Ten chance events that umasked Graham Dwyer and his ‘near-perfect murder’

Variation in any of these factors might have seen him get away with Elaine O’Hara killing

Thirteen months elapsed between the murder and the events that led to the massive investigation that has now seen Dwyer found guilty.

Thirteen months elapsed between the murder and the events that led to the massive investigation that has now seen Dwyer found guilty.


When Seán Guerin took to his feet in the Central Criminal Court to outline the tragic, explosive and squalid evidence against Graham Dwyer, he did not sanitise the facts.

The thesis advanced by the senior counsel from the beginning was that a perfect storm – comprising Dwyer’s infidelity, a fetish for bloodletting and specifically his desire to stab and then murder for sexual gratification – spurred on the warped enterprise that led to Elaine O’Hara’s death.

In the BDSM (bondage, discipline and sado-masochism) relationship that developed between the killer and his victim, Dwyer was the master. And the troubled, lonely and psychiatrically ill O’Hara was every bit the slave.

She was, Guerin told the opening day of the trial, “almost the perfect victim”. Dwyer, who believed his intellect and meticulous planning would outwit the Garda, had pulled off “very nearly the perfect murder”.

Thirteen months elapsed between the murder and the events that led to the massive investigation that has now seen Dwyer found guilty.

There were 10 events that conspired to expose Dwyer’s “perfect murder” - the absence of any one of which might have seen him get away with what has become one of Ireland’s most notorious killings.

The weather

Some time after killing Elaine O’Hara, probably on the night of the murder, Graham Dwyer gathered up her personal effects, sex toys used that night, and the phones they communicated on, and dumped them in Vartry reservoir.

The evidence lay in the mud under the 11.3 billion-litre body of water for 13 months, during which time Dwyer must have believed he had committed the perfect murder.

At the time they were discarded, the reservoir would have looked attractive for the purpose - bursting with water after the wettest summer on record.

But a year later, water levels dropped during the warm and dry summer - the driest since 1995 - by five metres instead of the usual two.

As the water level went lower, some of the items Dwyer had dumped came into view. He was preparing to celebrate his and his wife’s birthday at the time, but unbeknownst to him his past had begun to close in.

Fegan’s favoured lookout spot coinciding with the items

On the afternoon of September 10th, 2013, William Fegan was circling the reservoir as part of his part-time duties as a bailiff who monitors fish poaching in the area.

A member of the Co Wicklow Anglers’ Association, Fegan knew the area well and said he saw something shiny in the water which caught his eye as he stood on the bridge.

He had only stopped in the spot directly above the items because it offered a very good vantage point to check around the large reservoir for people fishing illegally. Had he stopped anywhere else, he would never have seen the items.

The first rain would have ensured they were once again hidden from view.

The curiosity of the anglers

Fegan’s brother James and their friend Mark Quinn joined him as he stood on the bridge and the men decided to try and retrieve some of the items. “I passed a comment to Mark: ‘I wonder what’s down there?’ ”

William Fegan told the trial: “I thought it was like the ring of a bull’s nose.”

Quinn said that “out of curiosity” he decided to use a strap with a hook on the end he had in his van, and which he used to hold granite blocks together, to retrieve the objects from the water.

At first a white vest came up on the end of the strap and after a few more attempts the hook snagged a yellow rope. It brought up chains and handcuffs followed by a ball-gag used in BDSM. After a number of further unsuccessful attempts, he also fished out a mouth restraint, or gag, and a blindfold.

Fegan’s decision to return

Once the items were out of the water, the men did not quite know what to do with them. And so they simply left them at the spot, and Fegan said he went to work.

“I went back the following morning,” he said. “I had a good think about what I found; I was driving at night and had good time to think. It was niggling on me and I went back the following morning, put them in a bag and brought them to Roundwood Garda station.”

Had he not done so, the significance of the items would never have emerged and other items found during a Garda search of that stretch of water, including the phones, would never have been recovered.

Garda James O’Donoghue’s determination

When he went to Roundwood Garda station, Fegan explained the exact spot where he had found the items to Garda James O’Donoghue. The garda went there the following day but, unable to see anything in rough muddy water, he returned the day after only to find the same conditions.

He went back a third time on September 16th when it was sunny and calmer. The objects could be seen in the water from the bridge. At first he said he thought he could see handcuffs.

Dressed in his Garda uniform, he walked into the water and his foot sank in the mud. He then stuck his hands into the mud to have a feel around for the handcuffs. He felt something a few inches below the water and pulled out a set of keys. He then fished out a leather bondage mask. A large black-handed kitchen knife, a rusty chain with a bull ring, and an inhaler, were also retrieved.

The quantity of items, and their nature, demanded further investigation.

The recovery of the Dunnes Stores loyalty card

On the bunch of keys recovered was a Dunnes Stores loyalty card. Garda O’Donoghue phoned Dunnes, relaying the serial number on the loyalty card.

The following day, September 17th, the company contacted him and told him the card belonged to Elaine O’Hara. A check with the Garda Information Service Centre in Castlebar told him O’Hara had gone missing 13 months earlier.

He sealed off the bridge as a crime scene, and a search team - including the Garda Water Unit which would conduct a fingertip examination through the mud - swung into action.

Among the items found were another a knife, more sex toys, a roll of tape, and three mobile phones, including the two Nokias and the sim cards Dwyer and O’Hara had used to communicate.

While the loyalty card connected the items to O’Hara, the texts found on the sim cards of the phones represented the road map from which the investigation followed.

The disobedient dog

On September 13th – the day between Garda O’Donoghue’s second and third visits to Vartry reservoir – a French woman out walking dogs on Killakee mountain by chance found the first of the bones later proven to be the remains of Elaine O’Hara.

On the day of the discovery, Magali Vergnet was in the area walking dogs at about 2pm. She finished and was waiting to load them back into the car when she noticed her own dog, Millie, was missing. She went into the wood to search for the animal. She followed a muddy path some distance and turned to her left. There, she saw the first of the bones.

She said she could still hear the dog and moved again to search for it, manoeuvring through branches and trees to do so, bringing her deeper into an area of undergrowth where the full extent of the gruesome discovery would become clear.

OHara’s clothing still at the site

Vergnet told the court that in the weeks before she discovered what turned out to be O’Hara’s skeletal remains, the dogs she walked had found deer bones in the same general area on Killakee mountain.

However, tracksuit bottoms were still at the scene of the new bones find. Fortuitously, the clothing had not been taken away by animals, though one-third of the remains had.

The presence of the clothing convinced her the bones were human. She left and made contact with the landowner, Frank Doyle. Together with him and a friend of hers, they went back to the spot that evening.

When they returned to the area, Vergnet caught sight of a mandible bone, or lower jaw bone, and “realised they were human remains”.

The Garda was alerted and the bones gathered. When they were confirmed as Elaine O’Hara’s – via dental and DNA crosschecking – the remains were linked to the find in Vartry reservoir about 40km away.

The jogger

The last-known person to speak with Elaine O’Hara, apart from her killer, was Conor Guilfoyle.

A recreational runner, he was jogging around Shanganagh Park in south Dublin on August 22nd, 2012, when he spoke briefly with O’Hara, who stopped him to look for directions.

“She asked me was there a bridge over there, or something to that effect,” Guilfoyle told the murder trial. “I said ‘Yes. There’s a bridge just over there for the railway.’ One of the reasons I remember her was because she didn’t say thank you or have any engagement with me. That was the end of the conversation.

“I met her again on the footbridge. She was ahead of me. I would have come up behind her. She was walking towards the seafront. I was thinking of saying to her ‘Well, you found the bridge okay’, but again she didn’t seem to want to engage in conversation.”

The CCTV cameras in the carpark of the adjacent cemetery, where O’Hara’s car was later found, were not working. It meant Guilfoyle’s chance meeting with her confirmed to the Garda where she had gone after last being picked up on CCTV leaving her apartment block at Belarmine Plaza in Stepaside.

Without him, she would have vanished without trace in Stepaside; a scenario that would have greatly undermined the case. His evidence became absolutely crucial when combined with the final texts from Dwyer to O’Hara retrieved from the phones found in Vartry reservoir.

The texts instructed O’Hara to park her car at Shanganagh Cemetery, and to walk into the park and cross the footbridge that takes pedestrians over the main railway to Wexford, and to continue the short walk towards the coast.

She was told to wait at that spot - presumably to be met by Dwyer, so he could drive her to the location where her body was found. Guilfoyle’s evidence placed O’Hara carrying out the actions Dwyer had told her to, thus tying her last known movements to him in her last hours.

Map My Run app

A few days after meeting O’Hara, Guilfoyle was approached by a garda while jogging at the same spot. He was shown a photograph of O’Hara as part of the missing person’s inquiry that had just been launched.

He said he remembered meeting O’Hara in the park but could not recall when. However, he quickly realised he had been using a Map My Run app on the day in question, which would have the date and time recorded. “It was very unusual because I’ve only used it twice,” he said.

The data on the app confirmed beyond doubt that the meeting took place on the day O’Hara died and that Guilfoyle was the last person to see her alive, apart from her killer.

His initial response to the garda was much less certain on the date and time of their meeting. Without the app, his recall would have made unreliable testimony.

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