Mc Cann is a Cold Blooded Killer, and should stay in Jail, Marian Leonard has gone through Hell, and the Family for years?

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The man who murdered my beautiful sister and 18-month-old niece should NEVER be let out

  4 hrs ago


For several months now Marian Leonard has dreaded answering her mobile phone to any unknown numbers – since November she’s been expecting a call from the Department of Justice to inform her of a parole board’s decision on the release of her sister’s killer.a group of people posing for the camera© Provided by Extra.ie

For the last 28 years, Frank McCann has been in Arbour Hill prison in Dublin, serving two consecutive life sentences for killing his wife Esther and 18-month-old Jessica, an infant they had raised as their own since her birth and who they were in the process of trying to adopt.

It is one of the most unforgettably cruel and calculated murder cases this state has ever seen. It emerged during his trial that McCann, now 60, had made several attempts to kill Esther and Jessica, before finally, on September 4, 1992, they both perished in a fire he deliberately started at their home in Rathfarnham on Dublin’s southside.a man wearing a military uniform: For several months now Marian Leonard has dreaded answering her mobile phone to any unknown numbers – since November she’s been expecting a call from the Department of Justice to inform her of a parole board’s decision on the release of her sister’s killer.© Provided by Extra.ie 

For several months now Marian Leonard has dreaded answering her mobile phone to any unknown numbers – since November she’s been expecting a call from the Department of Justice to inform her of a parole board’s decision on the release of her sister’s killer.

As you can imagine, it takes little to transport Leonard’s mind straight back to those years in the early to mid-1990s, when she and her family had to deal with the fallout of the devastating grief and anguish that followed Esther and Jessica’s deaths and the subsequent long trials.

In recent months there has been another reason, apart from this most recent parole hearing, to go back to those dark days before and after the murders.

The hugely successful podcast Where is George Gibney? has trained a light on the sordid world of Irish swimming in the 1990s. It’s a world in which McCann was deeply immersed. A former international swimmer and later a coach, he was vice-president of the Irish Amateur Swimming Association (IASA) and president of the Leinster Swimming Association.

His contemporaries included former national swim coach George Gibney, who fled the country after being accused of 27 counts of rape and sexual abuse of minors, and Derry O’Rourke, who was convicted of child sex abuse.

Both men were regular visitors to the McCann’s home and Leonard remembers them well from her own time spent at the house. ‘I wouldn’t consider that I was ever formally introduced to Gibney,’ she explains. ‘He was in the house, they’d have a meeting at the breakfast table, Gibney and Derry O’Rourke and whoever. I could be in the front sitting room with Esther and Jessica and if you needed to go into the kitchen while they were there, they’d just stop talking. Esther would give out, saying they were so rude, we’d both say it. I don’t think I ever had a conversation with them, I only ever said hello.’

Leonard says she felt a duty to listen to the podcast, which includes interviews with several of Gibney’s alleged victims. At times it’s a gruelling and distressing tale, listening to how Gibney groomed and abused these young girls, but Leonard says that although she found it tough going, there was nothing in it that surprised her.

‘By the time I heard about Gibney and Derry O’Rourke, I don’t think shock was in it,’ she says. ‘Don’t forget what we’d already heard. The biggest shock, I felt, was that we didn’t see it at the time. They were rude men, that was it. We didn’t think further on it until it was all too late. Esther certainly never suspected, she would have told me.’a large brick building with grass in front of a house: For the last 28 years, Frank McCann has been in Arbour Hill prison in Dublin, serving two consecutive life sentences for killing his wife Esther and 18-month-old Jessica, an infant they had raised as their own since her birth and who they were in the process of trying to adopt.© Provided by Extra.ie For the last 28 years, Frank McCann has been in Arbour Hill prison in Dublin, serving two consecutive life sentences for killing his wife Esther and 18-month-old Jessica, an infant they had raised as their own since her birth and who they were in the process of trying to adopt.

No charges of sexual abuse against a minor were ever brought against McCann. However, it emerged during his court case that investigating gardaí believed his main motive for killing his wife and Jessica was to conceal a sexual relationship he had with a young girl he coached in swimming. This girl, who had special needs, is believed to have given birth to McCann’s baby when she was 17 years old, just months after he married Esther.

When the McCanns applied to the Adoption Board for legal guardianship of Jessica, the mother of the 17-year-old lodged an objection to the adoption. While McCann was informed of the reason for the slow process in their application, Esther was clueless.

Anxious about why it was taking so long to adopt Jessica, Esther repeatedly contacted the Adoption Board, who finally told McCann that unless he told her the full story, they would. It’s thought that McCann, who had hopes of becoming the next president of the IASA, decided that murdering his family was the best way to prevent a scandal.

The subsequent investigation into their deaths and McCann’s two trials for their murders, revealed the extraordinary and ghastly lengths he was prepared to go to. He set his plan into action by reporting a series of gas leaks at his home. In late July 1992, Esther narrowly escaped a massive explosion at the house after waking up and smelling gas. It was discovered that a pipe had been deliberately broken.

Over the next couple of months, Esther’s electric blanket went on fire and the brake fluid cable in her car was cut. In the meantime, McCann tried to persuade gardaí that an intimidation campaign was being waged against him by someone threatening to burn down his pub unless he ‘paid up’.a man standing in front of a group of people posing for the camera: PATRICK O’BRIEN, RIGHT AND MARIAN LEONARD, LEFT, SISTER AND BROTHER OF MURDER VICTIM ESTER O’BRIEN. PICTURE COLIN KEEGAN, COLLINS, DUBLIN.© Provided by Extra.ie PATRICK O’BRIEN, RIGHT AND MARIAN LEONARD, LEFT, SISTER AND BROTHER OF MURDER VICTIM ESTER O’BRIEN. PICTURE COLIN KEEGAN, COLLINS, DUBLIN.

From the moment Esther and Jessica died, however, there were a number of people who believed they knew exactly what had happened to them, including Marian Leonard. I immediately thought it was Frank,’ she says. ‘And my brother, who is an ex-guard, his hackles were immediately raised, Frank’s behaviour just didn’t sit with him, he was overacting.’

Quite how McCann went from clean-living athlete and respected businessman to one of Ireland’s most notorious killers is still something of a mystery. One of five children, he was raised in Terenure in south Dublin and followed in his father’s footsteps to become a cooper. He later bought a pub with his brother, in Blessington, Co Wicklow, which they named the Cooperage.

He met Esther in Dublin through friends, and when her previous relationship broke up, he pursued her until she agreed to go on a date with him. ‘Frank was on the edge of her group of friends and he moved in on her when her boyfriend left to live in Australia,’ says Leonard. ‘She really enjoyed his company. He was a non-drinker and nonsmoker but they had a really good laugh. She was functions manager in the Shelbourne Hotel at the time, she was about 29 or 30. He’s four years younger than her, and was always very bland looking. He was tall and strong but for a young guy he dressed really conservatively, with very old-fashioned glasses and haircut.’

The couple were married in May 1987. ‘She was a stunning bride, like a Dresden doll,’ says Leonard. ‘But I had a niggling feeling he wasn’t right for her. She was so welcoming to everyone, her enthusiasm for life was infectious, while he could be quite dour.’

The two sisters were particularly close, Leonard lived with her family just a few streets away in Rathfarnham. There was little they didn’t discuss, including Esther’s worries about not getting pregnant. ‘She wanted kids very quickly, it didn’t happen so she went to the Rotunda to check out her fertility and there was nothing wrong with her,’ says Leonard.

‘Then she did make a comment about how you have to have sex to get pregnant. For a sensual, attractive woman, she said he’d lost interest in her very quickly. We know now that she was too old for him, she wasn’t a teenager.’a child posing for the camera: Esther and 18-month-old Jessica were the victims of Frank McCann© Provided by Extra.ie Esther and 18-month-old Jessica were the victims of Frank McCann

In 1990, McCann’s sister came to live with them after she unexpectedly got pregnant. ‘Her mum didn’t want her in the house,’ says Leonard. ‘Esther would have been so welcoming, and she was there in the hospital with her when the baby was born, it was a little girl she called Jessica. Almost immediately Frank’s sister said she wanted them to adopt Jessica. Esther wanted her to take her time to think about it, but pretty soon she went back to her mother’s and left Jessica behind.

‘Esther was smitten with her from the very start, she was enthralled with her and loved her to bits, as we all did, she was a gorgeous little mite. A very short time after she was born they applied to the Adoption Board, Esther wanted it all done properly and correctly.’

However, the application ran into difficulty almost straight away after the mother of the 17-year-old girl made pregnant by McCann lodged an objection.

‘Frank and his solicitor were told about the objection, but Esther wasn’t,’ says Leonard. ‘She kept ringing the Adoption Board, asking them what was going on. She was confused, not for one minute did she think it was anything to do with Frank. She was wondering if they were objecting to her.’

By early summer 1992, McCann knew he was running out of time. To prevent the reason for the hold-up being revealed, he set his horrific murder plan into action. In another desperately cruel twist, he was fortunate that Esther and her family were completely wrapped up in a family illness. Leonard’s 16-year-old son James had recently been diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer.

‘He didn’t get a break really,’ says Leonard. ‘We were told that June that there was nothing else they could do, that it was in his lungs. Esther and Jessica would come to the hospital and James would shovel Jessica into the bed beside him and they’d giggle away together. He was 6ft 4in and there was this gorgeous little mite in beside him.’

It’s hardly surprising that Esther was oblivious to the unusual number of gas leaks at their home, or that her suspicions weren’t aroused by the electric blanket or car incidents. ‘Some alarm bells would have probably sounded were it not for the fact we were so distracted with James’s illness,’ says Leonard. ‘Frank used it all so much, the hindsight is heart-breaking.’

On the night of September 4, 1992, Leonard and her three children were in Tramore, Co Waterford, the town where she and Esther grew up. ‘James was bringing a friend to her debs that night and we were staying at my in-laws’ house,’ Leonard explains. ‘I woke about 4am, I could hear my mother-in-law crying.’

She was told that Esther and Jessica had been killed in a house fire. Leonard was instantly suspicious about the cause of the blaze.

‘The night before I’d only landed in Tramore when Esther phoned me,’ she explains. ‘”I’ve made my mind up, I’m going to talk things out with Frank tonight,” she told me. She was so confused about the adoption business and she also felt Frank wasn’t paying enough attention to Jessica. I said to her, “Would you hang on until I get home because if he says something, you’ll be upset and you’ll need to come up to me. Just wait.”

‘But the last thing she said to me was, “no, I have to be true to myself I have to tell him how I feel about this, there’s something not right.”‘ Leonard has no idea if her sister got to have that conversation with McCann. But her suspicions about his involvement in her death prompted her to talk to the guards in Waterford the following day.

His behaviour during and after the funeral further cemented those suspicions. At one stage while driving through Tramore, Leonard says he shouted out the car window at some girls, ‘I’m free’.

‘It was so inappropriate, his behaviour was all so wrong,’ she says. ‘Then the rush to get back to the pub in Blessington where he’d arranged to have a cake brought out for his mother’s 60th birthday, on the same day we buried Esther.’

It didn’t stop there. A week later, he went to the US ‘on his holidays’.

In November 1992, McCann was arrested at his pub. He made a statement of admission but then checked himself into John of God, claiming to have suffered a breakdown. In yet another bizarre twist, he met a young woman who was being treated there and began a relationship with her.

They checked themselves out and he moved in with her at her family home, not too far from Tramore,’ says Leonard. ‘He was seen in Waterford during those months, but then he was arrested at her house in April 1993.’

Two weeks before McCann was arrested, Leonard’s son James died.

‘He was 18 and it was so tragic,’ she says quietly. ‘But no one could help it. It’s not something you get over, you just have to get on. It would just have been a lot easier if we’d had Esther and Jessica. We then had to put our grief for James on hold, and we had to go through what we went through because of McCann. It’s a whole ball of grief.’

His first trial started in January 1994. But three weeks later it had to be halted after McCann tried to set fire to himself at Arbour Hill. The next trial began in June 1996 and lasted for ten weeks. He was found guilty and received two life sentences, which have run from when he was first arrested in April 1993.

In 2017, Esther’s family were informed that McCann was to begin escorted day trips out of prison. ‘Prisoners usually go to meet family, but he went to a bakery on the Quays and did a morning’s baking there,’ says Leonard. ‘Then he started unescorted trips, and in 2018 he did a sevenweek computer course in Ballyfermot.

We were told each time he was let out, so in general I’d stay out of the city on those days. An awful bonus for us in the lockdowns has been the fact he wasn’t able to come out, which was a relief ? at least when we go out now we’re not looking over our shoulders.’

His last parole hearing was heard in November.

‘Their recommendations are with the Minister for Justice now,’ says Leonard. ‘We’re waiting to hear what Helen McEntee decides. It’s very tense, having to wait. No one can tell me that he’s a reformed character and that he won’t hurt anybody else. It’s an awful responsibility for any minster to take on, to say that this man is safe out in the world. He’s not.’

There are some who might have resented the renewed interest in McCann’s case following the George Gibney podcast, but not Leonard.

‘It’s thrown me back a bit but I don’t resent it at all,’ she says. ‘The fact that people are speaking up is a good thing and it made me realise there probably are more victims of Frank McCann out there. I think it’s sad they haven’t felt strong enough to have a voice.’

The only thing she resents is how some have described McCann’s murders as ‘very sensationalised’.

‘I really got annoyed when someone said that to me,’ she says. ‘Because it was never sensationalised, it is exactly what happened.

‘It was a very unfortunate truth and our very unfortunate reality.’

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