Woman gets permission to exhume body of daughter drowned by husband

Rebecca Saunders plans to bring body of three-year-old Clarissa to US for burial

A woman whose daughter (3) was drowned by her husband in a murder-suicide in west Cork has been granted permission to exhume the child's remains for burial in the US.

Rebecca Saunders (33) tweeted that she has been granted a licence to exhume the remains of her daughter, Clarissa, who was buried with the child's father, Martin McCarthy, in Schull cemetery after he drowned the child and then took his own life on March 5th, 2013.

"Thrilling news! Today I was granted the license to exhume Clarissa! After 9 years I will be able to correct my awful mistake! Can't wait to be able to take Rissa home! This has really been a long time coming. It's a day for celebration!"

An inquest heard that both Mr McCarthy (50) and Clarissa died from cardio-respiratory failure due to drowning. In the case of Mr McCarthy it was self-inflicted and in the case of Clarissa, she was taken into the water and drowned at Audley Cove in Ballydehob where the family lived.


The inquest before coroner for west Cork Frank O’Connell heard that Mr McCarthy left a note and while it was not read out at the inquest, Mr O’Connell said it could not be ignored and indicated that Mr McCarthy decided to end both his own life and that of Clarissa.

Californian native Ms Saunders has told the Irish Examiner that Mr McCarthy feared she was going to take Clarissa back to the US. She said he said in the note “If you can take Clarissa to America, I can take Clarissa to Heaven”.

A spokeswoman for Cork County Council confirmed it has granted a licence for the exhumation but said it would be making no further comment on the matter.


Ms Saunders, who met Mr McCarthy when she was 16 during a three-month trip to Ireland and later married him when she was 19, returned to the US after the killing of her daughter but came back to west Cork to attend the inquest in February 2014.

The inquest in Bantry courthouse heard Supt Mick Fitzpatrick read out her statement to gardaí about the events of March 5th, 2013 when she returned to the family farm at Foilnamuck, Ballydehob at about 8.30pm to discover her daughter and husband were missing.

She told how she began contacting friends and neighbours when she tried ringing her husband's mobile phone to discover it ringing in his 4x4 while Mr McCarthy's friend, Alan Hurley found a note marked "Rebecca" in the dairy.

“They (the gardaí) asked me did I want to read it – I got upset and I skimmed through it and then I got upset more and they said that it was just a note and we didn’t know if it was acted upon or not,” said Ms McCarthy in her statement.

She told how she had gone down to nearby Audley Cove, less than a minute's walk from her home, to watch members of the Irish Coastguard, Goleen Cliff and Coastal Rescue Unit and Schull Fire Brigade and volunteers search the shoreline and she was there when they found Clarissa at 1.50am.

“I went over to these little rocks at the head of the beach and I got this little rock that she [Clarisssa] liked and I began squeezing it ... then three guys from the Inshore Rescue came around the rocks and found Clarissa and they brought her a bit more out of the water and began working on her.”


Ms McCarthy told how she was restrained by friends as she tried to run over to her daughter where members of the Goleen Cliff and Coast Rescue under Michael O’Regan spent a long time trying to resuscitate her before some HSE paramedics took over.

She began to feel faint but a friend of hers told her she needed to remain strong because she thought that the medics had got a pulse and she was about to go into the ambulance with Clarissa when a doctor arrived, checked on the little girl and told her that she was dead.

Her husband’s body was recovered some 15 minutes later, several hundred metres down the coast from where Clarissa had been found. He was pronounced dead at the scene, the inquest heard.

Last year, Ms Saunders launched a GoFundMe page which raised more than €50,000 to help with the cost of the exhumation of Clarissa's remains and their transportation to the US for burial near her new home at Houston where she has remarried and has two children.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times