‘Remarkable coincidence’ formed focus of Elaine O’Hara investigation

First breakthrough in case came when three men discovered a bag containing handcuffs

Killakee mountain, where the remains of Elaine O’Hara were found. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Killakee mountain, where the remains of Elaine O’Hara were found. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

The discovery of Elaine O’Hara’s body in undergrowth, followed by the discovery of a bag of evidence linked to her at the bottom of a reservoir less than a week later, was “a remarkable coincidence”, the murder trial of Graham Dwyer heard.

The remark was made by prosecuting barrister Seán Guerin SC who, before outlining the case of the DPP against Mr Dwyer, told the court how gardaí reached a breakthrough in what had effectively been a missing persons case for over a year.

Childcare worker Ms O’Hara (36), from Killiney in Dublin, was last seen at about 6.15pm on August 22nd, 2012, near Shanganagh Cemetery in south Dublin. Mr Dwyer (42), a south Dublin architect, is accused of her murder. He has pleaded not guilty.

The first of three breakthroughs in the case came on September 10th, 2013, when three men were standing on a bridge over the Vartry reservoir near Roundwood, Co Wicklow.

Because the men had an interest in fishing, they paid close attention to the water because it had fallen from a normal depth of about 20 feet to just two feet after a warm summer.

A “shiny object” in the water caught the attention of the men and they decided to retrieve it. On closer inspection, they discovered a bag, which they pulled from the reservoir. Inside, there was clothing, a length of rope and some handcuffs.

The men initially left the items on a wall, but the next day decided to bring the discovery to the attention of gardaí. At this point, detectives had no idea that the items might be linked to the disappearance of Ms O’Hara.

Three days later, at about 7.30pm on September 13th, the second breakthrough came on Killakee mountain, Rathfarnham, approximately 20km away from the first discovery.

A professional dog trainer was walking dogs when one of them ran into the undergrowth and refused to return. The woman entered the undergrowth to retrieve the dog, where she discovered skeletal remains. She contacted the landowner and brought him back to the area. They discovered a mandible bone, or lower jaw bone, and suspected the remains might be human. They then alerted gardaí.

Initially, gardaí could not identify the remains, as just 65 per cent of the skeleton was intact. The court heard there was also a quantity of skin tissue and the pathologist advised that the remains had probably been decomposing for about a year, but possibly for up to two years. Ms O’Hara was later identified using dental records.

Third breakthrough

Garda O’Donoghue, the court heard, contacted Dunnes Stores and asked about the identity of the loyalty card owner. He was told the card belonged to Elaine O’Hara. The officer entered the name into the Garda Pulse system and was informed a missing person’s alert had been issued for Ms O’Hara.

Searches of the reservoir by members of the Garda Water Unit led to the recovery of two mobile phones, which the prosecution argue belonged to Ms O’Hara and Mr Dwyer and were used by them to communicate with each other.

Mr Guerin said that following the discovery of Ms O’Hara’s remains, detectives conducted another search of her apartment. Her mattress was seized and the DNA profile of semen found on the mattress matched Mr Dwyer, he said.

“This was, in fact, the nearly perfect murder, but for the fact that 2013 was such a warm summer,” said Mr Guerin.