New hope for missing Mayo woman Sandra Collins' family after anonymous tip-off
"There is an awful lot of fear in the community, a sense of this being too close to home"
The family of a woman who has been missing for 22 years believe they are now close to finding her body.
Sandra Collins (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.
Her brother Patrick told the Sunday World he believed an anonymous phonecall he received at Christmas was credible and he said the information he was given could finally lead to his sister's remains being found.
"We met with gardaí two weeks ago for an update on the investigation," he said.
"After the appeal at Christmas a few people came forward with a few bits of information. I also got an anonymous phonecall after I was interviewed on radio.
"When I put the phone down, I knew it wasn't going to fall on deaf ears.
"The caller provided new information that is being followed up on and I am hopeful that this will lead somewhere.
"However, we are still appealing for anyone with information to come forward.
"There are people out there who definitely know what happened to Sandra and we still believe there is someone out there who can put an end to this. We do believe we are close to finding Sandra."
Ms Collins's family has refused to allow the case of her disappearance in 2000 to fade from the public eye.
In May 2014, after a cold case review, local plasterer Martin Earley went on trial accused of murder.
But the evidence against him was circumstantial: Sandra's body has never been found, and there was no murder weapon or crime scene.
As revealed in court, Ms Collins found out she was pregnant on the day she disappeared. She had told her GP she intended to travel to England for a termination.
Several people saw her in a phone box in Killala throughout that day.
The State alleged she called Mr Earley's mobile phone and claimed he made calls to the phonebox as well.
Witnesses confirmed Ms Collins was wearing a light pink fleece on the day of her disappearance.
This was subsequently found on the pier in Killala on December 9, 2000. A packet of sausages and two pieces of paper were found in the pockets.
Mr Earley's number was written on one piece of paper, while the other piece contained the numbers of two abortion clinics in Britain.
The court heard Mr Earley admitted in statements to gardaí to having a sexual relationship with Ms Collins, but denied killing her.
After a four-week trial, Mr Earley walked from the court a free man. Ruling there was not sufficient evidence to find him guilty, Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy directed the jury to acquit him.
"At this stage we just want a body," her brother Patrick said.
"It's not about justice for us now; we have been down that road already. I do believe there are people out there who have information and are afraid.
"There is an awful lot of fear in the community, a sense of this being too close to home.
"We would ask that those people look deep inside themselves and try to find the courage to do the right thing.
"Out of fear or loyalty there are people who are holding back, and we want to stress that there are so many ways to give us information without implicating themselves.
"There is a confidential garda line and anyone who wants to can send an anonymous letter."
Interviews with Ms Collins's family feature next week in a TG4 documentary about her disappearance.
In 2020, the family launched a GoFundMe appeal to raise money for a reward to any persons with information that leads to the discovery of Ms Collins's remains, and to help gardaí if a location for her remains is identified.
"Thanks to the GoFundMe page we are putting up billboards on bus stops in Mayo to try and appeal to people," her brother Patrick said.
"We hope that people standing at the bus stops in Ballina and Castlebar will look at Sandra's picture and do the right thing.
"Since the GoFundMe page was set up in 2020, over €7,000 has been raised, which has enabled us to do this and put money towards a reward for information that leads to the discovery of Sandra's remains.
"We are also hoping to use the money to hire a renowned US criminal profiler to help gardaí to locate her."
After their most recent meeting with gardaí, the Collins family are hopeful of a breakthrough in the case.
They are anxious for a resolution, some form of closure, but more than anything they want Ms Collins to be given back her dignity.
"It is important for us to give our sister a proper burial," Patrick said.
"Until we can do that, we will never give up. What has happened to Sandra has stolen all our lives. We stay so focused because we love Sandra.
"We just want to know where Sandra is. We just want her back and then we will walk away."
The GoFundMe page set up by the Collins family is at www.gofundme.com/f/ bring-sandra-collins-home
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