Vulnerable Elaine O’Hara in psychiatric care from age of 16
Elaine O’Hara profile: Depression and personality disorder featured in troubled life
Elaine O’Hara: She had extremely low self-esteem, believed herself to be worthless and valueless, and was prone to self-harm.
On the day she was murdered, the same day she was released from St Edmundsbury psychiatric hospital in Lucan, Elaine O’Hara was pictured on CCTV at her home, in Belarmine Plaza, Stepaside.
One of the clips showed her entering the lobby in the ground floor of the apartment block at 12.50pm. She had shopping bags in both hands and was carrying a pink fleece by its hood on her head, like a child.
What came across most strongly during the trial of Graham Dwyer for the murder of O’Hara was the 36-year-old’s inherent vulnerability; there was something child-like about her. Her online presence on websites such as fetlife and alt.com, and her sexual tastes and desires to be submissive, only emphasised her vulnerabilities more.
She’d spent six weeks in St Edmundsbury Hospital when she was discharged in 2012, having effectively signed herself in after telling her doctor she had prepared a noose for her own suicide.
It was not the first time she had been admitted to psychiatric care. Since the age of 16, she’d been in and out of the unit 14 times, under the care of the late Prof Anthony Clare and subsequently Dr Matt Murphy. There were references in court to concerns about her fantasies – about wanting to be restrained and tied up – from the age of 12. Once her parents discovered her self-harming behaviour in their Killiney home, they brought her for help.
She told Prof Clare about a play in her head in which she was being restrained by other people and punished by them. He feared the gradual emergence of a psychotic illness, but this never happened.
She was eventually diagnosed with depression and a borderline personality disorder. Dr Murphy explained in court this meant she registered emotions very acutely and strongly.
She had extremely low self-esteem, believed herself to be worthless and valueless, and was prone to self-harm.
In a prescient comment, Prof Clare wrote to a colleague in 2006 saying: “It is not going to be diabetes, I’m afraid, or even a straightforward depressive illness that determines the fate of Elaine.”
St Edmundsbury Hospital was her safe place. It was the place she returned to when she could not cope with the outside world - part of the support structure, along with her family and most notably her father, which kept her going. The death of her mother in 2002 and of Prof Clare in 2007 set her back, triggering spells in the unit, though each time she was discharged she seemed a little stronger.
In 2005, O’Hara moved out of home and into what was a converted garage at Rockville Crescent, off Newtown Park Avenue. She moved on to a bedsit in Ardmeen Lodge, in the same area, in 2008.
The apartment in Belarmine Plaza became her home in September 2010. She owned the property and had a mortgage on it.
She had two jobs; one in Robertson’s newsagents, Blackrock, and one as an assistant at St John’s School, Ballybrack. She was also studying childcare.
On July 14th, 2012, O’Hara was admitted to St Edmundsbury’s after admitting to suicidal thoughts. According to Dr Murphy, she often had these. They were a part of her illness.
But, the psychiatrist said, she had made a distinct improvement over the years; maturity had helped her to manage her moods better.
When Dr Murphy discharged O’Hara on August 22nd, she was bright, cheerful and optimistic. He said he would have been surprised and disappointed if her mood had slipped back and she hadn’t turned to the hospital for help.
What Dr Murphy did not know and what few people had an inkling of was her dangerous relationship with Graham Dwyer.
They met on Alt.com some time in late 2007. Video clips showing Dwyer having sex and stabbing O’Hara were shot in Rockville Crescent, and dated from 2008. The pair were also in contact in 2009, before their relationship came to an end.
Dwyer re-entered O’Hara’s life after she moved to Belarmine. The opening text on March 25th, 2011, read “Hi Elaine, hope you are keeping well”. She responded “Who is this?” and once she’d identified him: “I’m not into blood anymore.”
Her online presence and her desire to be enslaved put her in contact with men she did not know on the internet. They came before the court, most of them startled by the exposure of their private lives.
Two of the men had actually met her – one had coffee with her in the Dundrum Shopping Centre, followed by sex in Rockville Crescent.
The second man talked of her displaying sex toys on the bed in her Ardmeen Lodge bedsit and how she’d appeared embarrassed and depressed.
Through text messages, the pattern of power-play between Dwyer and O’Hara could be seen; his initial willingness to agree to her terms – “no cutting” – followed by a period when she was completely in his thrall, allowing herself to be “punished” by master, allowing him to cut and strangle her.
In July 2011, it appeared O’Hara had taken the power back. She told him if she was ever to find someone and have children she needed to be free of stabs. Again he offered her terms, holding out the possibility of giving her a baby.
They discussed finding and murdering a woman. But while O’Hara indulged in talk about the plan, she also shied away from it, telling him she was “just not ready for it yet”. There were further breaks in their relationship, as the power balance shifted from one to the other.
In June 2012, O’Hara told him to leave her alone and it looked like he might. But something happened around the time O’Hara went into hospital in July 2012, something that did not reveal itself through the messages, and by August 14th she was back in thrall to him again.
It seemed Dwyer gave her something she wanted, the master-slave relationship – someone to take control of her life and tell her what to do. She said in messages more than once she was incapable of making decisions and she was lonely.
She told Dwyer he was the best master she ever had. In a text while in hospital on the day she disappeared, O’Hara also told Dwyer she was scared of him and the hold he had on her. Yet she was not capable of resisting.
As Seán Guerin SC suggested in his closing argument, for O’Hara it appeared fighting was better than loneliness.
Dwyer directed O’Hara to Shanganagh Park on the evening of August 22nd, 2012, and across the railway bridge and “down to the shore and wait”. She left her car and did as she was told, leaving her iPhone behind in her apartment and in the process ensuring, as was his plan, that she could not be traced.
No-one knows how O’Hara felt as Dwyer drove her up to the mountains and led her to the spot he’d prepared for her death. No one knows if she pleaded with him when the time came, or if she knew he intended her to die.
But for those who sat in the courtroom while the videos of Dwyer cutting O’Hara were shown, her gag-muffled sobs, her screams and cries, and her whimpering are the sounds that will be associated with the end of the life of that vulnerable woman.