Kerry babies: Gardaí await results of DNA tests taken from arrested couple

Swab samples given priority testing status by Forensic Science Ireland laboratory

Gardaí are awaiting tests on DNA samples taken from a couple to see if they are linked to Baby John, the infant found dead on a Co Kerry beach nearly 40 years ago.

A lawyer for the pair – a man in his 60s and a woman in her late 50s – said they strongly deny killing the baby on April 9th, 1984.

Detectives arrested them at their home in south Kerry on Thursday night and questioned them separately at Listowel and Castleisland Garda stations, where they were held for almost 24 hours before being released without charge.

Gardaí said after their release that they are to prepare a file on the matter for the Director of Public Prosecutions.


The couple’s solicitor, Pádraig O’Connell, said that during Garda interviews they had strenuously denied murdering the baby.

“They were arrested on suspicion of murder and there isn’t a scintilla of evidence against them in that regard – they each totally and absolutely deny an allegation of murder. They were brought in on foot of some DNA results but there’s a huge chasm between DNA tests and murder.”

Mr O’Connell said the first his clients had “learned anything about this was when there was a knock on their door and they went out to find gardaí there”.

It is understood gardaí are awaiting the results of DNA samples taken from the pair. Even with priority being given to testing the samples by Forensic Science Ireland (FSI), it will still take a number of days for the results of the tests to become available.

A postmortem by then State pathologist Dr John Harbison found that Baby John had suffered 28 separate stab wounds and a broken neck when he was found by farmer Jack Griffin on White Strand near Cahersiveen on April 14th, 1984. It also found the body had been in the sea for two days before being discovered.

As part of a cold-case review launched in 2018, gardaí asked a number of people in south Kerry to voluntarily give samples to see if they could get a DNA match with a sample taken from Baby John at postmortem in 1984.

The baby’s remains were exhumed from Holy Cross cemetery in Cahersiveen in 2021 to obtain a new sample as the original specimen had deteriorated. Gardaí then used this sample to see if they could obtain a match with the samples that had been given voluntarily.

Using a new DNA technology called next-generation sequencing, scientists can now obtain DNA matches even if the samples are not from immediate relatives and it is believed that it was this technology that enabled FSI scientists to get a DNA match for Baby John.

This in turn led gardaí to focus their inquiries on relatives of the person who gave the voluntary match, which in turn led them to the two people they arrested, believing that one of them may be related to Baby John.

Gardaí identified obtaining full DNA samples from both the man and the woman as a priority and members of the Kerry traffic corps were on standby on Thursday evening to bring the swab sample to the FSI laboratory in Dublin where they were given priority testing status.

However, as one legal source pointed out, a DNA match itself would fall short of proof that one or both of them had killed the infant.

Mr O’Connell appealed to the gardaí to move quickly on the matter. “I’m urging that the file on this be prepared with due diligence and be sent to the DPP and that the DPP would expedite her decision and I believe my clients will be exonerated,” he said.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times