A large search operation has begun in Co Kildare in relation to the disappearance of 18-year-old Deirdre Jacob, who went missing in 1998 as she walked home in Newbridge.
The search operation will cover an isolated wooded area in the east of the county, near the Co Wicklow border and about 15km from Newbridge in an area known as Taggartstown. The area was searched previously.
Ms Jacob was last seen alive at about 3pm on the evening of July 28th, 1998. She had gone to the Newbridge branch of the Allied Irish Bank and to the post office to post a bank draft.
Inspector John Fitzgerald from Kildare Garda station said the renewed search followed new evidence gathered during a review of the case.
It is understood a witness had come forward stating he saw someone acting suspiciously in a wooded area on the evening of Ms Jacob’s disappearance.
A Garda command centre has been set up in a field adjacent to the wooded area.
Drones are being used to map 1.2 hectare (three acre) area to be searched. Insp Fitzgerald said the search of the woodland would take approximately three weeks and involve 10-15 gardaí each day.
Forensic archaeologist Dr Niamh McCullagh has been called in to assist with the search. An excavator will also be on site for the duration of the search.
Insp Fitzgerald cautioned against raising expectations and said the search was only in relation to the disappearance of Ms Jacob at present.
“It is important that we manage expectations and not get ahead of ourselves. There was unusual activity seen here. We are conducting a search to see if any evidence is here. We have got a lot of significant assistance from the public to date,” said Insp Fitzgerald.
He added that through the passage of time people remembered things and the person who came forward with information that led to the search had done so with “relevant information which was more relevant than we initially thought”.
The disappearance of Ms Jacob is one of a spate of suspected murders of women in the area in the 1990s.
Eight women disappeared between 1993 and 1998 in an area roughly corresponding with the borders of Leinster.
Gardaí have reason to believe that at least some of the women were abducted and murdered by the same person.
The search is being described by Garda headquarters as relating to the “investigation into the disappearance of women in Leinster”.
Convicted rapist Larry Murphy has long been a suspect for the murder of several of the women, including Ms Jacob.
He was released in 2010 having served 10 years of a 15-year sentence for kidnapping, raping and attempting to murder a young woman in the Wicklow mountains in 2000.
A former cellmate of Murphy’s has alleged to gardaí that the Wicklow man confessed to him that he murdered Ms Jacob.
In 2018, Ms Jacob’s disappearance was upgraded to a murder investigation following a review by the Serious Crime Review Team in the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation.
The Garda has submitted a file on her murder to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), but the DPP has yet to recommend charges.
The 18-year-old was training to be a teacher in London and was on a visit home when she went missing. To date, investigating gardaí have followed more than 3,000 separate lines of inquiry.
Gardaí are also understood to be investigating new leads regarding the disappearance of another of the missing women, 25-year-old Jo Jo Dullard. She was last seen in Moone, Co Kildare in November 1995. Her disappearance was officially upgraded to a murder inquiry earlier this year.
Insp Fitzgerald said the wood being searched is close to the site where Ms Dullard disappeared but currently the search is only for evidence related to the disappearance of Ms Jacob.
The other six women who disappeared included American woman Annie McCarrick, who was aged 27 when she disappeared on March 26th, 1993. There is a question mark over the last sighting of her. A doorman in Johnnie Fox’s pub said she had been last seen there but other sightings place her in Enniskerry, Co Wicklow, on that evening.
Eva Brennan was 39 when she went missing from the Rathdown Park area of Terenure on Sunday, July 25th, 1993, having visited her family home for lunch. Though she suffered from depression, her family do not believe this was related to her disappearance.
Imelda Keenan was 22 when she disappeared on January 3rd, 1994. She was last seen at William Street bridge in Waterford city. Her family renewed the appeal for information about her for what would have been her 50th birthday in March.
Fiona Pender disappeared 25 years ago on August 23rd 1996. She was last seen at 6am that morning at her flat in Church Street Tullamore. Ms Pender (25) was seven months pregnant at the time. She had returned to live in Ireland from London in November of the previous year.
Ciara Breen was 17 when she went missing from her home in Bachelors Walk, Dundalk on February 13th, 1997. A search of Balmer’s Bog outside the town in 2015 revealed no signs of her disappearance.
Fiona Sinnott was 19 and the mother of an 11-month-old boy when she disappeared on February 8th, 1998. She was last seen leaving Butler’s pub in Broadway near her home in Ballyhitt, Co Wexford. The initial missing person’s inquiry was upgraded to a murder investigation in 2005.