Man found guilty of murdering Cork woman 42 years ago

Jury at Central Criminal Court convicts Noel Long of killing Nora Sheehan in 1981

Noel Long: found guilty of murdering Nora Sheehan, whose body was found in June 1981. Photograph: Collins Courts.

The State has been successful in pursuing the oldest murder prosecution in Irish history with a jury finding a 74-year-old sex offender guilty of murdering vulnerable Cork woman Nora Sheehan 42 years ago.

The panel of seven men and four women unanimously accepted the prosecution case that Noel Long, who has a 1972 conviction for sexual offending and multiple previous assault convictions, is guilty of murder.

The jury agreed with the State’s case that the evidence in the trial all pointed to the “inescapable conclusion” that the mother-of-three had met her death in June 1981 at the hands of Long.

Mr Justice Paul McDermott imposed a mandatory life sentence for murder on Long, backdated by four weeks.


The 11 jurors at the Central Criminal Court rejected the defence put forward by Long’s legal team, who had argued that the State had failed to prove the intent required for murder and that in those circumstances, the most they could consider was a verdict of manslaughter.

The trial, which began on July 13th, heard evidence that a partial DNA profile generated from semen found in the body of Mrs Sheehan and preserved for decades had matched DNA found on clothing taken from Long in 2021.

Nora Sheehan from Ballyphehane, Cork who was murdered in 1981. Photograph: Provision

There was also evidence that Long had been in the same area as Ms Sheehan when she went missing, that fibres recovered from the victim matched those taken from the carpeting of Long’s car and that paint fragments removed from the victim’s clothing also matched paint taken from the same vehicle.

Long, a former British army soldier with an address at Maulbawn, Passage West, Co Cork had pleaded not guilty to murdering 54-year-old Mrs Sheehan between June 6th and June 12th, 1981 at an unknown place within the State.

Her naked and bruised body was found by forestry workers at The Viewing Point, Shippool Woods in Cork six days after she went missing.

Jury urged to leave ‘any revulsion or prejudice’ aside in ‘cold case’ murder trial of Noel LongOpens in new window ]

Senior counsel Brendan Grehan, for the Director of Public Prosecutions, told the jurors they were being asked to infer that after Mrs Sheehan was last seen alive she came to be in a car, was badly assaulted including sexually assaulted and was ultimately killed in the course of a vicious assault or to cover up her murderer’s “misdeeds”.

In his closing speech, Michael Delaney SC, for Long, told the jury that one of the most significant issues they would have to decide is whether “what happened here was a murder at all”.

Former State Pathologist Dr Marie Cassidy, who was called by the defence, said the victim’s cause of death was unascertained.

Mr Delaney said the State could not precisely say how Mrs Sheehan met her death and that Dr Cassidy’s evidence was important in their decision as to whether the case was “anything more than an unlawful killing; whether there was an intent to kill or cause serious injury”.

Mr Delaney asked the jurors to consider if there would have been a motive for someone to conceal Mrs Sheehan’s body if she had died from a heart attack in the course of a physical and sexual assault.

The jurors found Long guilty of murder by unanimous verdict on Friday morning after five hours and 32 minutes considering their verdict.

They had the option of returning three verdicts in relation to the murder charge against the defendant, namely; guilty of murder, not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter or not guilty.

Following the murder verdict, Mr Justice McDermott thanked the 11 jurors for their service and application to the case. The judge exempted them from jury service for 10 years.

Long lived without taking accountability nor “showing an ounce of remorse” for the murder and sexual assault, the victim’s family told the Central Criminal Court.

“We hope you are at peace now mom. We never gave up hoping that one day we would get justice for you and we hope we have done you proud,” the family of Nora Sheehan wrote.

Katie Sheehan said that her grandmother’s life was “taken from her in the cruelest way imaginable” and it was hard to convey in words “the hurt we have carried over four decades, the legacy of which carries on to new generations”.

The testimony was heard as part of an emotional victim impact statement read today to the Central Criminal Court by the chief investigating officer in the case.

The court heard that Long has 31 previous convictions that span 50 years from 1966 to 2016; 27 of those are for offences committed in Ireland and four are in the UK. These include six counts for common assault, four counts for burglary and a large number of road traffic convictions.

In her victim impact statement, Katie Sheehan said Nora Sheehan was a “much loved wife, mother, daughter, sister, aunt and friend. She was kind, compassionate and opinionated. She adored children and animals. She grew up in the countryside in Crookstown in a very happy home and lived there until she fell for a Cork City man James Sheehan and moved to the big city.

Ireland’s oldest murder prosecution: How a conviction over Nora Sheehan’s 1981 death was finally securedOpens in new window ]

“She was a modern woman and a bit ahead of her time and wanting to earn her own wage worked at a psychiatric hospital bringing her country charm into the lives of the vulnerable patients.

“Those connected to Nora think about her almost every day. Unfortunately we have been unable to think about her many wonderful qualities very often and the horrendous circumstances surrounding her death is what has occupied our thoughts these past 42 years.”

She added: “Visions of how scared she must have been in the final moments, how much pain she was in and how long her violated and injured body laid in the undergrowth all alone have been the focus of many of our nightmares”.

“We hope that we can now begin the process of dealing with what happened to our mother and go on to live the remainder of our lives at peace and begin to remember our mother for the quirky, feisty, glamorous mother she was. We hope you are at peace now mom. We never gave up hoping that one day we would get justice for you and we hope we have done you proud”.

Speaking outside the Criminal Courts of Justice after the sentence, Katie Sheehan thanked Dr Coakley, the pathologist involved in the case, as well as current and retired gardaí, forensic scientists, senior counsel Brendan Grehan, witnesses, the jury and the community for their work and support.