Into the Unknown: Ireland's Vanishing Triangle Part Two
Two weeks ago, I published the first part of this massive two-part post, which included the profiles of eight young women who vanished from an area of Ireland surrounding Dublin in the 1990s. This week, we're going to dig into the police investigation into those disappearances and the aftermath of so many mysteries.
This case has been devastating, both to the families of the missing and the police who have investigated them. I'll never forget these women, and hopefully now, neither will you.
If you haven't read the first post, please click HERE to get to it.
THE INVESTIGATION & SUSPECTS: Each of these disappearances were investigated initially as individual occurrences. Years later, as media interest increased, police in Ireland were influenced to look into the possibility that the disappearances of these women were related. Over the years, as more women vanished under similar circumstances and media interest erupted thanks to the internet, the An Garda Siochana created Operation Trace, a task force with the specific purpose of solving the Vanishing Triangle cases. The six-person team began profiling violent sex offenders starting in late 1998. Though they were focusing on six cases, they said then they were aware there were more that the public thought were connected. As years passed, they added the other two to the investigation.
Though rumors of a suspected serial killer circulated then, and persist even today, Operation Trace found no evidence of such a person or group of persons who was responsible for all the disappearances. The only person of interest in more than one case was a man named Larry Murphy, who I will talk about a bit today.
Annie McCarrick's disappearance led to one of the biggest searches in Ireland's history, but led to few leads. Her parents flew to Ireland just after she was discovered missing and spent six months looking for their daughter, to no avail. Interest in the vanishings almost always centers on Annie, especially in US-based publications. There are several suspects in Annie McCarrick's disappearance, including the unidentified young man she was last seen with at Johnnie Fox's. But, seeing as that sighting may not have even been Annie at all, it's impossible to say that even if he was identified, he had anything to do with the case. There are two suspects in her case, but neither have been publicly named and neither have criminal records. A third suspect is a former member of the Irish Republican Army that was sent to the US to avoid prosecution for this and other suspected crimes.
Eva Brennan's family doesn't recall any investigation in the immediate aftermath of her disappearance. There may not have been one at all for at least three months, and the family has been very critical of the Garda's treatment of the case. With no official investigation, despite the obviously troubling circumstances surrounding her disappearance, her family was left to look for Eva on their own. Her brother-in-law suggested Irish hospitality along with pressure from the US regarding Annie McCarrick was partly to blame for the lack of interest in Eva's case. Eventually, her father Davy used his political connections to move things along. But, Eva was known to suffer from mental illness, and in the 1990s, this wasn't taken as seriously as it is today. Police tended to assume people who disappeared and were mentally ill had taken their own life, and there was no more need to investigate. I'm not saying that was what was done, or that police were insensitive to Eva's mental state, but it isn't unheard of. However, family doesn't believe she would have committed suicide due to her strong Catholic faith and connection to family. David Lawler is a loosely-theorized suspect in her case, though there's only circumstantial evidence to connect the two based on his other crimes. A rumor circulated shortly after Eva Brennan's disappearance that she knew Michael Bambrick, a man later convicted of murdering two women. Her sister Colleen insists she didn't know him and never would have had occasion to meet him, and there is no concrete evidence they were ever in the same place at the same time. Eva's disappearance is similar to that of Marilyn Rynn, a woman murdered on December 21, 1995 by David Lawler, who went on to become the first rapist/murderer in Ireland's history to be caught based on DNA evidence. Lawler admitted he was 'overcome by a sexual and homicidal urge' in his murder of Marilyn Rynn and of course it's possible there are more victims.
In 2018, Imelda Keenan's eldest brother Gerry spoke of his family's pain at the lack of answers regarding his sister's vanishing. Brother Donal was the most recent of nine family members that have passed away since she disappeared and Gerry says they all went to their graves with broken hearts. Police inquiries have led to almost no leads in the intervening years, even after a renewed search effort in 2012 and a €10,000 reward from the family in 2009.
In 2012, the Garda released a statement saying they had a suspect they believed sexually assaulted and murdered JoJo Dullard. They also believe he may have had an accomplice in the crime. They did not publicly identify either man. Both were men who were known in the area, and would have found it easy to pick up a young woman hitchhiking as JoJo was the night she disappeared. Without her body, though, there is little evidence to convict either of them and without a confession, her supposed murder may go unsolved.
A man was arrested on charges of sexual assault in November of 2014 in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. At first, this may not seem like a big deal in regards to any of these cases, but it turned out to be a potential windfall in the investigation into Fiona Pender's disappearance. No solid information was ever released in that case so as not to identify the victim in Canada, and while so far it's led to nothing concrete for Fiona and her unborn child, it brought her back into the spotlight for a time. Years on, however, nothing new has come of this development. Her boyfriend at the time, John Thompson, was arrested and named as a suspect, but released due to lack of evidence and insists he had nothing to do with Fiona's disappearance.
In August 2015, Gardai dug up a section of Balmer's Bog in Dundalk looking for Ciara Breen. When her mother, Bernadette, passed away in 2018, she was still convinced her daughter was buried in bogland not far from home and Gardai have said they have reason to believe she's right. She also said she knew who killed her daughter, a man who was twice Ciara's age at the time. He's not been named publicly, but was arrested twice in connection with Ciara's case and released due to lack of evidence. Bernadette tried to get him to confess, even if only to a priest, but he never did, and he died in 2017.
When police investigated Fiona Sinnott's home, they found it devoid of all her personal possessions. Her clothes, as well as her daughter Emma's, were gone, and all of her other personal property as well. A police officer said the home didn't appear as if a teenage girl and her infant lived in the house at all. A local farmer reported that he had found trash bags full of items with her name written on them in his fields, but had assumed they were just illegally dumped and burned them. Other trash bags were seen by locals outside the apartment building after she disappeared as well. Police expanded the inquiry into her disappearance into a full-blown murder investigation in 2005 after she was declared legally dead. In 2008, the day before it was to be unveiled, a memorial plaque for Fiona was stolen. It was replaced with another, which was stolen as well. Her family lost touch with her daughter, Emma, who is in her early 20s. Her father Pat died in 2004, and one sister, Caroline passed away in 2017 at just 47 years old. Her mother and remaining sister Diane are still searching for her, and have been vocal in the media about Fiona's case. They believe they know who killed her, and that her body is not far from where she lived at the time.
In 2018, the Garda announced Deirdre Jacob's case was being investigated as a murder. The only suspect that has come up in her case is Larry Murphy, a man connected with other crimes in Ireland. Police haven't been able to place him in Newbridge the day she disappeared, but he has not been entirely ruled out. His name and telephone number were found in Deirdre's grandmother's possessions after she passed away, but he built toys many years ago and had left his contact information with her, as she ran a shop that sold such things. Deirdre visited that shop the day she vanished. Murphy was also interviewed in connection with other Triangle disappearances, but has never been arrested in connection with them. Deirdre's parents are satisfied the Gardai in Kildare are doing everything they can to solve their daughter's case, but are vocal about wanting it solved, as well.
The only person suspected in more than one of the Triangle cases is Larry Murphy. He is considered a dangerous man, and was convicted of kidnapping, multiple rape charges, and attempting to murder a young woman in Carlow, Ireland. He was sentenced to 15 years and served 10 and has lived in several European countries since his release, apparently quietly.
As I mentioned earlier, all the women who vanished within the Triangle were Irish except Annie McCarrick, but she had an Irish surname and was living in the country for years, and so would have been familiar in the area and to locals. It's possible she could have been mistaken for an Irish native. They were all slim, attractive women with brown hair (save Fiona Pender, whose hair was blonde) and were of the same age range save Eva Brennan, who looked younger than her 40 years and might have been mistaken for a younger woman.
THE AFTERMATH: There have been no concrete conclusions reached in any of the eight cases I profiled two weeks ago. Investigations have yielded dead ends and empty leads, and in some of the cases, nothing at all. In some of the cases, there were simply no clues for police to follow, and as is common in disappearances, if there is no physical evidence and no one admits to any wrongdoing, there is nothing police can do. In others, there are suspects, even damn good ones, but without a body it's difficult nigh on impossible to convict a person.
Some suspects and family members have passed away since the 1990s when these women disappeared, but the investigation continues. As does the hope that justice sill someday be served.
THE CONCLUSION: The women who vanished in Ireland's Vanishing Triangle were average women with families and lives, dreams and goals. One of them was a mother, another was about to be. Some were students trying to better their lives through education, and others were already well-educated. One was an American citizen by birth looking to explore her family's Irish history, while the others were all born in Ireland.
All had people who loved them. And all deserve justice and answers for that happened to them.
I'm over 1/3 Irish, and most of the rest of me is from the English Isles, as well, so my family's history is steeped in Ireland and the area around it. I've always wanted to visit this magnificent country. It's a place of ancient mysteries, magic, and such a rich history, how could I resist? From the Giant's Causeway in Antrim to the Guinness brewery in Dublin, I want to explore every inch of this beautiful island nation. And I'm not alone. As I mentioned two weeks ago, millions of tourists from all over the world flock to Ireland every year for the same reasons.
I know Ireland is a safe place to travel, but when I go (not if, when), I won't be able to help thinking of these eight women, and may make a point of walking where they did. There's something about putting your feet where a mystery unfolded that feeds my soul in a way that's probably not normal to others, but it works for me.
Memorials have been erected for some of these women, and their families have never given up trying to find them. Their hope for justice will never die, and in that way, neither will their daughters.
If you have any information about the disappearances of ANNIE McCARRICK, EVA BRENNAN, IMELDA KEENAN, JOSEPHINE "JoJo" DULLARD, FIONA PENDER, CIARA BREEN, FIONA SINNOTT, OR DEIRDRE JACOB, please contact the An Gardai Siochana's Crimestoppers in Ireland, dial 011 (US exit code) 353 (Ireland's country code), then 1800-205805.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post. I hope you enjoyed it. If you know of any mysterious cases you'd like to see me profile, comment on this post or send me a message on my Contact page and I’ll investigate.