Murder inquiry opens into death of ‘Baby John’ in Kerry in 1984

Gardaí plan to identify people to ask for DNA samples in a bid to identify relatives of infant

A full murder inquiry into the discovery of a baby boy on a beach outside Cahersiveen in Co Kerry more than 30 years ago has begun, following a Garda apology to Joanne Hayes.

Ms Hayes was wrongly charged with the murder of “Baby John”, who was found with 28 stab wounds, on White Strand in Co Kerry on April 14th, 1984.

Yesterday, Acting Garda Commissioner Dónal Ó Cualáin sent a letter of apology, backed up by a telephone call to Ms Hayes, for an investigation that had fallen short of acceptable standards.

Quickly known as the Kerry Babies case, Garda investigators at the time had suspected Ms Hayes, from Abbeydorney, about 75km from the beach, had given birth to the baby and killed him.


A DNA test carried out late last year into Baby John, who was about five days old and had been dead for two days, proved she could not have been the mother.

No match

A “serious crime review” investigation has now begun, but it has already been established that there is no match between Baby John and anyone whose DNA is held on the State’s DNA database.

Urging anyone with information to come forward, Det Chief Supt Walter O’Sullivan said: “We are investigating Baby’s John death as if it happened today.”

Det Chief Supt O’Sullivan acknowledged that Baby John died as “a result of a frenzied attack” after suffering 28 stab wounds, but he stressed the law is merciful and that anyone coming forward with information will be dealt with in absolute confidence and with compassion.

“The weak can become strong, the strong who may have been obstructing or impeding the investigation 34 years ago may now be weak, and the balance of power in a relationship may have changed where somebody vulnerable is now strong enough to come forward,” Det Chief Supt O’Sullivan said.

He said a serious crimes review team, comprising a detective sergeant and four detectives backed up by another ten or so detectives from Kerry would begin identifying people to approach and ask for DNA samples in a bid to try and identify relatives of Baby John, and he hoped people would co-operate with gardaí.

Speaking in Cahersiveen, Supt Flor Murphy, who is leading the investigation, said: "We can conclusively state that Joanne Hayes is not the mother of Baby John."

Ms Hayes, then aged 24, was charged with murder on May 1st, 1984 .

Gardaí arrested her when they learned she had been pregnant with a near full-term baby which had been born prior to her admission on April 14th to Tralee General Hospital.

She also had a child by the reputed father of the dead child, Jeremiah Locke, prompting gardaí to suspect the Cahersiveen baby was hers.

Ms Hayes said she gave birth in a field and her baby died soon after. He was later found buried on her family farm.

Blood tests on this baby showed he had the same blood type as Ms Hayes and Mr Locke but a different one to the Cahersiveen baby. Gardaí then alleged Ms Hayes had become pregnant with twins simultaneously by two different men. However, the DPP directed the murder charge be dropped.

‘Significant regret’

Supt Murphy said it was a “matter of significant regret for the Garda that it had taken so long for it to be confirmed she was not Baby John’s mother.

"On behalf of An Garda Síochána, I would like to sincerely apologise to Ms Hayes for that, as well as the awful stress and pain she has been put through as a result of the original investigation into this matter, which fell well short of the required standards."

Tralee-based solicitor Pat Mann, who represents the Hayes family, noted the Garda apology. "It is what it is,'' he said.

Jack Griffin, who found the body of Baby John, told The Irish Times that at first he hoped what he had seen was a doll. "It was pink in colour, face downwards with black hair and I thought to myself, it can't be a baby. I was trying to say to myself it was a doll, but deep down I knew it wasn't."

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times