The late summer murders: Two men on a mission to kill Irish women

In 1976, the career criminals travelled around Ireland, abducting, raping and murdering women

Warning: this article includes content that some readers may find disturbing

Britons John Shaw and Geoffrey Evans first met in prison in England in the 1970s. In the long hot summer of 1976, they drove around Ireland, executing their grotesque pact. By the end of that time, Elizabeth Plunkett and Mary Duffy, both 23, had been murdered.

The men were caught in Galway on September 26th, 1976, while planning a third abduction. They both received life sentences and became known as the State’s first serial killers.

Shaw is Ireland’s longest-serving prisoner. Evans died, age 68, from sepsis in St Mary’s Hospital in the Phoenix Park on May 20th, 2012, where he had been in a coma for several years following a stroke after heart bypass surgery in December 2008.


Shaw is now 75 and is still detained in Arbour Hill Prison. Repeated requests for his full release have been rejected, and in January this year it was reported that Shaw is bringing a fresh legal challenge to avail of two days’ escorted release annually, which he was granted in 2016 and has since not been allowed to do on grounds that he still poses a danger to women.


Aged 31 and 32 respectively, Shaw and Evans arrived together in Ireland in late 1974. They were both from the Greater Manchester area. Shaw who had long black hair and a beard, had been married, but the marriage had since collapsed. He had had a criminal record since the age of 14, starting with burglary. He was illiterate, later signing his statements with an X.

Evans was small and fair and had been married with three children. His marriage too had broken down. By the time they met in prison in England and formed their toxic camaraderie, they had dozens of burglary convictions between them.

Both men had also committed sexual assaults, including rape; crimes to which they were linked, but had not yet been charged, including the rape of a 16-year-old girl. While in prison, they concocted their plan. At some time in the future, when they were free again, they would conspire together as a pair to fulfil their joint fantasy of abducting, raping and murdering women.

Murderer Geoffrey Evans died from sepsis, aged 68, in St Mary’s Hospital in Phoenix Park, Dublin, on May 20th, 2012 ILLUSTRATION: BRIAN GALLAGHER

On release from prison in England, they decided to travel to Ireland, and thus avoid any new charges being laid against them back home. In Ireland, they at once set about a number of house burglaries to raise money, first in Co Wicklow and then in the Cork and Clonmel areas.

On February 5th, 1975, they appeared at Cork Circuit Court on 16 counts of burglary. They were convicted and sentenced separately; each got two years. They were later transferred from Cork to Mountjoy Prison. Neither served their full sentence.

In August 1976, they both appeared in Dublin’s Bridewell. The British police were seeking to extradite them to answer charges for the sexual assault and rape cases they were now linked to. The pair were released on a bond of £40, and given one month to prepare a case as to why they should not be extradited.

In Mountjoy, they had befriended a fellow prisoner named Cliff Outram, who was released before them. He had invited them to his home in Fethard, Co Tipperary. It’s there they went after their own release, first Shaw, and then Evans, who arrived some days later by train. Outram had access to a car, a grey Austin A40. The pair asked him if they could borrow it for a few days, and he agreed to get the car for them.

Thus Shaw and Evans got into the Austin and drove north. They had made their pact, and they were now ready to execute it.


Elizabeth Plunkett (23) lived at Pembroke Cottages in Ringsend, Dublin. One of eight siblings, she had three sisters and four brothers. She worked for the De La Rue printing firm as a currency clerk. In her spare time, she liked to swim, hike, practise judo, and was keen on camping and the outdoors. She was dark-haired, vivacious, and by all accounts, a confident young woman. She had a boyfriend of five months; Damien Bushe, a mechanic, whom she had met through his sister; a close work colleague.

The summer of 1976 in Ireland was unusually hot, with unbroken weeks of sunshine, when everyone was enjoying the weather. On Saturday, August 28th, the couple had made plans to go to Staunton's Caravan Park in Brittas Bay for the weekend with five other friends, travelling in two cars.

On arrival at Brittas, the group of friends went for drinks in McDaniels pub; a place that could hold 800 people. Plunkett was wearing wedge sandals, white slacks and a navy jumper with the words St Tropez on it: she had recently been on holiday in St Tropez with Bushe’s sister; a special holiday that they had saved up for. She was also wearing a Seiko watch that she had received for her 21st birthday.

Elizabeth Plunkett was killed in 1976 at the age of 23 by John Shaw and Geoffrey Evans ILLUSTRATION: BRIAN GALLAGHER

Over the course of the evening, there was a fairly ordinary and unremarkable row about the sale of a car between Bushe and another friend, Joe McCoy, but the row became lengthy. When their conversation didn’t change subject, even after she intervened, Plunkett got up and left the bar by herself. A witness reported seeing her come out of the pub at 11pm. She was seen again walking in the direction of Staunton’s Caravan Park about five minutes later.

Later, giving evidence in court to an all-male jury, Bushe stated: “Liz came over and told us we came down for a good weekend, and should not be fighting. I just told her to mind her own business and she left; she went out.” He wept as he told the court that this was the last time he ever saw her alive.

Shaw and Evans had driven to Co Wicklow, first stopping en route to collect a suitcase belonging to Evans which he had stored in a locker at Heuston Station. They knew the Wicklow area from previous burglaries, and happened to be driving though Brittas on that evening. “We had been talking about girls and Geoff said he was going to pick up a bird and have it off with her. He wanted a small bird,” Shaw said later.

'We took the girl's clothes off her. We tied the lawnmower around her body with the rope'

They saw Plunkett leaving the pub alone and decided immediately to target her. Shaw got out of the car, and Evans drove on, so that one man offering a lift to her would seem less intimidating than two: a ruse they had already planned.

A witness later told the court that he saw a girl wearing white slacks and a dark jumper walking alone on the road not far from McDaniels pub, at about 11.20pm. He saw a car that had been driving slowly in the opposite direction, stop and pick her up. This witness drove past, and then stopped outside Staunton’s supermarket, remarking to his passenger that the encounter seemed odd.

Should they go back? “But my friend who was with me talked me out of it,” he said.

Once Plunkett was in the front seat, having been assured of a lift to Dublin, the car unexpectedly stopped again, and Shaw got into the back seat. After that, as Evans later said in his Garda statement, they started “messing” with her. The car stopped at an entrance to Castletimon forestry plantation, some mile or so away.

John Shaw, the country’s longest-serving prisoner ILLUSTRATION: BRIAN GALLAGHER

“The three of us got out of the car and she got frightened. She did not want to go and we tried to persuade her. We pulled her into the trees and she was saying ‘ Let me go’.” They started a series of beatings. “We took off her slacks and panties and John had intercourse with her,” Evans stated. “She was struggling all the time,” Shaw stated.

“John left then and the girl asked me what we were going to do with her, and I told her we were going to let her go. I then had intercourse with her, and again about half an hour later. She wasn’t willing, and asked me not to do it,” Evans’s statement said. In the meantime, Shaw moved the car to the car park of Jack White’s pub, and walked back to the forestry plantation.

The two men continued to rape her by turn as the night deepened. Then they lay down either side of Plunkett, so she could not escape.

Bushe and Plunkett’s friends all left McDaniels within 15 minutes of her departure. They searched for her with growing alarm on that night of August 28th and into the early hours of the next day. They searched first on foot and then by car; in the pub’s car park and in the caravan park and then in various locations around Brittas. She had vanished.

On Sunday morning, when Bushe had driven back to Dublin to look for his girlfriend, Evans went back to their car outside Jack White’s. He couldn’t start it, and fell asleep. A witness saw him asleep in the car at 1.45pm. Some time later, this same witness helped give the grey Austin a push, and the car started. Evans drove back to the woods.

In the days after Plunkett was reported missing, her friends continued to search the surrounding Brittas area for her

“When I got to the lane, John were there and I could see something had happened, straight away. He were white. I asked him what were wrong and he told me that the girl were dead. I didn’t believe him, so I walked down the lane and into the trees. I seen the girl lying there with all her clothes on. I asked John what happened. He told me he had been asleep and she tried to get away. He ran after her and grabbed her. He said she was screaming.” Shaw had then strangled Plunkett with the sleeve of one of Evans’s nylon shirts; one of the shirts that had been in his suitcase in a locker at Heuston Station.

The two men left Plunkett’s body in the wood, along with Evans’s suitcase he had collected at Heuston Station, and drove away towards Brittas again. “We decided at this stage to throw her into the sea.” In the interim, they broke into more caravans. They stole a portable television, cash, a tent and two blue sleeping bags. Then they hid out for the rest of the day, until darkness.

After midnight on August 29th, Shaw and Evans returned to where Plunkett lay dead, and put her body in the boot. They had noticed some rowing boats moored at the river on Brittas Bay earlier while out stealing. Two dinghies were padlocked together. They broke the padlock on the 12ft dinghy called the Skipper. Then they broke into a shed and stole oars and a lawnmower. They also pulled down a clothes line made of rope.

“We took the girl’s clothes off her. We tied the lawnmower around her body with the rope,” Evans said. They put her body in the boat, rowed out to sea, and threw her and the lawnmower overboard. They abandoned the Skipper two miles along the shoreline from where they had stolen it. Then they again drove back to the woods, taking the clothes she had been wearing with them.

They collected Evans’s suitcase. Plunkett’s sandals had already been abandoned in the wood, along with her underwear. They then threw her watch into the bushes.

Brittas Bay, the area where Elizabeth Plunkett was murdered. Photograph: Getty Images

Next morning, at the McDaniels caravan site, they lit a bonfire and burned her slacks and top. A Garda noticed this activity and asked for their names. The men gave their names as John and Geoffrey Murphy, saying that they were on holidays.

In the days after Plunkett was reported missing, her friends continued to search the surrounding Brittas area for her, along with many other volunteers. It was McCoy who found her bra thrown into bushes at Castletimon on Saturday, September 4th. Then her watch was found, dangling from a tree branch. Then one sandal, and not long after, another, near a sandpit. Her family identified these items as belonging to Plunkett.

When vegetation in the area was cut back, a home-made cardboard label with G Murphy written on it was discovered. It had fallen off Evans’s suitcase. The garda who had recently seen the two men burning clothes remembered the names they had given him, and an alert was circulated to Garda stations across the country with their descriptions, and the fact they both had British accents. Who were these men, was the question. And where was Plunkett?


On September 2nd, Shaw and Evans drove back to Outram’s house in Fethard, Co Tipperary, and returned his car. Outram later told the Garda that when the two men returned from Brittas, they had with them a white portable television. They also had a hold-all, a tent, two blue nylon sleeping bags, and “as far as he knew”, money.

The pair then continued to carry out a number of house burglaries. They robbed homes in Mitchelstown, Carrick-on-Suir, Clonmel and Cork city. They were specifically after money: in order to have the means to carry out their next murder. They stole a number plate from an abandoned Ford Corsa on Cork’s Bandon Road.

They again returned to Outram in Tipperary. On Wednesday, September 8th, they applied for, and were granted, provisional driving licences at Clonmel taxation offices. They gave the names Ray Hall (Evans) and David Ball (Shaw), and used Outram’s address. Two days later, on Friday, Outram drove them to Limerick. It was the day the men were meant to be appearing in the Bridewell in Dublin, explaining why they should not be extradited back to England.

They bought black paint and brushes and did a crude repainting job on the car. It had a broken back light.

The pair made their way to Galway, having decided they needed a base. At a caravan site in Barna on Tuesday, September 14th, they bought a caravan for £330, using the fake names on their driving licences. Their caravan, like all the others, was propped up with concrete blocks. The man who sold them the caravan at the site later stated that on arrival, the men had no car, but that one appeared a couple of days later.

Shaw later said to the gardaí that Evans “pinched” the green Cortina car in Clifden. They replaced its number plates with those they had stolen in Cork; registration SZH 562. They bought black paint and brushes and did a crude repainting job on the car. It had a broken back light. They also stole a roof rack.

They now had their own car, money and their own base. They were prepared and ready to seek out their next victim.


Mary Duffy (23) was a slight young woman, with short dark hair, one of seven siblings. In September 1976, she was living at home on the family farm at Deerpark, Belcarra, some five miles from Castlebar town.

Duffy had a strong work ethic, and at that time she had two jobs. She worked as a shop assistant during the day four days a week and also worked four evenings as a cook at the Coffee Shop on Ellison Street, starting at 6.45pm.

Her colleagues there had got to know her over the months she had worked there. They later told gardaí that Duffy never walked home at night: she always either got a lift from her brother or a customer in the restaurant. Now and then, she stayed over in Castlebar with friends. She did not have a boyfriend, but liked going out dancing at the weekend.

On the evening of Wednesday, September 22nd, Duffy finished her shift at about 11pm. Her colleagues described her as having been “in a happy mood” that evening. She was wearing a red polo neck, jeans, a red duffle coat and boots. She was carrying a brown plastic handbag containing a red purse with white rosary beads, and a plastic cosmetics bag. Later, her younger sister, with whom she shared a bedroom, identified in court the bag as one whose contents the sisters had shared, specifically mascara and eyeshadow.

Duffy also wore two gold rings. One was a signet ring with her initials, MD, on it; a popular Confirmation gift for girls in that era. The other contained her birthstone.

Mary Duffy of Deerpark, Belcarra, a victim of convicted killers Geoffrey Evans and John Shaw in September 1976. ILLUSTRATION: BRIAN GALLAGHER

Duffy did not have any money on her, so borrowed some coins from a colleague to call her brother Michael to ask him to collect her. He worked in a local garage. She placed the call at about 11.10pm from a public phone box. Her brother was out, trying to start a car for a customer. He was due back imminently so she left a message with his employer, to tell her brother she would start walking home ahead of him, to the junction of Breaffy Road, where she would wait.

Shaw and Evans had been watching Duffy make her phone call, then leave and start walking alone. They put their plan into action again. Once more, Shaw exited the car, and Evans parked it farther up the street, along which Duffy was walking. The area of the town was Saleen, which had several houses either side of the street, within earshot. Shaw followed her silently, and then, when she came alongside the parked car, he pounced.

Duffy had had trouble with her teeth over some years, necessitating several visits to a dentist, and wore a dental plate to replace a missing tooth. Shaw now punched her so hard in the face that this dental plate dislodged, came out of her mouth and fell on to the road. This was later definitively identified by Duffy’s dentist, who had taken the cast, as being hers.

She screamed very loudly as Shaw forced her into the back of the car. Several witnesses living in nearby houses later told of what they had heard that night, about 11.30pm.One woman got out of bed when she heard screams that sounded “short and hysterical”. She also reported hearing a man’s voice calling, “Come on!” This was Evans, who was driving, and focused on swiftly getting away with both his passengers. Another neighbour reported hearing a woman’s voice screaming: “It was like she was hurt or someone had hit her.”

Several neighbours were looking out from their windows and doors by then, alarmed. One reported seeing a Cortina car with a roof rack, and a broken tail light, revving loudly, reversing and then driving at speed towards the Galway Road. Then a troubled silence returned.

At some point, Shaw put a red tartan cushion that had been in their car over Duffy's face and began to suffocate her

By then, Michael Duffy was en route to Castlebar to pick up his sister from their meeting point. As he drove towards the town, the car with his abducted sister in it was speeding in the opposite direction. Shaw was in the back seat of the Cortina with Duffy, tying her hands together. He hit her repeatedly while he raped her.

Shaw said in his statement, “Somewhere along the road, I started to drive and Geoff got into the back of the car with her. She didn’t scream but said, ‘Don’t do me any harm’.” The men continued to swap drivers and take turns in the back with the young woman. A forensic scientist later told the court that her pubic hair, and the pubic hair of both men, along with seminal fluid, was found on the back seat of the car.

They drove through the night, until they reached west Connemara. They had previously scoped out isolated sites around Ballinahinch and Lough Inagh: even today, these starkly beautiful and remote areas of Connemara are thinly populated. They had planned in advance to take their next victim here. They stopped at the derelict railway station building near Ballinahinch. The men then dragged Duffy out of the car, stripped her naked, and took her into the woods. They raped her again and again, turn by turn.

At some point, they gave Duffy back her coat and tied her to a tree. Then the men pitched their stolen tent beside the tree, and took out their sleeping bags. Before dawn, Evans got up. He drove back to their caravan at Barna, to collect food and other items. When Evans got to the caravan, he went to sleep, not waking till about noon.

In Barna, he bought some food. He took one of the concrete breeze-blocks that were all over the caravan park, and on top of which people secured their caravans, and put it in the boot of the car. As he did so, he accidentally smeared it with the black paint with which they had crudely painted the Cortina in their effort to disguise it. He took a rope, and Valium tablets from the caravan.

Ballinahinch, Connemara, Galway, the area where Mary Duffy was murdered. Photograph: Bord Fáilte/Irish Tourist Board

According to their statements, while Evans was away Shaw untied Duffy from the tree and continued to rape her. When Shaw later took gardaí to this location, which was close to a river, he pointed out a log to them. He told them that he and Duffy were sitting there when some fishermen came into sight. But although he saw them, Duffy did not. Her back was to the river, so she did not call out for help.

It was evening when Evans got back to the makeshift campsite, where both Shaw and Duffy were in the tent. She was naked. He later said that by then, Duffy had a bleeding gash over her left temple and two black eyes. Some of her teeth were missing. She had new wounds and scratches on her body. Among the injuries that then State pathologist John Harbison later found on her body was extensive bruising to her upper left arm and shoulder, consistent with being forcibly held down.

Evans gave Duffy a cheese sandwich he had made, and a bottle of barley water that he had bought in Barna. She didn’t eat anything. Then Shaw took the car to go drinking in Roundstone, and Evans continued the rapes.

When Shaw returned, the men had a discussion as to what they were going to do with their abducted victim. At about midnight, Evans gave Duffy five Valium tablets, and told her they were going to take her home. She then became, he later stated, “dozy”. Shaw remained in the tent with her, while Evans went to sit in the car.

At some point, Shaw put a red tartan cushion that had been in their car over Duffy’s face and began to suffocate her. Then, as he said in his statement, “I put my hands around her neck and killed her.” From the car, Evans observed continued activity in the tent. The pathologist later told the court: “There was a possibility of intercourse after death.”

The public were aghast at news of the crimes of abduction and murder against these two young, independent women; one walking home from work; one on a weekend away with her friends

When Evans saw a torchlight in the tent, he went back towards it, and looked in. Duffy was lying prone and unmoving inside. He realised she was dead. In Evans’s statement, he later said that Shaw said, “We will have to do the same as we did in Wicklow. I knew what that was.”

“That” meant concealing the body in water. The two men carried her body to the car. Then they drove some distance to a boathouse on the shore of Lough Inagh, farther east, where eight boats were tied up. They took her coat off, which was the only item of clothing she was still wearing, and her two rings. They then put her body into a boat, in the same way they had done with Elizabeth Plunkett’s body.

The caretaker of the Lough Inagh boathouse and its eight boats later told the court that on the morning of Friday, September 24th, he found a pane of glass missing in one window. He noticed a rock on the floor inside the boathouse, but everything seemed intact. However, when he checked the boathouse equipment six days later, he realised that a sledgehammer and a grappling hook were both missing.

It was Evans who had smashed the window and stolen these items, along with a pair of oars. The two men tied the sledgehammer around Duffy’s waist. Then they took the concrete block from the car boot and tied that around her legs with more rope, wrapping the rope around and around several times. They also tied the grappling hook on to her body; an item that they incorrectly described in their statements as an anchor. They rowed far out into Lough Inagh, a deep opaque lake with bog at its underside far beneath. Shaw threw her overboard, while Evans kept the boat balanced.

A team of some 35 divers, from Garda, Naval and Army units, including civilian volunteers, spent almost two weeks searching Lough Inagh for Mary Duffy's body

The men returned the oars to the boathouse and the boat to its original position. They threw Duffy’s two gold rings into the undergrowth, where they were later found by gardaí using metal detectors. They disposed of the sleeping bags and other clothes by throwing them over the Weir Bridge near Clifden.

Later, after the men had been arrested, they led gardaí to the various sites in both Co Wicklow and Co Galway where they had committed their crimes. Near the former railway station building in Connemara, the gardaí followed a path that led to a patch of flattened grass, where they found a tent groundsheet.

They also found a compacted wad of tissues, which had been pressed into the shape of what appeared to be someone’s mouth, and a red tartan cushion. Also found nearby was an empty plastic bottle that had contained barley water. Back in a rubbish bin in the caravan in Barna, they discovered the partially burnt remains of a handbag, cosmetics bag and white rosary beads in a little red purse.


Once 23-year-old Duffy had, like her 23-year-old counterpart Plunkett at the other side of the country, been reported missing, gardaí were certain the two cases were linked. They were already looking for two men travelling together, one dark, one fair, both with British accents. By then, there were regular media reports about the missing women and appeals for information about these two men.

As it happened, the two men and their poorly painted black Cortina had already been noticed the evening before Duffy was abducted, on September 22nd. The men had stopped to buy £3 of petrol at the isolated pump at Maam Cross in Connemara; a pump operated by the same man who ran the adjacent small shop and bar, Joseph Keane. He noted with surprise the clearly over-painted car and the English accents. He took it upon himself to write down the number plate: SZH 562. The following day, he called gardaí and gave them the number.

It was this car and registration that the Garda was now on a nationwide search for. The car was spotted by a sharp-eyed garda parked outside the then Ocean Wave Hotel in Salthill on the night of Sunday, September 26th. He sent his colleague for back-up from the nearest Garda station, and waited. Shaw and Evans were drinking in the Ocean Wave, watching for potential victims. When the men came out to the car, they were arrested and taken into custody.


On Tuesday, September 28th, a local man was out walking on Duncormick Beach at Ballyteige Bay in Co Wexford. It was twilight. He saw a body lying face down on a grassy patch near the shoreline. It was Elizabeth Plunkett, returned from the sea. She was buried in Deansgrange Cemetery in Dublin on Saturday, October 2nd.

A team of some 35 divers, from Garda, Naval and Army units, including civilian volunteers, spent almost two weeks searching Lough Inagh for Mary Duffy’s body, despite having been shown the approximate location by Shaw and Evans. During that time, hundreds of people lined the shoreline of Lough Inagh on a daily basis to watch the operations. The public were aghast at news of the crimes of abduction and murder against these two young, independent women; one walking home from work; one on a weekend away with her friends.

Duffy’s body was eventually located in a crevice by volunteer diver Tommy Mulveen. She was buried in Elmhall Cemetery in her home village of Belcarra, Co Mayo, on Wednesday October 13th.


Evans, then 68, died from sepsis in St Mary’s Hospital in Phoenix Park, Dublin, on May 20th, 2012. He died in a vegetative state. He had been transferred from Arbour Hill Prison to the Mater hospital for a successful heart bypass operation in December 2008. He had a stroke the following day and never recovered from a coma. He remained in the hospital under round-the-clock security until June 2010, at an annual cost to the State of €900,000. He was then transferred to St Mary’s.

No family members came forward to claim his body. Evans was buried by the Irish Prison Services in an unmarked grave.

Shaw is now 75. He remains in Arbour Hill Prison. He has repeatedly unsuccessfully applied for full release through the parole process. In 2016, the Parole Board recommended Shaw be granted two days' outings release a year, under prison escort. This was rejected later that year by Frances Fitzgerald, then minister for justice.

In January 2020, Shaw took a case to the Court of Appeal. Before the hearing, the then minister for justice, Charlie Flanagan, accepted that Shaw should be permitted two days of temporary release a year, under prison escort. However, he has not since received any of those days, and as recently as last month it was reported Shaw is mounting a legal challenge to have the days awarded.

In the intervening two-year period, Shaw’s parole hearings concluded that he was unsuitable for full release as he still poses a danger to women.

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Rosita Boland

Rosita Boland

Rosita Boland is Senior Features Writer with The Irish Times. She was named NewsBrands Ireland Journalist of the Year for 2018