Former soldier sentenced to life for murder of Kildare woman

 

Almost 23 years after he raped and battered to death Kildare woman Ms Phyllis Murphy, former Army sergeant John Crerar was convicted of her murder late yesterday evening.

A jury of six women and six men unanimously returned a guilty verdict after over eight hours deliberating over two days.

In the Central Criminal Court, Mr Justice McKechnie passed the mandatory life sentence and refused leave to appeal. "In accordance with the law, the only sentence available to me, and the one I now pass, is life imprisonment," the judge said.

Crerar, who denied the murder throughout his trial and has lived for almost 23 years with his crime, put his head down and shook it as the verdict was announced. As a cry of "oh Jesus" reached him from one of his daughters at the back of the court, he covered his face with his right hand.

He did not rise when the judge left the courtroom, and as his solicitor spoke to him, he remained with his head down and his eyes closed.

Later, Crerar's wife Carmel "Betty" Crerar was helped from the Four Courts building by her two sons and three daughters. Her husband followed, handcuffed and escorted by prison officers, his head covered with a cloth hat and a woollen scarf.

Crerar (54), a father-of-five of Woodside Park, Kildare, was convicted of the murder of Philomena "Phyllis" Murphy (23), on a date unknown between December 22nd, 1979 and January 18th, 1980 within the State.

Crerar had left the Army in August 1979 and was working as a security guard for a company, Provincial Security Services, when he committed the crime.

Ms Murphy was a factory worker at Curragh Knitwear. She was staying in digs in Rathangan at the time of her death.

She had just spent the afternoon doing Christmas shopping in Newbridge when she went missing from a bus stop outside the Keadeen Hotel shortly after 6:25 p.m.

A huge Garda operation followed her reported disappearance but it was not until 28 days later that her body was found.

A Garda search party found her, naked and strangled under spruce trees at Ballinagee on the Hollywood to Glendalough road near the Wicklow Gap on January 18th, 1980.

The State pathologist found injuries consistent with rape, but Crerar was never charged with that crime.

Det Insp Brendan McArdle, whose self-described "layman's research" into DNA in 1997 led to a breakthrough in the case in 1998, said the verdict was "a victory for probative police work".

He confirmed that gardaí are now reviewing two other murder cases because of DNA evidence and it is envisaged that more cases will follow.

Chief Supt John Feely said Crerar was a suspect from the twelfth day of the investigation, the date on which he replied to a Garda questionnaire stating that he did not know Phyllis Murphy.

The evidence of Phyllis's sisters and brothers, however, contradicted that.

Crerar knew her and her family, and some had babysat for him.

Crerar's trial heard that after making a statement to gardaí on January 16th, 1980, he voluntarily gave a blood sample to gardaí on March 6th, 1980.

When he was arrested 19 years later, on July 13th 1999, he gave another blood sample at that time.

DNA analysis carried out at an independent commercial laboratory in Abingdon, England, and later, at the Forensic Science Laboratory in Dublin, found a match between the DNA in his blood samples and the DNA in the semen found in Phyllis Murphy's body.

That evidence, together with the retraction of an earlier alibi by a former co-worker of Crerar, Mr Paddy Bolger, brought about his conviction.

Mr Bolger told the trial he told lies to gardaí in 1980 but decided to tell the truth in 1999.

He said Crerar had not turned up for work as a security guard at the Black & Decker plant in Kildare at 8 p.m. as he had said, but instead turned up at 9 p.m., and left immediately only to return again at 10.45 p.m.

Gardaí believe that after dropping his former ex-Army colleague, the late Mr Peter Rooney home to the Maryville estate, Crerar picked up Ms Murphy, raped and strangled her near Colgan's Cut in the Curragh and then headed towards Wicklow, dumping her body there.

After sentence was passed, Ms Murphy's brother, Gerard, said of the jury verdict: "There's no way 12 people can disagree with DNA."

Mr Murphy and his family also expressed pity for John Crerar's wife, daughters and sons. "It must be very hard on them", Mr Murphy said.

Phyllis Murphy's sister, Breda, had clutched a Mass card of their mother, Kathleen, all day.