Gardaí identify suspect in cold case murder of Marie Tierney in 1984

Mother of two was strangled, body found by Kilkenny roadside two months later

A suspect has been identified for the murder of a mother of two whose remains have been exhumed almost 35 years after her killing.

The 1984 fatal strangulation of Marie Tierney in Co Kilkenny has undergone a Garda cold case review and a fresh appeal for witnesses to come forward was launched last November.

Detectives working on the review have visited people who knew the dead woman and interviewed them again some 34 years after the mother of two was killed.

Because so much time has passed since Ms Tierney was murdered and her body dumped in roadside undergrowth, some of those interviewed have felt more able to offer up information about the dead woman’s life in the period before she died.

Gardaí believe some of the statements taken from witnesses may prove to be strongly circumstantial evidence in the event a suspect was ever charged and went on trial.

The Garda team working on the case also believe a series of tests that will now be carried out on the mother of two’s exhumed remains may offer DNA or other forensic evidence to link her killer to the case.

Some of the test results may be available to the Garda as early as next week.

The remains were exhumed from Conahy graveyard in Co Kilkenny on Wednesday morning.

Gardaí began work at 6am and Ms Tierney's remains were examined onsite before being brought to University Hospital Waterford for further examination and for samples to be tested.

It is hoped that new scientific developments will allow officers gather evidence not available in the 1980s and which may link the killer to the crime.

As part of the investigation over 300 lines of enquiry have been examined and 200 people have been interviewed.

House to house enquires have taken place in a number of areas including the Bleach Road, Conahy, the Ballyragget Road, Lovers’ Lane and Old Newpark and Newpark.

Inspector Liam Connolly is heading the investigation and is continuing to liaise with the Tierney and Bourke families. Ms Tierney's maiden name was Bourke.

Chief Superintendent Dominic Hayes has outlined how every necessary resource has been deployed in the investigation.

“It is incumbent on us that we put a huge effort into solving this murder for Marie’s family. I have no doubt that we will have a successful outcome,” he said.

Reported missing

Ms Tierney was reported missing by her husband Jim Tierney on October 22nd, 1984. He told gardaí that she left her home at Clinstown, Jenkinstown, at approximately 10.30pm on October 21st, 1984 in the family car.

The Renault 18 vehicle was located at Newpark Fen the following day, though it would be two months before the dead woman’s remains were found confirming her murder.

On December 21st, 1984 her body was spotted in a ditch by a man who had been walking on the Bleach Road on the outskirts of Kilkenny City. She had been violently strangled.

Gardaí determined she had been killed elsewhere, most likely on the day of the last known sighting, and her remains were transported by car to the spot where they were found.

Marie's siblings, Breda Fay and John Bourke, have pleaded with her killer "to do the right thing" and "hand yourself in".

“We strongly believe that her murderer is alive. You know who you are and we are asking you to please come forward."

The exhumation of bodies involves a complex application process, and is only allowed in the rarest of circumstances.

Investigating gardaí had to apply to Kilkenny County Council for a licence for the process and a Ministerial Order was also required. It was granted by the Department of Justice.

The law requires that the exhumation be carried out “with due care and decency, and in such a manner as not to endanger public health”.

An environmental protection officer from the local council must be present to supervise the process.

A special coffin, lined with zinc, known as a “shell” is then used to transport the remains.

A forensic anthropologist, State pathologist, gardaí from the Technical Bureau and a forensic scientist from Forensic Ireland Limited all attended the exhumation.

The exhumed body must be reburied or cremated within 48 hours. Ms Tierney’s remains were reinterred on Wednesday evening with relatives at her graveside.

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times