Cork brothers died from severe brain trauma after axe attack, inquest hears

Jury recommends review of mental health support after returning unlawful killing and suicide verdicts

An inquest jury has recommended the Minister for Health should review mental health supports after hearing details of how a man killed his two brothers before taking his own life.

The jury at the inquest into the deaths of brothers, Willie (68), Paddy (60) and Johnny Hennessy (59) from Corrogorm, Mitchelstown, Co Cork on February 25th last also recommended that the role of the community garda be reviewed with a view to engaging directly with people in distress.

The jury made their recommendation to Coroner for North Cork, Dr Michael Kennedy after they returned verdicts of unlawful killing in relation to the deaths of both Willie and Paddy and a verdict of suicide in relation to the death of Johnny, whose body was recovered from the River Funcheon.

Earlier, Assistant State Pathologist, Dr Margaret Bolster testified that both Willie and Paddy died from severe traumatic injuries to the brain consistent with being struck multiple times with an axe found at the scene. She said Johnny died from acute cardio respiratory failure due to drowning.

Both Paddy and Willie had to be formally identified using dental records due to the severity of their head injuries. Willie had some defensive wounds on his left forearm and right hand while Paddy had just one defensive wound on his hand, Dr Bolster told the inquest.

All three brothers, known locally as ‘The Saints,’ had their own timber rounds supplying kindling and blocks they prepared at the 15 acre holding at Corrogorm where they grew up and where Johnny lived alone after Paddy and Willie moved to Mitchelstown and Tipperary town, the inquest heard.

Their sister, Breda O’Reilly told how Johnny rang her at her home in Anglesboro in Co Limerick at 5.50pm on February 25th to say he had been arguing with his two brothers and one of them hit him with his fist. She was shocked as she had never got such a call from him before.

‘Quiet boys’

“They were always quiet boys and not that much for fighting, ” said Ms O’Reilly who told how Johnny wanted her to call over to him at Corrogorm. She refused and handed the phone to her husband, Ned who similarly told Johnny that he could not drive over to the Hennessy home.

Mr O’Reilly said: “Breda came in with the phone, she was very upset - she just handed me the phone - Johnny started to talk to me - ‘I’m in trouble. I’m in trouble - can you come over, can you come over?’ He said that they had had a row and the other two boys had beaten him up.”

Mr O’Reilly told Johnny he would contact gardaí. He called Mitchelstown Garda station and explained that his brother-in-law was very agitated and distressed and he gave the gardaí Johnny’s address and phone number.

Garda Tracey Howard told the inquest that she rang Johnny Hennessy and he sounded calm and composed. When she asked him if the fight had settled down, he said that the situation was now calm and that he assured her three times that he did not require gardaí.

"There was no commotion or noise in the background and John Hennessy spoke calmly and even cracked a joke to the effect that at their age, they should know better," said Garda Howard, adding she got "no red flags" from him before she advised him to call his sister and assure her all was well.

Ms O’Reilly told the inquest that Johnny rang her back at 6.01pm and told her that he had “put off the guards” from calling out and everything was okay .

When she later rang Willie on his mobile, she got Johnny who sounded better and told her Willie was watching TV.

The inquest also heard how Ms O’Reilly and Paddy’s daughter, Elaine and his partner, Kitty Russell rang all three brothers later that night when Paddy failed to come home to Elaine’s house for dinner around 9pm. None of them manage to make contact with any of the three brothers.

Concerned

Elaine Hennessy told how she became concerned for her father so she and her mother, Paddy’s ex-wife, Stephanie drove out to Corrogorm where they saw her father’s car in the timber yard. They then found her father with serious head injuries lying in a pool of blood.

They went back to the car and phoned the Garda, who later discovered the body of Willie in a shed.

The inquest heard testimony from several witnesses who said they never heard of any friction or conflict between the brothers.

However one friend, John McGrath said Willie told him seven weeks earlier that Johnny was refusing to give back some of Paddy’s timber round to him after he had taken over the round temporarily when Paddy suffered a stroke in October 2020 and that had led to friction among the brothers.

Det Insp Anne Marie Twomey told the inquest gardai had sent a file to the DPP who recommended no prosecution and Supt Padraic Powell said that despite an extensive investigation which involved the taking of 169 statements, gardaí were unable to establish any motive for the killings.

Coroner for North Cork, Dr Michael Kennedy extended his sympathy to the Hennessy family on “a tragedy of terrible proportions”.

He noted that it was but the latest tragedy to befall Elaine Hennessy who lost her brother, Paudie to suicide in 2012 and another uncle, Jerry to suicide in 2014.

If you are affected by any issues in this article, Pieta House can be contacted on 1800-247247 or the Samaritans on 116123 (free), or by emailing jo@samaritans.ie