in America for over 20 years.

A named marker on his grave in Galway could finally be placed. His family were also overjoyed and sent a letter of thanks to the Gardai in Galway.

The Case I Can’t Forget is on RTE One on tonight at 9.35pm.

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Online Editors