He’s an evil, twisted, calculating person’ – Harrowing case of double murderer Frank McCann is recalled by relatives and gardaí in TV show
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A relative of the wife and baby girl killed by double murderer Frank McCann fears the world will become a much more dangerous place if he is allowed back on the streets. The former high-ranking swimming coach killed his wife Esther and their 18-month-old foster child Jessica, who was also his niece, by setting their home on fire on September 4, 1992.
A new RTÉ documentary, The Case I Can’t Forget, describes his repeated attempts to kill his wife and child to contain a scandal that he had fathered a child with a 17-year-old swimming student.
After one of the longest trials in Irish history, he was found guilty of their murders in August 1996 and handed two life sentences to run concurrently.
With 25 years served behind bars, it is expected he will imminently make a case for parole — but Esther’s niece, Esther Leonard, fears for her family’s safety if her aunt’s husband is set free.
“I can’t imagine how dangerous the world would be with Frank McCann walking the streets and I just dread that becoming a reality,” she said in the documentary. “There is no one in the world who can convince me that my family will be safe if he gets out.”
She was just eight when her family learned Jessica and Esther had perished in the fire at their home in Butterfield Avenue, Rathfarnham.
“I remember waking up early in the morning and hearing my granny screaming crying. I remember everybody just inconsolably bawling crying. It was like something out of a film, it wasn’t like real life.”
She describes her 30-year-old aunt as “someone who brought a light into the family”.
“We would have seen Esther and Jessica on a daily basis. She was an artist and just exuded life and happiness and joy.”
Esther’s oldest nephew, Thomas O’Brien, said it is hard to live with the knowledge Frank McCann can continue on with his life.
“He’s deprived both of them of their lives and he can still carry on as normal. He’s an evil, twisted, calculating person — no remorse, no nothing, never ever apologised.”
In The Case I Can’t Forget, retired Garda Sergeant Pat Treacy and Superintendent Martin Walker recall one of the most harrowing cases of their career.
In the months after Esther and baby Jessica perished in the blaze at their home in south Dublin, it became clear that it hadn’t been a tragic accident — despite McCann playing the part of the distraught husband attempting to rescue his family at the scene of the fire.
He initially attempted to deflect suspicion from himself through claims he had received anonymous threats before the fire, but Esther’s family witnessed his disturbing reaction to their deaths from as early on as their funerals.
“On the day of the funeral we were going to Tramore for the mass. We stopped halfway in Leighlinbridge for a bite to eat,” Thomas said in the documentary, “Outside you could see Frank walking around the hearse talking to the car, talking away to himself, which I felt then was strange and still today I feel was strange.”
Later, coming from the church, he was horrified to see him calling out of the car window to passing schoolgirls.
“McCann was shouting out the passenger window of the car that he was free, he was available to these young schoolgirls,” Thomas said.
“This was when he just buried his wife and his daughter. He had a sick, twisted sense of humour.”
As detectives dug deeper into the case, they discovered the stalled adoption of the McCanns’ foster daughter was at the root of the plot to kill.
“It became apparent that Mr McCann had a child with a 17-year-old girl and a complaint to that effect had been lodged with the Adoption Board,” said Supt Walker.
“The formal adoption of Jessica had stagnated to some degree and Esther was concerned about that aspect of it and was going to address the issue directly with Frank on the night, I think, of the murder.”
In the documentary, it was revealed how McCann made a number of attempts to kill his wife and baby Jessica — with evidence later emerging that gas pipes in the house had been deliberately tampered with and the brake cables in her car had been cut.
“It all added up afterward when you put all the bits and pieces together, but unfortunately, at the time leading up to it, we didn’t see it,” said Supt Walker.
“Everything was calculated, devious. He just thought he was in control and he was going to deal with it the way he had to, to keep himself squeaky clean.”
‘The Case I Can’t Forget’ will be shown on RTÉ One tomorrow at 9.35pm