Murder in a crowded house: The full story of the Patricia O’Connor trial

‘Nightmare’ life in Dublin home prompted one accused to do ‘something terrible’, court heard

 Garda technical officers arrive at  Patricia O’Connor’s home in Mountainview Park, Rathfarnham, following her murder. Photograph: Stephen Collins/Collins.

Garda technical officers arrive at Patricia O’Connor’s home in Mountainview Park, Rathfarnham, following her murder. Photograph: Stephen Collins/Collins.

 

‘A nightmare’

Over seven weeks, the contrasts of Patricia O’Connor’s formidable personality were outlined for a Central Criminal Court jury. The retired hospital worker was a “straight shooter”, according to her son, and “a determined lady”.

“If you were in the wrong, she would tell you were in the wrong and if you needed a kick in the arse, she’d give you one,” Richard O’Connor said.

The 61-year-old was described an active person who was “handy in the garden” and “physically very competent” despite her small stature, he said.

Murder victim Patricia O’Connor.
Murder victim Patricia O’Connor.

Kieran Greene, the man who shared her home for 10 years before bludgeoning her to death and dismembering her body, however, told gardaí life with Patricia was “a nightmare”.

Greene told gardaí that his partner’s mother could be verbally abusive and had threatened to have his family killed. He said the children in the house would hide under the kitchen table in fear of her and that she called them all “leeches”.

The prosecution used a description of a highly-charged home life to open its case. Nine people spanning three generations of the same family shared four bedrooms in the modest Rathfarnham house. Patricia shared her home with her husband Gus, their daughter Louise, her partner Greene and their three young children. Louise’s two older children, from her relationship with Keith Johnston, were also living there.

Senior counsel Roisin Lacey told the jury conditions in Mountainview Park were cramped and tensions were high with “interpersonal conflicts” bubbling.

Richard conceded there had been a “fair bit of friction” in the house, which he said stemmed from Louise and her family living there and not helping out with the upkeep. He said his mother, who had worked as a cleaner in Beaumont Hospital, “hated laziness”.

Richard told the court that when Patricia did not contact him on his birthday on May 30th, 2017, he got in touch with Louise to check if everything was well. She told him Patricia had “stormed out of the house in anger” on May 29th after an argument, suitcase in hand.

She told him that their mother shouted abuse and said “I’ll be back when that old fella pops his clogs” - a reference to their father.

Richard, having still not heard from his mother, called to Mountainview Park two days later and met Louise, Gus and Greene.

He and his father agreed that they should report the disappearance to gardaí. He said Louise did not want them to, but despite her objections a missing persons report was made at Rathfarnham Garda station on June 1st.

A grim find

On June 10th, 2017, a family having a picnic close to the Sally Gap in Co Wicklow made a grim discovery. Christine Murphy said she “came across something” over a bank at the side of the road at Old Boley. It was a human torso, but she described it as looking like animal remains. That same day, two walkers at Glenmacnass Waterfall saw what they thought were animal organs on a rock.

In all, the trial heard that 15 body parts were found at nine locations over a 30km range in the Dublin and Wicklow mountains between June 10th and 14th.

Gardaí initially believed the body parts belonged to a man in his 20s following initial measurements of the bones.

Former deputy State pathologist Dr Michael Curtis performed postmortems on the body parts recovered. He found the deceased’s head was struck a minimum of three blows with a solid implement and gave a cause of death as being blunt force trauma to the head. There were no defensive wounds.

‘Something terrible’

On the evening of June 12th, 2017, Garda PJ Foley noticed a man “of nervous disposition” sitting alone in Rathfarnham Garda station’s waiting room. The man came to the front desk and said he wanted to speak to someone. He told Garda Foley the body parts found up in the mountains were Patricia’s.

Kieran Greene, who was found guilty of murdering Patricia O’Connor. File photograph.
Kieran Greene, who was found guilty of murdering Patricia O’Connor. File photograph.

He gave his name as Kieran Greene and described having a physical row with Patricia in the bathroom of their house. She hit him with a hurley and he reacted by pushing her - and she fell back.

Det Sgt Lucy Myles said Greene told her he had “done something terrible” to his partner’s mother.

“The stuff up the mountains was me,” he said.

Greene told Det Sgt Myles that he had cut the body into parts and then “threw them all over the place up there”.

When Greene was asked why he killed her, he replied: “I was getting out of the shower when she came in and she started shouting and screaming at me.

“She then picked up one of the kid’s hurls outside the bathroom door and started hitting me. I grabbed it and hit her back. Next thing I remember is coming around and she was lying on the floor with blood everywhere,” he said.

In several voluntary statements on June 12th and 13th, 2017, Greene said Patricia became unresponsive and he carried her upstairs to her bedroom, something he described as a “bleeding miracle” as she was heavier than him.

An hour later he put her in the boot of her Toyota Corolla and drove to Wexford, where he put the body in a shallow grave.

Greene said he started panic a few days later that a farmer would find the body, so he returned to Wexford to “cut her up” and then scattered the body parts and tools in the mountains. He said that what had happened “was eating him up” and he handed himself in as he could not live with the guilt.

Greene claimed he was the only one involved in the physical altercation and had acted alone in dealing with Patricia’s body.

On June 13th, 2017, the day Patricia’s remains were identified using dental records, Greene brought gardaí to the field near Blackwater, Co Wexford where he had buried the body. He was asked to wait at the gate as gardaí went to observe the disturbed earth, where they found brown hair in the shallow grave.

Greene was arrested at 7.30pm for the murder.

In his interviews with gardaí, Greene described the “nightmare” of life in Mountainview Park and claimed Patricia wanted them all dead, “down to the kids”. He believed she had tried to kill Gus by pushing him down the stairs.

Greene said he “felt free” after burying her as his kids would now be safe and their grandmother would no longer be able to pick on them.

When charged with the murder, Greene replied: “It was self-defence”.

During the trial, Richard O’Connor agreed with Greene’s counsel that he had prevously described the accused as “a fool and a moron” and said Louise “wore the trousers” in the relationship.

Greene’s mother, Joan gave evidence that her son was assessed at seven-years-old and found to be about “two and a half years behind”. She also said he’d not had a girlfriend before meeting Louise.

The ruse

As part of the investigation, gardaí examined CCTV footage from a neighbour’s house which became “a central plank” of the prosecution’s case. The cameras covered the front and back of the O’Connor house.

When gardaí showed Louise clips from the footage, which offered a view of the rear of her home, she expressed surprise.

Louise O’Connor is pictured arriving at the Central Criminal Court during the trial over her mother’s murder. Photograph: Collins Courts.
Louise O’Connor is pictured arriving at the Central Criminal Court during the trial over her mother’s murder. Photograph: Collins Courts.

“Is that not against the law, recording into our house? Invasion of privacy or something? F**king disgraceful,” she said.

In an interview with gardaí, Stephanie O’Connor claimed she was aware the neighbour’s camera covered their front and back garden.

It was the prosecution’s case that Patricia was murdered between 6.37pm and 6.57pm on May 29th, 2017. The footage showed Louise, Stephanie and the younger children leaving the house at 6.53pm and not returning until 9.04pm.

Other footage showed a female dressed in a hooded jacket leaving the front entrance at 9.34pm and walking quickly down the driveway with a suitcase.

At 10.05pm, a female with a suitcase appeared at the left-hand side of the house and went in the back door. It was the State’s case that, in order to cover up the murder, Stephanie dressed up as her grandmother as “a ruse” to pretend she had stormed off. The prosecution’s contended that Patricia was already dead at the time.

In September 2017, Louise, Stephanie and Gus were arrested on suspicion of murdering Patricia.

Louise protested that she did not understand the reason for her arrest. “You have someone for murder, he put his hands up.”

Her mother, she said, had been “extremely hard to live with” since her retirement. Louise said Patricia would tell her and Stephanie “every day” that they should have been “aborted” and that they were “retarded”.

She claimed her mother had tried to “beat the head off her” with a teapot on the day of the murder and there were arguments about Patricia smoking cannabis. Nevertheless, at one point, Louise told gardaí: “Despite everything, I really loved my mother and it’s really tough.”

Louise said that on the evening of May 29th, she went with her children and father to Nutgrove Park as she did not want to fight with Patricia. She could not say when they all got home, but claimed she was in the toilet when she heard her mother leave. She “hadn’t a clue” where Patricia was going.

She said Green told them two weeks later that he had killed Patricia. He said he “lost it” after Patricia lashed out at him with a hurl. Louise said Greene told her he had to hand himself in.

Asked why Greene was seen on CCTV footage closing the curtains when she and the children left for the park, Louise replied: “Why you asking me? Maybe he is dancing around naked after the shower.

“If you are saying we left so he could do something, you’re sadly mistaken”.

Louise denied that the person recorded walking out the front door at 9.34pm was Stephanie.

“That’s my ma walking out,” she said, adding that if her mother had been dead when she got home, she would have “punched Kieran’s lights out”.

Louise’s defence, led by Michael Bowman SC, argued that there was “no smoking gun establishing her guilt”, but the prosecution reminded the jury: “Louise is quite clear that it is her mother leaving the house, there is no equivocation, no ambiguity...”

If the jury was satisfied the person leaving with the suitcase was Stephanie, then what Louise told gardaí was a lie and she was a “vital link” in the contrivance, the prosecution argued.

Keith Johnston (43) and Stephanie O’Connor (22) are pictured leaving the Criminal Courts of Justice (CCJ) during their trial. Photograph: Collins
Keith Johnston (43) and Stephanie O’Connor (22) are pictured leaving the Criminal Courts of Justice (CCJ) during their trial. Photograph: Collins

In a voluntary statement to gardaí in June 2017, Stephanie O’Connor said Patricia had retired a year earlier and only rarely ventured outside. “When she had good days she was great, when she had bad times she was terrible.”

Stephanie later told gardaí it was “surreal” when the “truth came out” and Greene confessed. She said she felt “confused, shocked and angry” when she learned what had happened.

Stephanie told gardaí she was the person recorded going into the house with a suitcase at 10.05pm. She said she was bringing in a bag from the shed for Louise, but could not remember how she got out there. Richard O’Connor also identified Stephanie as the person going into the rear of the house.

Stephanie denied that she had killed or assisted anyone in killing her grandmother. Her father, Keith Johnston said he was aware of a “big blow up” in Mountainview on May 29th and that he fixed a step and tiles in the bathroom .

“I kind of thought when doing that, that I could be potentially cleaning up a crime scene. There was a nagging thought in the back of my head but I thought nothing of it,” Johnston told gardaí.

In the course of the trial, the jury viewed CCTV footage of Greene purchasing tools and other items, in the company of Johnston, in several shops on June 9th, 2017. Among these were 30 extra-strong black rubbish sacks, two pairs of builders’ gloves, a tenon saw and two adjustable hacksaws. He purchased two small axes and knife blades in Woodies, two pairs of size nine green wellington boots in Shoe Zone in Tallaght and a jerry can, a tow rope, two knives and vinyl tape in Mr Price. The prosecution argued that Patricia had not yet been dismembered when Johnston assisted Greene in purchasing these.

In his interviews, Johnston said he went on a “shopping spree” with Greene the day before the remains were found but he said he did not know why Greene wanted these items.

Johnston said he was in Mountainview Park on June 12th when Greene broke down and said he had killed Patricia. “I said to him he was going to have to hand himself in.”

Story changes

While he was on remand in Cloverhill Prison, Greene asked to speak to gardaí “to get something off his chest”. The prosecution described this development as a “sea-change” in the case.

On December 12th, 2017, six months after confessing, Greene alleged that what he had originally told gardaí was not correct and others were involved in the murder. He recounted how Patricia had attacked him with a hurley.

“We were grabbing and struggling with the hurl and I got it off her and hit her about two times I’d say. She grabbed the hurl again and she was hitting me with the two of us holding it. She got it back, winded me in the stomach and I went down on the ground,” he said.

Greene then alleged that he heard Gus come down the stairs and admonish his wife. He said Patricia swung the hurley at Gus, but missed. Greene claimed Gus then hit Patricia twice on the head with a crowbar and she fell to the floor.

Augustine ‘Gus’ O’Connor, husband of the deceased. Photograph: Collins Courts.
Augustine ‘Gus’ O’Connor, husband of the deceased. Photograph: Collins Courts.

When she hit the bathroom floor, Greene said Gus told him: “I’m defending you so you can take the rap for this.”

He said they panicked and he brought the body upstairs. A few minutes afterwards, Greene said they told Louise what had happened.

“She said ‘we can’t leave her here’ and we brought her back down the stairs and put her in the boot of the Corolla,” he said. Greene said he got a shovel and drove to Wexford, dug a hole and buried her.

When he returned, Greene claimed Louise was cleaning the bathroom and he told her Patricia had been buried.

Greene also told gardaí that Johnston was informed a day or two later and he asked him for help as he had “never been in this predicament before”.

After buying the various tools and items, he said he and Johnston drove to Wexford and dug up the body. He alleged that Johnston then spent three to four hours dismembering the body with a saw before they disposed of the parts in the Wicklow mountains.

He said Johnston later disposed of the tools in Dodder Valley Park in Tallaght and burnt the clothes they had worn.

Gardaí searched Dodder Valley Park on January 2nd, 2018 and found two hacksaws and a hatchet in the undergrowth. One of the hacksaws had human hair caught in the blade, which was forensically linked to Patricia.

A day or two later, Johnston came to the house and scraped the grout off the tiles in the bathroom and painted walls in the house, Greene said.

He also said Stephanie had dressed up as her grandmother to make it look like Patricia had stormed off.

Greene told gardaí that he was persuaded to take the blame for killing and dismembering his partner’s mother. He said he felt like he was “set up” as Louise subsequently started going out with Johnston again.

“It’s not fair, I’m facing a murder trial. They are out there and I’m taking the rap for it.”

The jury of six men and five women agreed with the prosecution that Greene attacked Patricia and that his claim of self-defence “did not hold any water”. The State argued that his December interview was not reliable and that he had changed his account as he was “jealous” of the “growing relationship” between Louise and Johnston.

The trial also heard evidence that Johnston’s mobile phone “tallied” with CCTV footage and had pinged off a mast near his house in Tallaght on the night of June 9th, when Greene alleged the dismemberment took place.

The jury were also told that Augustine ‘Gus’ O’Connor was originally part of the trial but pleaded guilty to reporting his wife as a missing person to gardaí on June 1st, 2017, when he knew she was dead.

The jury heard that Mr O’Connor (75), of Mill Close, Glasheen, Stamullen, Co Meath, had originally been charged with impeding the apprehension or prosecution of an offender in October 2018.

A charge of refurbishing the bathroom in order to conceal evidence of the murder against Johnston was withdrawn from the jury by direction of Mr Justice Paul McDermott.