Here in Ireland, we don’t have the same tradition of serial murder that America and England boast. Our murders have always reflected our culture: back in the days of the Eucharistic Congress, people murdered family members so that the farm would fall into their hands. During the nineties and early 2000s, gangland wars left Dublin a bloody, grieving mess. But whether ’twas for a patch of muddy earth or a shipment of C-grade cocaine, Irish murders have always been grounded in the concerns and trifles of the physical world. Up until now, they made a twisted kind of sense.
The woman you see before you did not die because she owned a farm, and she certainly wasn’t a drug lord. Her death was violent, and did not take place in any context Irish culture could recognise. She was killed to satisfy a monstrous, selfish urge, and it was as gruesome as though she’d been eaten alive by feral dogs. And here’s the thing: her killer almost got away with it.
The Dublin mountains are beautiful, and a blot on our nation. Their closeness to the ugly gangland hub of the city, coupled with their remote location, make them a popular burial ground for murder victims. Once found, the bodies are often too decomposed for any evidence to be found. There are killers all over Ireland who drink alone in pubs, their minds far away on those gentle peaks.
On the thirteenth of September, 2013-it was a Friday-a dogwalker was rambling with their animal on Killikee Mountain. The dog bounded away from its owner to worry at something they found in the grass. The owner might have pulled them away from the old bones without a second thought, if those relics hadn’t been wearing tracksuit pants and runners. The remains, which had been worried at by so many creatures that thirty-five percent of the skeleton was missing, belonged to childcare worker Elaine O’Hara. She had been missing since 2012. She was thirty-six years old, and had considerable psychiatric difficulties. Her family believed that she had thrown herself into the sea. Yet there she was, quietly decomposing on Killikee mountain, too rotten for fingerprints or foreign DNA to be found. It looked like any other perfect Irish murder, the cud-bitter end to a story that no-one would ever hear. But God was being kind to us all on that luckless Friday. It was only the beginning.
Near to where Elaine was found, there lies a resevoir. Ireland is a temperate country, a sentence which in this context means that we are saturated. Soaked. We are like the halls of Castamere-the rains weep o’er us, continually and without end. Our fingers shrivel and crimp, and all the country smells like wet human. But our good summers are worth all that.
2013 was a great summer. The sun was so hot, it dried up the resevoir to the point where the detritus lying on the bottom was exposed. Some of the rubbish found belonged to Elaine O’Hara. A garda* waded into that resevoir on the sixteenth of September and pulled out Elaine’s life: her house keys, a Dunnes Stores loyalty card*, her inhaler, and several items related to BDSM. He brought these to the attention of his superiors, and shortly after returned to make the area off as a crime scene. The ball was rolling. The killer didn’t know it yet, but they were already doomed. Their life ended when, a day later, a pair of Nokia phones were fished out of the water.
Who was Elaine O’Hara? By all accounts, she was a very unhappy and lonely woman. A gentle soul, she loved children and worked with them professionally. She was very attached to her parents, and the loss of her mother when she was in her twenties shook her badly. Although her psychological difficulties were, in hindsight, immense, she bore them with the fortitude of a Viking. She was childlike-a psychiatrist placed her emotional development at fifteen-and yet had an uncanny ability to shock grown adults, even after her death, with the details of her private life. She had sexual proclivities which were frightening and extreme in nature, rooted in fantasies of self-harm and violence she had experienced as an adolescent.
Considering her naïve nature, she got on rather well-she met a couple of men on fetish websites, took them over to her apartment, had a few coffees, decided mutually that they had nothing in common, and they would break off contact. Elaine was not a sex-mad degenerate; she was an ordinary woman trying to navigate her desires, and her attempts were as awkward and futile as anyone else’s. She was by no means happy, but she was doing okay. Her life was on track. In 2007, she met a man on the Internet who seemed to share her interests. His name was Graham Dwyer, and his most cherished sexual fantasy was stabbing a woman to death. On the twenty-second of August, 2012, his wish came true. It was granted to him unwillingly, on a lonely mountain where no-one could hear the screaming.
The two phones pulled from the resevoir turned out to have one number each. They were used like walkie-talkies, if you will. They had been bought by Dwyer-one for himself and one for Elaine. In court, they were called the “Master” and “Slave” phones, respectively. He believed them to be untraceable. He was very, very wrong. The phones had been used to exchange a number of texts, the bulk of which were read out in court. They revealed a relationship built on coercion, sadomasochism, and manipulation.
Dwyer knew that Elaine was given to depression and self-harming, and he took full advantage of it. One of two promises he made her throughout was death at his own hand. In 2009, when Elaine was at her worst mentally, she took him up on his offer. Dwyer wasn’t ready then, though. You can’t just off someone and expect to get away with it. He tried to get her to help him to kill other women-a real estate agent he knew, for example-but Elaine held firm.
Dwyer tried to wheedle her with his other trump card-if she consented to murder, he would concieve a baby with her. Elaine badly wanted a child of her own, but she still didn’t waver. She had a deceptive docility when it came to her own welfare, but when it came to the lives of others, she was as strong-willed as an angel of God. They went back and forth over the years. Dwyer cowed and threatened Elaine. He regaled her with tales of his exploits, such as when he stabbed the corpse of a sheep that he’d found at his model aeroplane club. He took a sick and evident pleasure in reminding her that she was “slave meat”. He terrified her, and she broke it off with him once, but he enticed her back.
Elaine was admitted to a psychiatric hospital during July of 2012, probably because of the immense strain the relationship with Dwyer caused her. She was brought in when she phoned the hospital to say that she had fashioned a noose to hang herself with. On the twentieth of August-soon before she was due to be discharged-Elaine recieved a text from Dwyer. It read: “You must be punished for trying to kill yourself without me.”
They found him guilty, of course-that goes without saying. He was convicted in the early months of this year. As I write this, Graham Dwyer languishes in a maximum-security Irish prison, and he will not leave it for the rest of his life. He will die there, and the flies that buzz around the flourescent strips will eat his eyes. He will leave this life with the institutional stink of mashed potatoes and bleach in his nostrils. I will not deny that the thought makes me happy. Elaine O’Hara’s reputation has been torn to shreds. Her life-story is now a cheap pulp novel, flipped through by hundreds of grimy Irish thumbs. It had to be done, of course-her browser history was State evidence. Her private texts brought her killer to justice. But even so, it was a monstrous thing. if you believe in any sort of God, pray for her. Let us be careful of ourselves, for she has shown us the consequences of believing yourself to be worthless. I will leave you now with an image of Elaine on her last day alive-witnessed by a passerby, inconsolate at her mother’s grave. She was “crying very loud”, according to the witness. Her last few hours of life were spent alone and frightened.
Elaine O’Hara, may you rest in peace.
*-Garda: a member of the Irish police force, an Garda Síochána.
*-Dunnes Stores: a chain of grocery/textile stores common in Ireland and the UK. Not unlike Walmart.