Garda cold cases unit boss says he spends every waking moment thinking about solving crimes and it’s ‘impossible not to become emotionally attached’
‘You’re always searching and there’s always something there’
Detective Superintendent Desmond McTiernan, who is in command of the Serious Crime Review Team, says it’s “impossible not to become emotionally attached”.
The seasoned officer admitted he often spends time at home contemplating of ways to approach cases – including six high-profile missing women files – and solve them.
He told the Irish Sunday Mirror: “We are all very committed here. I know myself that I am constantly thinking about different things, ways to do something, ways you should approach somebody, ways you should apply a certain science and, of course, you bring it home with you.
“When you’re sitting looking out the window, or whatever, the human condition is to always think about the things you could have done better.
“You’re always searching and there’s always something there.”
Det Supt McTiernan said his highly experienced unit is hoping to one day solve the cases of six women who disappeared presumed murdered.
Deirdre Jacob, Fiona Pender, Jo Jo Dullard, Fiona Sinnott, Ciara Breen and American tourist Annie McCarrick all went missing from the Leinster area between 1993 and 1998.
Speaking about the work his team carries out from their base at Harcourt Square in Dublin, the officer said they will never stop trying to get justice for the women’s families.
He explained: “We are absolutely committed to these six women and to their families.
“We would have an open outlook in relation to them, in other words none of these cases are closed nor will they ever be until they are solved.
“They come under Operation Trace and the Serious Crime Review Team have ownership of that operation.
“We are responsible for all intelligence and new leads that is generated in relation to them.”
A file is currently with the Director of Public Prosecutions on a prime suspect in the case of Deirdre Jacob, a student teacher who disappeared without trace at the age of 18.
Det Supt McTiernan added: “There is a huge emotional attachment to that case, as there is to all these cases, by the guards. That’s how invested we get, it’s hard not to become emotionally attached because they are such sad, tragic cases.
“Their bodies have never been found so even to get a body back… it’s not the be all and end all, as in they are not getting justice per se but if they got the body back there is a grave they can at least visit.
“Families want justice but they also want their loved ones back. In the cases of the missing women we are very committed, relentlessly, to finding those bodies.”
The team is concentrating its efforts on several investigations. Among them are the unsolved murders of Willie Maughan, 34, and his 20-year-old girlfriend Ana Varslavane whose bodies have never been recovered.
Mr Maughan’s family believe the couple, who were last seen in Gormanston, Co Meath, on the afternoon of Sunday, April 14, 2015, were killed because they knew too much about a gangland murder.
Det Supt McTiernan revealed: “At the moment we are working on and actively pursuing the Kerry babies case that goes back to April 14, 1984.
“We are also working on the murder of Kenneth Fetherston which goes back to September 22, 2009 as well as a more current one, the Hawe murder/suicide.
“They are the main ones at the moment. We can’t do them all, we try and get to them as quickly as we possibly can.”
The expert officer also said it could be particularly hard when dealing with cases involving children such as that of the Hawe familicide.
Stephen Hawe murdered his wife Clodagh and three children Liam, 13, Niall, 11, and six-year-old Ryan in August 2016 before taking his own life.
The officer explained: “Certainly the families involved in the Hawe review, they are very, very upset naturally and we are very committed to them in endeavouring to bring that matter to some form of closure for them.
“If anyone has anything to offer, information or anything at all… the biggest problem we have is that people think ‘Ah sure it wouldn’t be important’ or ‘I’m not going to tell the guards that because it’s silly’. Let us make that decision.
“We would welcome anything. Investigations, including old ones going back to the 80s or 90s, they were all done to a very high standard.
“The one thing that the guards do well in this country is we as an organisation take ownership of these kind of investigations and we want to bring them to a successful conclusion.”
Det Supt McTiernan added: “With the advances in science, plus technical advances by way of phone examinations and CCTV footage, we can apply those new advancements to old cases or even new ones. Also, going back 20, 30 years, witnesses and people might not have felt they could come forward at the time for whatever reason.
“With the passage of time loyalties change and I have seen that where someone has been under the influence of somebody else and that somebody else passes on or moves away which frees up that individual to get this weight off their chest and they’ll talk about things that happened.
“The one thing I would say – and some people would find this hard to get – is the success rate of a serious crime or cold case review is very low.
“The reason being that there is nothing new you can do to progress it.
“The work done at the time was so intense and comprehensive that nothing more can be done. But you do look at it with fresh eyes in the hope of trying to develop something else.”
Haunted by ‘Vanishing Triangle’
Ireland is still trying to come to terms with the number of cases involving missing women in the 90s.
They disappeared within the so-called Vanishing Triangle and their cases have never been solved.
In 2001, sex beast Larry Murphy was convicted of kidnapping, repeatedly raping and attempting to murder a young Carlow woman in the Wicklow Mountains.
Although only convicted of this particular crime, he is regarded as being the prime suspect in the disappearance of a number of young women in the mid to late 1990s in the Leinster area, when he was known to have been living in the region.
In October 1995, Josephine ‘Jo Jo’ Dullard went missing without trace. when she was last seen making a phone call from a telephone box in the Co Kildare village of Moone,
Jo Jo was last heard telling a friend on the phone that a car had just pulled up to near to the phone box. She was never seen again, and no trace of Jo Jo has ever been found.
Just two years previous in 1993, American-born Annie McCarrick left her apartment in Dublin, Ireland so that she could go to the Wicklow Mountains for the day and was never seen again.
That same year Eva Brennan, 39, of Rathgar, Co. Dublin, went missing after leaving a family lunch at her parents’ house in Rathgar.
In 1996, Ireland was hit with another chilling case when Fiona Pender who was seven months pregnant disappeared. It’s believed her body may be buried in the Slieve Bloom mountains near the Laois/Offaly border.
And the following year Ciara Breen, 17, of Dundalk, Co. Louth, went missing on February 13, 1997 without a trace while 19-year-old Fiona Sinnott went missing from her Wexford home just a year later.