Shallow mountain graves and more to be found

Until ramblers came across her partly exposed body in a shallow grave in the Dublin mountains, Antoinette Smith's disappearance…

Until ramblers came across her partly exposed body in a shallow grave in the Dublin mountains, Antoinette Smith's disappearance nine months earlier had caused little stir outside her immediate family.

Ms Smith (27), the mother of two young children, disappeared on July 12th, 1987, after attending a David Bowie concert at Slane Castle in Meath. She had returned to Dublin, and gone to the Harp Bar on O'Connell Bridge before going on to a disco in Parnell Street.

Her disappearance was reported by her estranged husband, but after Garda investigations made no progress, the case was effectively shelved. A detective familiar with the case said it was suspected at the time that Ms Smith had run off with another man. In fact, it is likely she was abducted after parting from her friend at the disco.

Forensic examination of her body showed she was raped and strangled. Her head was reported to have been covered by a plastic bag. The story of the discovery of her body by a family walking in the mountains on April 3rd, 1988, was carried in newspapers for a few days. The renewed Garda investigation again led nowhere.


Just over three years later, on the same stretch of mountain bog where her body was concealed, a Dublin man cutting turf discovered a second grave when he uncovered a woman's hand and forearm in the turf bank he was clearing. The arm belonged to Patricia Doherty (30), a mother of two young children who disappeared just before Christmas 1991.

Ms Doherty left her home in Tallaght on the evening of December 23rd to do some last minute Christmas shopping and never returned. Her husband reported her disappearance to gardai on Christmas morning.

The following June, dry weather caused the peat bank near the Lemass Cross to subside and her body was found. She had been strangled and buried there.

The story attracted some media attention and the Garda investigation, which had taken place the previous January, was restarted - but to little effect.

This part of the Dublin mountains has earned a morbid reputation. In September 1991, Patricia O'Toole (31), a woman from south Co Dublin was waylaid after spending a night socialising with friends, beaten and driven up into the mountains where she was stripped and bludgeoned to death. A soldier, Pte Sean Courtney, was convicted of her murder.

Several years earlier, in July 1982, Patricia Furlong (21), from Dundrum, Dublin, was abducted, raped and strangled in the mountains only a few miles away at Glencullen. that case remains unsolved.

In 1991 gardai arrested Vincent Connell, a former disc jockey from Terenure, Dublin. He was convicted of murdering Ms Furlong and sentenced to life on the strength of alleged admissions to gardai. However, he was innocent and the Court of Criminal Appeal quashed the conviction four years later.

Mr Connell died of a heart attack in England in April 1998. On March 3rd, 1993, an American literature student, Annie McCarrick (26), left her flat in Sandymount, Dublin, for a trip to Glencullen where Patricia Furlong had been murdered 11 years earlier and not far from the graves of Antoinette Smith and Patricia Doherty.

Ms McCarrick, who friends said had a trusting nature, disappeared. It is believed she too was abducted and killed and lies buried somewhere in the mountains. Ms McCarrick's family petitioned the then US ambassador, Ms Jean Kennedy Smith, who in turn sought action from the Government. This led to a decision by Garda management to carry out a wider examination of cases of missing women.

The re-examination of files showed the shortcomings in the Garda's system of recording disappearances. There was no proper way of cross-referencing information from investigations into missing persons and no effective use of computerised information systems.

On July 23rd, 1993, another Dublin woman, Eva Brennan (40), disappeared after visiting her parents' home on Rathgar Road in the city. She has not been seen since and it is suspected she, too, was murdered.

This disappearance and probable murder, combined with the failure to uncover anything significant about Ms McCarrick's disappearance, added urgency to the re-examination of the files on missing women. Almost immediately this led to the discovery of a previous oversight in the cases of two women and a man connected to both of them.

Gardai had long suspected Michael Bambrick of the murder of his common-law wife, Patricia McGauley (42), in Sep tember 1991, but they did not connect him with the disappearance and presumed murder of Mary Cummins (36), who disappeared in July 1992, until the missing women files were re-opened in 1994.

The files showed Ms Cummins was involved with Bam brick after his wife's disap pearance. After his arrest Bambrick took gardai to the sites in Ronanstown where he had buried the dismembered bodies of both women.

The Director of Public Prosecutions accepted Bambrick's plea that he had not intended to kill both women but had accidentally strangled them while having sex. He was sentenced to 18 years' imprisonment in 1996.

In November 1995 Josephine Dullard disappeared while making her way home from Dublin to Callan, Co Kilkenny. She was last seen at Castledermot. A few days before Christmas 1995, Marilyn Rynn (41), a civil servant, disappeared while on her way home to Blanchardstown in west Dublin. Despite appeals from her family, there was no indication that any major Garda operation was under way over the Christmas period.

A search was finally instituted 16 days after she was last seen alive. Within a few hours of the search being ordered, and only 15 minutes after gardai began searching undergrowth along the path she had taken home on the night she disappeared, her body was discovered. She had been raped and strangled.

DNA profiling during the first mass screening exercise undertaken by gardai identified Marilyn's killer, David Lawler. Crucial evidence was also produced from a forensic examination of his computer which showed he had made contact with other Internet users after the murder and discussed DNA evidence.

Other unresolved disappearances during the 1990s include:

Fiona Sinnott (19) who went missing after leaving a public house near her home at Our Lady's Island in Co Wexford on February 8th, 1998;

Ciara Breen (18) of Bachelor's Walk, Dundalk, disappeared during the same week. She was last seen in the town on the evening of February 12th;

Fiona Pender (25), a hairdresser and part-time model who was seven months pregnant, disappeared from the house she shared with her boyfriend outside Tullamore, Co Offaly, on August 23, 1996. Her mother said she was in wonderful form and was very much looking forward to the birth of her child;

Marie Kilmartin (36) disappeared from her home in Portlaoise on December 16th, 1993. Her body was found in a remote bog off the Mountmellick-Portarlington road, six months later. She was strangled and a concrete slab had been placed on her chest, submerging her;

Deirdre Jacob's disappearance from near her home in Newbridge in July 1998 stirred the Garda to institute concerted action. In September 1998, the Garda Commissioner, Mr Pat Byrne, announced the establishment of a special detective unit to re-examine the cases of missing women - Operation Trace, based at Naas Garda station.