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EXCLUSIVE EXTRACTS New book reveals the true horror of the discovery of tragic Patricia O'Connor's mutilated body

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Members of the garda water unit access to the crime scene where parts of Patricia O'Connor's body was found

Members of the garda water unit access to the crime scene where parts of Patricia O'Connor's body was found

Members of the garda water unit access to the crime scene where parts of Patricia O'Connor's body was found

EXCLUSIVE EXTRACT: Crowded House: The Definitive Story Behind the Gruesome Murder of Patricia O’Connor.


Discovery

At 7.43 p.m. on 10 June 2017, Garda Gráinne Warren received a 999 call from a distressed memberof the public. The caller identified herself as Breda Kenny. She and her family had just discovered what they believed to be human remains in the Wicklow Mountains, and they didn’t know what to do. Breda gave her location and was asked to stay where she was until gardaí arrived. Garda Warren then dispatched a patrol car to investigate.The grisly discovery just off Military Road drew Breda’s nieces and nephews in for a closer look. There were young children among them, and some were looking down into the ditch. Everyone was horrified by what they’d just found.

It took about an hour for Garda Paul Lacey and Garda Joseph Keenan to get there from Enniskerry Garda Station in County Wicklow. That hour felt like an eternity, especially with restless children to entertain after a long day in the sun. Garda Keenan spoke with the family before taking a look in the ditch. What lay there did appear to be a human torso, but he couldn’t be sure. It was over the bank, just off the road, as the family had directed him.

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Garda technical team pictured at Patricia O'Connor's home

Garda technical team pictured at Patricia O'Connor's home

Garda technical team pictured at Patricia O'Connor's home

His colleague Garda Lacey also thought it looked like human remains. He noticed several sets of footprints in the ditch, so the quick-thinking Garda photographed the soles of everyone’s shoes, and they preserved the scene. Detective Sergeant Brendan Maher was next to arrive. He had travelled there on his own in an unmarked garda car. The body was just ten metres away from a nearby woodland. That didn’t make sense. He wouldn’t have expected it to be out in the open like that, especially with the cover of dense forestry so close by.

The neck portion of the remains was facing him as he looked down from above. He figured the body part was about two metres below where he was standing at the top of the ditch. There wasn’t a strong smell off it, which led him to believe it hadn’t been there for very long. Something else that struck him was the colour of the grass beneath it. From where he was standing, it didn’t appear as if it had been deprived of sunlight for a prolonged period. He guessed the body part had been dropped there in the last 24 hours or so.

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Patricia O'Connor

Patricia O'Connor

Patricia O'Connor

The grass leading down to it was also freshly flattened, which suggested the torso had been tossed from a height and had then slid down to where it now lay. Sergeant Maher called his superior, Superintendent Pat Ward, who was based in Bray Garda Station. A doctor attended the scene later that night to formally identify the remains as human and pronounce death.

On that same day, Noel Ruane had gone for a drive with his partner. They drove through the Dublin suburb of Rathfarnham en route to the mountains from the Marlay Park side. It was a glorious drive. They stopped at Glenmacnass, ‘the Glen of the Hollow of the Waterfall’, and decided to go for a walk. They were in no rush, and gulped in the fresh mountain air as they strolled towards the 80m-high waterfall that sits at the top of the valley.

It’s a stunning location and a popular selfie stop for visitors. The waterfall itself is a sight and sound to behold, especially when in heavy flow .Noel couldn’t make out its smooth granite bedrock on this occasion, though – the water was unusually discoloured. As the couple walked along an embankment near a stream, they noticed what they thought were the organs of an animal strewn across a rock. They dismissed it and went on their way.

A news report on the radio the next day gave Noel pause for thought: ‘An investigation is under way following the discovery of human remains in Enniskerry, County Wicklow,’ the newsreader announced. Surely not, thought Noel. He turned up the radio. ‘They were discovered off Military Road near Glencree yesterday evening.’ Noel’s day of rest had just turned into anything but. He couldn’t stop thinking about what they’d seen the day before, and he struggled to shake off the feeling that it had something to do with the gruesome discovery near the cemetery. It wasn’t clear at that point whether the remains belonged to a man or a woman, and the newsreader appealed for anyone with information that might assist the investigation to contact gardaí.

Noel thought about calling them, but he didn’t want to waste their time. What if he was wrong? What if the remains were gone? He would hate to bring them all the way out there for a false alarm. They have enough to be doing, he thought. Instead, he decided to go back up and take another look. He was relieved when he saw that the remains were still there, and he waited where he was until gardaí responded to his call. His suspicions were later confirmed. An analysis of his discovery revealed it to be the lower torso of a human body. The news report was soon updated.

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Murder victim Patricia O'Connor

Murder victim Patricia O'Connor

Murder victim Patricia O'Connor

Experienced detectives approach each case with great caution, especially in the early stages of an investigation, when an open mind is one of the most valuable tools at their disposal. Unsurprisingly, the investigation team, led by Superintendent Pat Ward from the Bray district, suspected this second body part was linked to the one found the day before, but they couldn’t say for sure, and so nothing was taken for granted. At this point, investigators didn’t have much to work with. They had no clue who the remains belonged to, and they couldn’t even tell what gender they were. One striking feature that the two discoveries had in common, though, was that no effort had been made to conceal them. They were totally exposed, just left out in plain view.

The investigators hoped the rugged landscape would throw up some more clues. It was time to start looking. A thorough search of the Wicklow Mountains is no easy task. Sergeant Pat Carroll was assigned to head up the operation, and he decided to refine the initial search to within a 30km radius of where the first body parts were found, between the Featherbeds and Laragh. He knew that the dense forestry and woodlands would make the operation a difficult one. Hundreds of gardaí and army personnel from three battalions were brought in to comb the area on Monday, 12 June 2017. Members of the Irish Civil Defence, a volunteer-based organisation that supports frontline emergency services, also offered to help.

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The search zone was a buzz of activity from first light. Sergeant Carroll and his team pored over detailed maps of the area, and assigned each unit a specific grid to search. Every square inch was accounted for, and no stone was to be left unturned. The operation also required the services of the Garda Water Unit, and specialist divers splashed into the Glenmacnass River that day, not far from the waterfall where the lower torso was discovered over the weekend. Visibility was poor, but Garda Gerard O’Dea’s highly-trained eye spotted the next grim piece of the puzzle through the murky waters. It was hard to make out underwater, but it turned out to be part of a human leg. At a glance, he figured it was about twelve inches in length, and it appeared to have been cut just above the ankle. It was taken away for further analysis.

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 Members of the  garda water unit access the crime scene

Members of the garda water unit access the crime scene

Members of the garda water unit access the crime scene

Back on dry land, Corporal Barry Hannon from Cathal Brugha Barracks was searching an area between the waterfall and the Sally Gap when something caught his eye. It was about 4 p.m. He shouted ‘Stop!’ as per protocol, the others in his search team froze to their spot. He approached with care. Clumsy footwork can compromise a crime scene, so every step was carefully considered. To his left, he saw three pieces of what looked like butchered meat. There were two large pieces and one smaller piece. They were not attached to one another and they were lying just six feet from the road, right out in the open. Another army corporal thought it looked like ‘pork lying under a bush’. He later described it as ‘meat, with bone protruding from it’, and said the third piece looked like a bent elbow.

They shouted ‘Find!’ and gardaí took over. A post-mortem later revealed these ‘pieces of meat’ to be the upper right arm, the right thigh and knee, which had been cut downwards from the front of the thigh, and the right upper elbow and forearm. Given the scale of the search and the nature of what the investigators were looking for, it came as no surprise that the operation attracted a lot of media attention. News crews assembled and flocked to the mountains to cover the story. The Garda Press Office was flooded with requests for updates.The public was horrified when news of the discoveries reached them over the weekend, and the vacuum of information after the search got under way was leading to all sorts of speculation and hysteria.

Many wondered if it had something to do with a bloody gangland feud raging in Dublin at the time, or perhaps it was a crazed serial killer still on the loose. The best guess of bar-stool detectives was that the remains belonged to one of the six women who had gone missing from the Leinster area in the 1990s. Deirdre Jacob, Fiona Pender, Jo Jo Dullard, Fiona Sinnott, Ciara Breen and American woman Annie McCarrick all disappeared on various dates between 1993 and 1998. All are presumed murdered. These high-profile cases are still being treated as live investigations, and all intelligence and new leads are pursued with vigour by the Garda Serious Crime Review Team through Operation Trace.

Were the mountains about to spew another dark secret from the past back into the light? The pressure was on. People wanted answers, and while there were more questions than answers at this early stage, it was time to address the media. A press briefing, led by Superintendent Pat Ward, was arranged for the following afternoon. Reporters, photographers and TV crews were advised to approach the Garda cordon at the Sally Gap from the east. Before fielding questions from the gathered journalists, Superintendent Ward first appealed to members of the public who had been in the general area of Military Road/Laragh, County Wicklow in the recent past and who may have seen anything suspicious or unusual.

By now, an incident room had been set up at Bray Garda Station, and anyone with information was asked to contact it directly,or to call the Garda Confidential Line if they wished to remain anonymous. He then said it appeared that the body parts had been thrown from a moving vehicle, and no effort had been made to conceal them. ‘From Glencree right down to Glenmacnass, the pattern seems to be the body parts were dispersed on the side of the road, from a moving vehicle; a van or something like that,’ he said .‘It seems a vehicle travelled from north to south on Military Road, or the opposite way. And as that car travelled along it seems the body parts were discarded in this cruel manner.’ No post-mortem results were available at this point, so a murder investigation was not yet officially under way, but Superintendent Ward assured the media it was being treated as such. He said they were satisfied the victim had met a violent end. The highly experienced police officer refused to add fuel to any of the theories being lobbed from the floor.

It was simply too early to tell what they were dealing with, and he wasn’t going to be drawn into wild speculation. ‘This could be the result of anything. It could have been an argument, it could be a domestic situation, it could be anything,’ he said, with the widest of open minds. Unlike the clues scattered in plain sight across the mountainside, information was thin on the ground, but gardaí did at least have some clue as to what they were dealing with. Initial examinations of the first body parts found by members of the public over the weekend revealed they belonged to a young man, most likely in his twenties. Back up the mountains, the words ‘Stop! Stop! Find!’ once again filled the valleys. A human foot had been found, again just a few feet from the road, reinforcing Superintendent Ward’s suspicion that someone had just tossed the body parts out of the side of a moving vehicle.

Crowded House: The Definitive Story Behind the Gruesome Murder of Patricia O’Connor by FrankGreaney is published by Gill Books, priced at €16.99 and available now in bookshops and online.


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