When a loved one goes missing abroad
JP Grealis went missing in the Netherlands four years ago. Frustrated by the slow pace of the investigation, his family have been tireless in trying to discover what happened to him but are still looking for answers, writes CIAN TRAYNOR
WHENEVER A new missing-person case makes the news, Helen Grealis instinctively wants to reach out to their family. It has been four years since her brother James Patrick disappeared and she knows that in the first few days, when the panic is overwhelming, crucial opportunities for clues can be missed. She also knows that approaching someone with that kind of personal experience conjures a frightening prospect: that the distress could stretch on indefinitely with no sign of closure.
“When my brother went missing, I didn’t want to talk to someone whose brother or sister was missing for 10 or 12 years. I thought, ‘That’ll never happen to us. We’ll find him.’
“I still do think that. I just don’t know whether it’ll be next year or 10 years down the line. It’s difficult. Every day you’re just hoping to hear something. The phone rings, it’s a private number, and you go into shock wondering, is this the call?”
JP Grealis, a 24-year-old carpenter from Achill in Co Mayo, had begun a new chapter in his life shortly before disappearing. After spending two years in Birmingham with his sister Bernadette, he ventured out on his own to the Netherlands in April 2007, finding various short-term construction contracts that took him around the country.
JP, who was known for his laid-back, outgoing personality, made sure to keep in touch with family every week. When he lost his mobile, he called from a landline or sent an email telling them not to worry, touching base every second day until the phone was replaced.
But in October 2008, seven days passed without contact. His parents checked in with JP’s four elder sisters and, later, his friends in the Netherlands, but nobody had heard anything. The family travelled to the southern city of Breda, where JP was last seen, but by then almost nine days had passed, leaving enormous ground to cover.
From the outset, the police advised that without any evidence of harm, JP had probably broken off contact to start a new life. This seemed unlikely to the Grealis family. Although JP had recently been let go from a job in Someren, he had booked a flight home for Christmas and appeared carefree. But concern deepened when it transpired that October 23rd, the day JP last spoke to family members, also marked the final activity on his bank and phone accounts. The last calls were to recruitment agencies.
Frustrated by a lack of progress, Helen Grealis took unpaid leave from work to chase leads in the Netherlands. Any information she gathered, she passed on to the police.
She made a colour-coded spreadsheet of the phone numbers linked to her brother’s phone, trying to map out every possible connection. There was just one she couldn’t account for: an unregistered pay-as-you-go number JP contacted numerous times late at night. In the years since, repeated calls to this number have gone unanswered.
There were unconfirmed sightings of JP in Eindhoven around the start of November but people’s stories changed the more they were questioned. Everything seemed vague. A private investigator, a costly advertising campaign (printed in colour to emphasise JP’s distinctive red hair), as well as the family’s own network of contacts in the Netherlands, turned up nothing. When a reward of €10,000 for any information was offered in 2010, only false leads materialised.
“There were a lot of hoaxes,” says Grealis. “My parents even got a postcard from a guy in Holland saying my brother was safe and well in a hospital. ‘Don’t be worrying, I’m keeping an eye on him.’ Terrible. I checked it out straight away and I just think it’s horrific that someone can do that to parents. It’s torture.”