Family of missing man turn to a clairvoyant


SHE's oddly glamorous. Certainly more glamorous than the local people in their wellingtons and thick jumpers, standing in a semicircle around her.

Long coat, long straight strawcoloured hair, heavy eye makeup. She bends down and clasps both her hands around the neck of the dog, which looks up and wags its tail uncertainly. The group watches quietly.

After a few moments the young woman mutters to the man standing closest to her, who nods his head and then turns, his eyes sweeping the snow covered fields. "We need to find that gate," he tells his friend.

The scene is played out in front of a small cottage on a side road in Co Laois, in the biting cold wind of a bleak Sunday afternoon. The cottage belongs to 62 year old Mr Jimmy Purcell. The woman is said to be a clairvoyant, deployed by relatives of Mr Purcell as their search for him moves into its second week. The dog is her link to the missing man.

"She's very good," says the missing man's brother, John Purcell. "She nearly knows more about that house than I do, and she's never been in it. She says there's been no foul play. He's around here somewhere. He's near a gate. We need to find that gate."

Mr Purcell has been missing since shortly after 1 a.m. on Tuesday, when he left Osborne's public house at Newtown Cross. He was heading for home, barely three quarters of a mile away, but it was a journey that could have taken him more than an hour. The former miner was in poor health, with breathing problems and a heart condition. He walked with a stoop. But if the walk was arduous for him the route was straightforward, one he had followed for decades.

Mr Purcell had been due to visit his sister. When he did not arrive, the alarm was raised. Jimmy would always lock the dogs in the house and leave the light above the door on, and that is how the gardai found it.

Nothing was disturbed, and they decided Jimmy had never made it home the night before. His heart tablets were in the house.

Locals, the gardai and the Civil Defence have combed the countryside in a four mile radius around the pub. A pond and a flooded open cast mine have been pumped dry and nothing was found.

Locals say that even if Mr Purcell had lost his sense of direction, he was not fit to walk more than a couple of miles from the pub on a very cold night. If he was the victim of a hit and run, why was his body not found on the road or in a ditch?

Some speculate that he was hit by a motorist who took the body away.

"But there's no evidence for that," said a local garda. "There's no evidence for anything. He's just gone. It's like the ground opened up and swallowed him."