Death of Joanne Ball her family’s ‘worst nightmare’, inquest hears

Body of 38-year-old found in wardrobe in estranged husband’s apartment in 2018

 

The mother of Joanne Ball (38) described the loss of her “beautiful, bubbly” daughter as the family’s “worst nightmare”.

Joanne’s body was found in a wardrobe in her estranged husband’s apartment at Ranelagh Road on February 15th, 2018. She had been strangled six days earlier and her body was wrapped in a plastic bin bag and a sleeping bag and stored in a wardrobe.

“What has happened Joanne is our worst nightmare, it changed our lives forever, we miss her and think of her every minute of every day,” Catherine Ball said.

At an inquest into her daughter’s death, Catherine said she last saw her daughter alive on her birthday, February 2nd, when Joanne surprised her with a cake.

Catherine described her daughter as bubbly and beautiful. She said Joanne loved hill-walking and animals and her four dogs and two cats were like her children. Joanne and Keith Lee had been together for 20 years and married for 13.

“She was addicted to Keith,” her mother said.

Joanne had come home to live with her mother at the end of 2017 after Lee had been arrested in relation to drugs. The marriage broke up after Lee’s arrest when Joanne found out he was cheating. Early in 2018, Joanne’s family were aware she had begun meeting him again to try and reconcile the marriage.

Joanne’s sister Jennifer Ball said the family always knew Lee was involved in drugs but thought it was minor.

“The family got on well with Keith, there were never any problems,” Jennifer said.

On February 5th, Joanne left home and went to meet Lee. They spent the next night, February 6th together at the Travelodge in Rathmines. That night, there was phone contact between Lee and another woman Gemma Hanney.

While Joanne was in the Travelodge, Lee met Ms Hanney in a bar. He arranged to meet her at his flat on Ranelagh Road the following day. He returned to the hotel and went to a nearby bar with Joanne that night.

Ms Hanney said she met Lee in September 2017 and they “just clicked”.

“I knew he was married but they’d split up because he was caught with drugs,” she said in a deposition read out at Dublin Coroner’s Court.

On February 7th, Ms Hanney said she rang Lee’s phone and Joanne answered.

“She answered and said, ‘Hi, who’s this?’ It was Joanne,” Ms Hanney said in her statement.

The inquest heard Ms Hanney had been staying in the flat in Ranelagh with Lee but left the previous week.

On February 9th, a witness saw Lee and Joanne get out of her car at Ranelagh Road.

Gardaí believe Joanne was killed that day.

Ms Hanney said she met Lee later the same day.

“I bumped into Keith outside his flat. He had a plaster on his ear and said she’d stabbed him with a scissors. He said he had locked her into the flat because she was going nuts,” Ms Hanney said.

Text messages

There were several texts sent to and from Joanne’s phone after her death, the inquest heard.

“There was a large amount of activity relating to the sale and supply of drugs,” Det Garda Shane Griffin said.

He believed Lee began texting Joanne’s phone in a bid to “dupe gardaí.”

On February 10th, he text Joanne and said “love you baby, haven’t been this happy since our world fell apart.’”

Lee used Joanne’s phone to text a reply to his phone.

“Love you baby. I feel the same way. See you in a while x.”

Joanne’s sister Jennifer was in touch by phone with Lee. She said the family were reporting her missing and urged him to do the same. “I thought they might have run away together but I never thought she could be dead,” she said.

On February 15th, gardaí called to the house in Ranelagh and broke down the door of a second floor apartment. Inside they found Marley, Joanne’s rottweiler and an open window. They found Lee 9m (30ft) below in the back garden. His legs were entangled in a wooden chair. He told gardaí his legs were broken. He had a knife and began to self-harm.

“He said he killed her and she was in the wardrobe. He said he didn’t want to live and to let him die. He said she had stabbed him in the ear and he had killed her,” Det Garda Ronan Hobbs said.

An autopsy conducted by Prof Marie Cassidy gave the cause of death as asphyxia due to strangulation. A toxicology report found evidence of a small amount of cocaine, ketamine and codeine in her system but these played no role in her death.

The jury returned a verdict of unlawful killing. Lee was found dead in his prison cell on April 12th, 2018.

Timeline:

Tuesday, February 6th, 2018: Joanne Ball and Keith Lee spend the night in Travelodge hotel in Rathmines, Dublin.

There was phone contact between Lee and Gemma Hanney. While Joanne was in the Travelodge, Lee met Ms Hanney in a bar and arranged to meet her at Ranelagh Road the following day. He returned to the hotel and went to a nearby bar with Joanne that night.

Wednesday, February 7th: Lee and Joanne check out of the hotel and returned to Ranelagh Road at 1.30pm.

A row between Joanne and Lee occurred at this time. The following two days were described as “particularly chaotic”. They left the flat in Joanne’s car and drove to Wicklow on Wednesday 7th.

CCTV footage showed her car passing Glendalough Hotel in Co Wicklow.

Thursday, February 8th: Lee and Joanne return to the flat and stop at a local garage. There is no further evidence of any movements that day,

Friday, February 9th: The couple is seen at 7.30am that morning. They buy cat food at a Centra shop on Charlemont Street in Dublin. This the last time Joanne is seen alive.

The same day, Lee interacts with Ms Hanney, discussing the row with Joanne. He tells her he locked Joanne in the apartment. She could see a cut to his ear. He goes into town and engages in drug related activities with several people. He continues to the Hop House bar before coming home.

Saturday, February 10th: Lee meets with Ms Hanney outside McDonalds on Grafton Street and returns property to her. He meets another friend and they go into the Hop House bar.

Sunday, February 11th: Lee is seen drinking at the Hop House bar.

Monday, February 12th: Lee is seen sitting in Joanne’s car, parked at Ranelagh Road. He later attends a party with friends.

Tuesday February 13th: Lee reports Joanne missing at Store Street Garda Station at 11.30pm. He socialises afterwards with a friend in two different pubs.

Wednesday February 14th: Lee makes a booking for two at a hotel for Valentine’s night. The booking is not followed up.

Thursday February 15th: Joanne’s body is discovered at Ranelagh Road.

April 12th, 2018: Lee dies in his cell at Mountjoy Prison, Dublin.