Q&A: What is the ‘Kerry babies’ case?

The 1984 unsolved case of the killing of unidentified newborn ‘Baby John’ in Co Kerry is back in the news

Why is the “Kerry babies” case in the news again?

On Thursday evening, a man in his 60s and a woman in her 50s were arrested on suspicion of murder in connection with the discovery of “Baby John”, the five-day-old boy at the centre of the unsolved killing, on a beach in Co Kerry in 1984. “Baby John” was found dead on a Co Kerry beach in April that year.

That was a really was a long time ago. Remind me what happened?

On April 14th, 1984, “Baby John” was found dead on White Strand, outside Cahersiveen. The newborn had been stabbed 28 times and his neck was broken. Gardaí in Dublin were sent to investigate.


On arriving, they learned that a single mother, Joanne Hayes, who lived 80km away in Abbeydorney, had been in hospital apparently after a lengthy pregnancy but there was no sign of a baby.

She and her family were summoned to Tralee Garda station. Graphic confessions of Ms Hayes having murdered “Baby John” were written up by gardaí, including how she killed him with a kitchen knife and bashed his head with a bath brush.

The confessions were all later withdrawn. Ms Hayes told gardaí she had, in fact, given birth to a baby boy – she named him Shane – who was stillborn or died days later and was buried on the family farm around the same time as the discovery of the baby on the beach.

Did gardaí find Shane’s remains?

Eventually, they did. Then they claimed Ms Hayes had had twins. But tests showed the two babies had different blood types.

So that was the end of that “lead”?

No. In a bizarre further twist, investigators came up with a theory of “superfecundation” – that the “twins” were conceived by two different men, explaining the two different blood groups.

After withdrawing their statements, the Hayes family made a series of allegations against gardaí, including intimidation and inappropriate conduct. Charges against them were then withdrawn in October 1984.

Wasn’t there a tribunal of inquiry at the time?

More like a medieval witch hunt, according to some. It was supposed to investigate how Ms Hayes was charged with murder and her family with concealment. What transpired was Ms Hayes, then 25, was publicly cross-examined over five days on the stand. She was asked thousands of questions, many of them about her sex life.

The tribunal mostly exonerated gardaí and found Ms Hayes was not the mother of the baby on the beach. But it made other claims against Ms Hayes and her family, which the family said were untrue, not supported by any evidence and purely speculative.

That is horrendous.

It only took the State 35 years to officially apologise. In 2020, it awarded substantial compensation to Ms Hayes and her family, but only after the family had launched legal proceedings in the High Court to declare all findings of wrongdoing made against them by the tribunal as unfounded and incorrect.

What has happened in the investigation since?

A fresh investigation was opened at the beginning of 2018 following a Garda apology to Ms Hayes, who had been wrongly accused of the murder.

Gardaí have made numerous appeals for information in the intervening years about the so-called Kerry babies case, insisting there are still members of the public with important information regarding his death.

In 2021, gardaí exhumed the remains of “Baby John” from Holy Cross Cemetery in Cahersiveen, before being re-interred some hours later. Garda sources said the reason for this was that although a DNA sample was taken during the postmortem examination of the baby in 1984, a larger sample was needed to make the most of advances in DNA technology over the past decades.

Have “Baby John’s” parents ever been identified?

No. Neither the parents nor the killer of the baby have ever been identified. Gardai believe “Baby John’s” mother is the key to unlocking this mystery.