Title page



Chapter 1: The Unsolved Murder of Lorcan O’Byrne

Chapter 2: The Unsolved Murder of Nancy Smyth

Chapter 3: The Unsolved Murder of Inga-Maria Hauser

Chapter 4: The Unsolved Murder of Brooke Pickard

Chapter 5: The Unsolved Murder of Grace Livingstone

Chapter 6: The Unsolved Murder of Stephen Hughes Connors

Chapter 7: Irish Cold Cases




For Further Information …



About the Author

About Gill & Macmillan


By retired Garda Commissioner Noel Conroy

A Sunday night in October 1981, and an impromptu engagement party is being held in Dublin. As family and friends celebrate with the happy couple, two armed and masked raiders suddenly burst in, shooting the newly engaged man dead. In a matter of seconds a robbery had gone wrong, and an innocent life was taken. I was the Detective Inspector in the District. The phone in my home rang at 11.50 p.m. that night and I remember going out immediately to The Anglers Rest pub in Knockmaroon, the home of the murdered man, Lorcan O’Byrne. Along with a team of detectives, I met with Lorcan’s shock-stricken and devastated family and friends. The scene was preserved immediately. Amid their grief, Lorcan’s loved ones found the strength to answer all our questions, giving important witness statements. Two men wearing balaclavas, one of whom was armed with a shotgun, had burst in the door of the O’Byrne home, which was above their family-run pub. The raiders were looking for the pub takings, but just moments after entering the O’Byrne home the two-man gang had fled empty-handed, having fired one shotgun blast, fatally wounding Lorcan. The gunman had entered a room where close to twenty people were celebrating the engagement of Lorcan and his fiancée Olive. Witnesses described the gunman and his accomplice, and also their distinctive getaway car. In the following hours and days back at Cabra Garda station myself and fellow officers held many case conferences. Descriptions of the suspects were circulated and the suspect transport described—a green Hillman Hunter. Information gleaned from enquiries suggested the suspects were originally from Dublin West.

Within the next few days the sawn-off shotgun used in the murder was recovered. It had been hidden in undergrowth approximately five miles from the scene of the crime. The burnt-out shell of the Hillman Hunter was recovered on the banks of the canal near Monasterevin and the engine found in the canal. One of the culprits was soon charged, and later served a sentence for Lorcan’s killing. However, the man who actually fired the shotgun was not brought to justice, despite our very best efforts. Thirty years later he is the reason that this particular cold case has now been re-opened.

Barry Cummins has researched this case and many other cases of homicide and abduction spanning the past five decades, which he recounts in great detail in this superb book. He brings to the fore the suffering and pain of those left behind, the pain of parents, of siblings, of partners, children and friends of the victims. He highlights that cold-case reviews can bear fruit, particularly where readers of this book may have fragments of information and might now be willing to divulge this information to the right people.

He begins the book with the case of Brian McGrath, aged 43, who disappeared from his home in Westmeath in 1987. After six and a half years a body was found in the garden of his home. Because of the limits of forensics at the time, the body was not identifiable then as that of Brian McGrath, but subsequently in 2008 this body was exhumed and a DNA profile of the body identified it to be that of the missing man. Charges of murder followed and justice was finally brought to bear. Through his description of this harrowing case, Barry Cummins shows us that cold cases re-visited can, and do, bring closure.

Similarly, we remember the case of Kildare woman Phyllis Murphy, who disappeared in Newbridge in December 1979. Her body was found 23 days later in the Wicklow Mountains. Many suspects were interviewed then, including the person eventually charged in 1999 and who was finally convicted in 2002 of Phyllis’s murder. Again Barry shows a cold case revisited with success due to DNA profiling, which was not available in 1979. I personally believe a DNA database for our country to support investigations of this kind would be of enormous benefit.

Barry Cummins includes in this book many unsolved murder cases in Northern Ireland. One chapter examines how a full DNA profile found at the scene of the murder of German student Inga-Maria Hauser is now available to police, which was not the case in 1988 when she was murdered. The PSNI is constantly encouraging anyone with any snippet of information regarding the case to phone, even with what may appear to the caller to be irrelevant information. A phone call could solve this case.

Barry sensitively shows us in this book some of the cases solved and the many others unsolved north and south of the border. One solved case is that of the murder of Lily Smith, strangled in her apartment in Belfast in 1988. It was 23 years later that the culprit was identified due to DNA from bloodstains which had been retained from the time of the murder. Barry outlines the value of re-opening murder cases because of modern forensic science developments.

Barry draws to our attention in this well-researched book the sadness encountered when children are murdered and when children are missing and not found or their bodies are not recovered.

He remembers the missing and murdered in all of Ireland, north and south of the border, during the years of the Troubles. He includes detail of the murders of Gardaí, RUC, Prison and Army personnel in the book.

Barry Cummins undertook an onerous task when he began the immense research which has resulted in this work. The aim of the book is to highlight the plight of many suffering people and also to highlight these heinous crimes. Among the cases which are profiled in detail, the victims include a man looking forward to being married, an elderly widow, a teenage backpacker, a mother of two, a father of four and a 12-year-old boy. Each unsolved murder has left a grieving family still seeking justice. Barry’s work may prompt people who have knowledge that could solve or help to solve these cases to come forward or it may indeed prick the consciences of those responsible to come forward. Some of these criminals are older and possibly wiser now, and may be ridden with guilt. This book may stir them to at least help families and the authorities get answers. Barry outlines the several ways in which this can be done.

The recently revisited cold cases which Barry delves into disturb us. These cases whet our appetites for further information and he renews our interest in new developments. Barry shakes us. He stirs us. He believes that the dead, their living relatives, and the murderers, must not be forgotten. He ensures that these people and the cases connected with them will not be forgotten until their cases are solved. He shows us that nowadays, with new resources for investigation, there is hope that these cold cases will finally be put to rest.

My congratulations and best wishes to Barry Cummins for this important work.

Noel Conroy was a member of An Garda Síochána for 44 years, from 1963 until 2007. He was Garda Commissioner from 2003 until November 2007. One of his last acts as Commissioner was to oversee the establishment of the Garda Serious Crime Review Team, more commonly known as the Cold Case Unit.


The exhumation began at first light. Members of the Garda Cold Case Unit and local detectives from Westmeath stood silently as Brian McGrath’s body was removed from Whitehall Cemetery. It was just after 6 a.m. on Monday 19 May 2008. A small digger began the task of removing topsoil from the plot, which was sited close to a wall. When the digger finished its work, Gardaí completed the task of removing the coffin from the ground. The exhumation was done in dignified silence; it was a momentous moment in terms of a fresh murder investigation, but it was also a time for reflection on what Brian McGrath had suffered all those years before. Those present knew that it couldn’t yet be said beyond all mathematical certainty that the body was indeed the father of four last seen alive 21 years ago. That was the whole point of the exhumation—to establish once and for all the identity of the man whose bones had been found hidden beneath the soil near Brian McGrath’s home at Coole in 1993. People might have long believed the body was Brian’s, but now as part of a cold-case investigation it had to be proven beyond all doubt that the body was Brian’s. The evidence had to stand up in court.

By the time they came to stand at the graveside in Whitehall that morning, cold-case detectives had worked for months re-investigating the suspected murder of 42-year-old Brian McGrath. They had built up a picture of how it was believed Brian had been beaten to death, secretly buried, dug up and burned, and then secretly buried again. It was a most distressing crime, but one which seemed very solvable to the newly established Garda Serious Crime Review Team, or Cold Case Unit as it would become known.

When Gardaí had initially found Brian’s remains near his home in 1993 the body had been secretly resting there since 1987. Forensic science in the early 1990s was nowhere near as advanced as it is today, and the bones recovered in 1993 could not be identified as Brian’s to a mathematical certainty. Gardaí in 1993 had a great deal of information to go on, in what was a major murder enquiry. They only found the body because they were specifically looking for Brian and believed he had been murdered and buried on his land. They had arrested the two suspects, but in the absence of an absolute identification of the human remains, the DDP would not permit charges to be brought. The suspects were released and the body was later buried in 1993 without being formally identified. It was a most complicated, bizarre and violent murder which seemed destined to remain unsolved. Over time the case began to gather dust. And then in late 2007 the Garda Cold Case Unit was formed.

It was a retired detective who alerted cold-case detectives to the unsolved murder of Brian McGrath. John Maunsell had been a detective in the Dublin suburb of Tallaght, and in 1993 had received crucial information about the murder in Westmeath. Maunsell had been involved in a separate successful investigation into the murder of a woman in Dublin, and it was through publicity surrounding his role in that case which led someone to contact him about the murder of Brian McGrath. John Maunsell agreed to meet the person in a pub in Dublin, and they outlined how Brian McGrath had been missing from Westmeath since 1987, and that Brian’s daughter Veronica was very distressed and wanted to tell what she knew.

Veronica met with John Maunsell and his colleague Kevin Tunney and outlined how she had seen her then fiancé Colin Pinder and her own mother beat her father to death. She had seen her mother Vera goad her future son-in-law into attacking Brian without warning sometime in March or April 1987. Veronica had seen her father being beaten with various implements and had seen him being struck by both Colin Pinder and Vera McGrath. Veronica had witnessed the subsequent secret burial of her father in the back garden, she had also seen the body being subsequently placed on a large fire after it had been dug up, and she knew her father’s body had been reburied on land just beside the family home. Detectives Maunsell and Tunney spoke with Gardaí in Westmeath, who carried out a search of the McGrath land and they soon found a body where Veronica said it would be. Colin Pinder had by now returned to his native Liverpool while Veronica’s mother Vera still lived at the family home in Westmeath. Both were interviewed by detectives and a file was sent to the DPP, but word eventually came back that it was impossible to positively identify the body and in those circumstances the DPP was unwilling to press charges.

John Maunsell never forgot the case. While the murder hadn’t happened in his district, he was the Garda who had first received the crucial information, he was the person Veronica McGrath had trusted enough to come forward and make a statement to. Maunsell had been greatly frustrated when no charges had later been brought, and he often thought about Veronica and her late father, who had been denied justice. When he heard about the formation of the Garda Cold Case Unit he quickly picked up the phone and rang one of his former colleagues, Maurice Downey, who was one of the members of the newly formed cold case squad. Maunsell and Downey had known each other from their days in the Central Detective Unit, and Downey listened carefully as Maunsell outlined the history of the unsolved murder which was on his mind.

John Maunsell was convinced that with the right amount of time and resources this was a case which could still be cracked. Soon after speaking with the retired detective, Maurice Downey went and got the full murder file from the Garda archives in Santry. He studied it thoroughly and spoke with his colleagues, including the head of the Cold Case Unit, Detective Superintendent Christy Mangan. They all agreed with John Maunsell’s belief that this was a case that was indeed ‘solvable’. There were prime suspects, there was a crucial witness, a body had been recovered, and advances in forensics might now prove the unlocking of the mystery. The unsolved murder of Brian McGrath became one of the top priorities for the Cold Case Unit. First and foremost they would have to see that the body in Whitehall Cemetery was formally identified.

As plans were made for the exhumation, members of the Cold Case Unit met with Brian McGrath’s three sons, Brian Jnr, Andrew and Edward. In January 2008 the three men permitted Gardaí to take swabs known as buccal swabs from the inside of their mouths. Those swabs gave full DNA profiles of all three men and would allow for a direct comparison with the body at Whitehall Cemetery. It was only the DNA of Brian Snr’s children which would be able to be compared to the as yet unidentified body. Brian had been brought up in State care after being abandoned as a newborn baby in Monaghan in 1944. He never knew his birth parents or whether he had any brothers or sisters.

Now Brian’s own three sons were to provide the DNA which would help to identify their father. The three men had been young children when their father had mysteriously vanished in 1987. In early 2008 they were told that their father’s disappearance and suspected murder was being looked at anew and a major re-investigation was underway.

Detectives knew that once the exhumation began on 19 May the media would soon find out and the whole country would know about the cold-case review. Sometimes Gardaí choose to publicise cases they are re-investigating and other times they like to work away quietly. In Brian McGrath’s case, Gardaí were working behind the scenes on the case for a number of months before it hit the headlines on 19 May.

On 8 May 2008 Inspector Brendan Burke and Sergeant Michael Buckley of the Cold Case Unit met Forensic Anthropologist Laureen Buckley and State Pathologist Marie Cassidy to discuss the plans for the exhumation at the cemetery in Westmeath, and also for a major fresh search of the McGrath family home at Coole nearby. Arrangements were made for a company called Earthsound Associates to carry out a geophysical survey of the field beside the McGrath home to detect any evidence of soil disturbance. The following day Detective Inspector Martin Cadden from Athlone requested an order for the exhumation of the bones of a man from Whitehall Cemetery which had been discovered at Coole in 1993. The request was granted and preparations were made for the operation to begin at first light on Monday 19 May. Within two hours of the exhumation taking place, news of the operation broke on the 8 a.m. RTÉ radio news. Gardaí issued a lengthy press release confirming that detectives were indeed re-investigating the disappearance of Brian McGrath, who was last seen alive in early 1987.

Dr Stephen Clifford of the Forensic Science Laboratory and Dr Marie Cassidy provided crucial work in what would be the first major success for the Garda Cold Case Unit. It was Dr Clifford who positively identified the exhumed bones as being those of Brian McGrath. In order to make a positive match he had first ground down some bone material from the remains to allow DNA to be extracted and captured with a special DNA kit. He had then compared the profile he generated with the samples from the three sons of Brian McGrath. His result was as clear as could be—the probability of the bones being those of Brian McGrath was greater than 99.5%. It was a phenomenal success—DNA technology had advanced to such a degree that bones which had been burned and buried in a field for six years before being buried in a coffin for fifteen years had still been successfully analysed to give a clear match. Forensic science was unveiling the truth about this cold case. Brian McGrath’s wife had consistently claimed he had gone off and abandoned the family and was living in another country. And all that time he was actually lying buried in the field beside his home.

Dr Marie Cassidy studied Brian McGrath’s lower jaw, or mandible. Despite the extensive degradation which Brian’s body had suffered at the hands of his killers, the lower jaw was still almost complete. Dr Cassidy found evidence of a fracture between two right teeth, which separated the bone into two parts. The right half of the jaw bone was unburned and it was clear to the State Pathologist that the fracture to the jaw had happened before the body had been put on a fire by the killers. Marie Cassidy said such significant blunt force to the jaw was consistent with a blow from a blunt object. Such violent trauma could cause death from blood inhalation as a result of a mouth injury, or bleeding into the skull cavity, or a brain injury. Ultimately it would prove impossible to establish what exact form of death Brian McGrath had suffered, but the exhumation allowed not only for his identity to be established, but also for the post-mortem examination to be carried out, which found clear evidence of violence. It all tied in with the account given by his daughter Veronica, who said she had seen her father being beaten to death in a sustained attack. This was no longer an investigation into the discovery of an unidentified male body. This was now very much an investigation into the murder of Brian McGrath.

As they had stood at Whitehall Cemetery, and watched Brian McGrath’s coffin being taken from the ground, detectives knew they had the elements to potentially solve this cold case. They had the forensic and pathology experts who in time would give evidence of identity and cause of death. But they also had that most important element—a witness to the murder, a witness who was prepared to stand up in court and give evidence. Veronica McGrath had first come forward in 1993, seven years after she had witnessed her father’s murder. It would take another sixteen years before she saw her mother jailed for life for murder, and her own former husband jailed for nine years for manslaughter. But Veronica was a determined woman, determined to get justice for her father, determined to see his killers brought to justice.

The other important factor in the Brian McGrath case was that the suspects were still alive. Cold-case detectives knew well that sometimes time catches up with a suspect before Gardaí had a chance to knock on their door. While the Brian McGrath case was the first successful prosecution for the Cold Case Unit, another case might have got in ahead of it if circumstances had been different.

Soon after being set up in late 2007 the Unit began working on the unsolved murder of a woman who was strangled to death with a man’s necktie in the 1980s. The woman’s body lay undiscovered in her home for over two and a half months. A man quickly emerged as the prime suspect—he had fled the country and gone to the United States. It was believed he had later gone to Mexico, Portugal and then to England but had never returned to Ireland. On 7 November 2007 the Cold Case Unit under Detective Superintendent Christy Mangan was commissioned by an Assistant Commissioner to review this case and they began an international search for the man. Detective Garda David O’Brien was appointed the Family Liaison Officer, and Detective Garda Padraig Hanly was appointed Exhibits Officer for the fresh review of this unsolved murder. Within a short time the Cold Case Unit had found their man; they learned he had been living in England under his real name for many years. Now that they had an address for the man they began making plans to travel and speak with him, and they liaised with the local English constabulary. However, the initial excitement at finding the suspect’s address was short-lived when it was confirmed by English authorities that the man had actually died of natural causes on 16 September 2007, shortly before the Cold Case Unit was set up.

By July 2010, when a jury found Vera McGrath guilty of murder and Colin Pinder guilty of manslaughter, there was much public interest in the work of the Garda Cold Case Unit. The murder trial had put the spotlight on the work of a dozen detectives based at Harcourt Square. While their work involved close co-operation with regional detectives, it was the cold-case team which was catching the public’s imagination, the idea that a group of Gardaí spent their entire working day trying to solve murders going back as far as the 1980s. The Unit welcomed some publicity, seeing the media as a means to publicise their work, and to make appeals for people with information about unsolved murders to come forward and ease their consciences. The cold-case investigation into the murder of Brian McGrath put the Cold Case Unit firmly on the map. It led to the successful prosecution of two killers and it brought some solace to Brian’s grieving daughter and his three sons. There was huge potential for solving historic murders if the right elements were in place.

When the Cold Case Unit was launched in October 2007, many observers remembered the successful cold-case investigation in the late 1990s which had led to the capture of John Crerar, who had abducted and murdered a young woman, Phyllis Murphy, in Co. Kildare in December 1979. Phyllis vanished in Droichead Nua as she walked towards a bus-stop; her body was later found hidden in the Wicklow Gap. For 23 years John Crerar had evaded justice, and it was only when Detective Inspector Brendan McArdle of the Garda Technical Bureau organised for blood samples that had been taken back at the time of the murder to be re-analysed that a full DNA profile of Crerar was matched to the semen found on Phyllis’s body. Two Gardaí, Christy Sheridan and Finbarr McPaul, had safely maintained the blood samples in their lockers from 1979 until Detective McArdle began his work in 1998. When a jury later found John Crerar guilty of murder in November 2002, this successfully solved ‘cold case’ became a perfect example of how advances in forensic science could unmask the identity of a killer many decades after the crime. It had also shown that when confronted by Gardaí in 1999, the man who had given Crerar a false alibi twenty years previously had immediately told the truth. The man had never suspected he had given a false alibi for a murderer, he had merely thought he had been covering for a work colleague by telling a ‘white lie’ to say the man had arrived at work on time on an evening in 1979. The detail of the Phyllis Murphy case was clear evidence that people carry secrets, and sometimes don’t even realise the significance of those secrets. By the time the Garda Cold Case Unit was established five years after John Crerar was convicted, detectives had long known that when the dynamics were right, historic murders were very solvable.

As they prepared to begin examining over 200 unsolved murders which had occurred since 1980, the Garda Serious Crime Review Team met with cold-case detectives from other jurisdictions. They studied the workings of American police forces, and cold-case police officers from Scotland, England and Wales, among others. They also began to liaise closely with the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Authorities in the North had been to the fore in proactively re-investigating unsolved murders from the 1960s, 70s, 80s and 90s. Central to the work of rebuilding Northern Ireland in more peaceful times has been the Historical Inquiries Team, which is tasked with investigating 3,269 deaths attributable to ‘the Troubles’ between 1968 and 1998. A number of retired police officers from other jurisdictions are involved in this work too. The PNSI is also actively re-investigating cold-case murders which are not linked to the Troubles. In more peaceful times and with cross-community confidence in the police service, detectives have made significant breakthroughs in a number of unsolved murders in Northern Ireland, and hope to have more successes. One of the most troubling unsolved murders was that of 18-year-old German backpacker Inga-Maria Hauser, who was murdered in Co. Antrim shortly after she got off a ferry from Scotland in 1988. The case had stalled and eventually hit a brick wall, and then in 2005 a full DNA profile from the crime scene was established and the search is now very much on for that man.

In the Republic, among the many cases the Garda Cold Case Unit would eventually take on were the murder of 56-year-old Grace Livingstone, who was shot dead in her home in Malahide in north Co. Dublin in 1992; the sinister disappearance of Englishman Brooke Pickard in Co. Kerry in 1991; the murder of Nancy Smyth, whose killer tried to hide his crime by setting a fire in Nancy’s home in Kilkenny in 1987; and the shooting dead of Lorcan O’Byrne, who was celebrating his engagement when armed robbers burst into his family home in Dublin in 1981.

The Garda Cold Case Unit established a liaison with Dr Martina McBride at the State’s Forensic Science Laboratory in the Phoenix Park. Much of the work of the Unit would be the tracing of original crime scene materials for forensic re-examination. They also arranged to avail of various profilers and crime scene interpreters who might study original crime photographs or visit a crime scene and give insights into what might have been going through a killer’s mind. Poring over the original case files would be crucial to establishing which witnesses might still be alive and available. A number of families of murder victims were by now actively seeking out the Cold Case Unit. Some people were calling directly to their offices at Harcourt Square in Dublin. Gardaí knew they had to manage the expectations of people; there were certainly some cases which they might be able to progress, but there would be many that despite their best efforts would probably remain unsolved.

When it was launched in October 2007, the Cold Case Unit said it was initially going to examine 207 unsolved murders which had occurred since 1980. The year 1980 was chosen simply because they had to start somewhere. The Brian McGrath case was the first success for the Cold Case Unit, so it might have been thought this would reduce the number of unsolved murders to 206. But such figures are only ever a guide to a situation which is impossible to accurately quantify. For example, what about the cases of missing people where it was quite possible the person had been murdered and their body hidden? What about murders which had never been recognised as such—unexplained deaths where no crime was ever detected but where one couldn’t be ruled out? What about more recent murders which have occurred since 2007 and which have not been solved, and which in time will come under the remit of the Cold Case Unit? The only certainty is that there are hundreds of unsolved murders, hundreds of families seeking justice, hundreds of killers who have quite literally got away with murder. Every killer has a family, has friends, has a social network, perhaps has work colleagues. The more you look at the scale of Irish cold cases, the more you realise there are potentially thousands of people on this island who have direct information or strong suspicions about the identity of killers who have evaded justice for far too long.

Lorcan O’Byrne and his fiancée were celebrating their engagement with Lorcan’s family and friends when he was fatally shot by an armed raider who burst into the O’Byrne family home at around 11.30 p.m. on Sunday 11 October 1981. The O’Byrne home was directly above the pub they ran—The Anglers Rest—at Knockmaroon, close to Dublin’s Phoenix Park. The two raiders who forced their way into the building were after the pub takings. It’s quite likely they didn’t expect to find over twenty people in the O’Byrne home when they broke in. As well as Lorcan and his fiancée Olive, Lorcan’s parents and two brothers and two sisters were there, and some friends and fellow workers. Lorcan was 25 years old and was a bar manager at the family pub. His parents were planning to retire and let their eldest child take over the business. Lorcan and Olive had been going out for around three years and had only that evening announced that they were getting married. Everyone was absolutely thrilled. Olive was from the country and had been living and working in Dublin for a few years. She was already part of the family. When the couple announced their engagement that Sunday evening, an impromptu party was organised for later that night. Lorcan’s mother made sandwiches and once they got the pub closed early, the family and a number of friends all adjourned upstairs to the sitting room at the back of the building. Lorcan and Olive were sitting on a couch and people were sitting and standing around the room. Lorcan’s brother Ger was down at the stereo on the ground and was acting as the DJ. Everyone was chatting and toasting the bride and groom to be. Lorcan’s parents Bernie and Lar were there, and his sister Anne and his youngest sister Dorothy, who was just 15 years old. There was a wonderful happy and excited atmosphere in the packed room. The chat was all about Lorcan and Olive getting married. And then, from nowhere, a masked man suddenly burst through the sitting room door brandishing a shotgun.

Meeting Lorcan’s brothers Ger and Niall three decades on, it is the first time they have spoken with a journalist, and the loss of their brother is clear. What is particularly upsetting about Lorcan’s brutal killing is that his fiancée Olive and his parents and two sisters all saw it happen. Niall O’Byrne didn’t see his brother being fatally wounded because he himself was being attacked elsewhere in the house by the second raider, who had forced his way in the front door. But Ger was in the sitting room. He saw it all. “I was down on my hands and knees at the stereo changing an album,” he recalls vividly.

Lorcan was sitting on the right-hand side as you come in the door, and Olive was sitting beside him. There were between fifteen and twenty people in the room. There was music on, not too loud. It happened so fast. My back was to the door and I heard shouting and roaring and I looked up and I saw someone with a balaclava on and holding a shotgun and roaring at us. I couldn’t make out what they were saying. Lorcan stood up to see what was going on. He had his back to the door and as he turned around the shotgun went off and there was a big flash and a cloud of smoke everywhere and Lorcan fell to the ground. Then I could see blood everywhere.

The attack seemed so surreal, so unreal, that for a split-second some people thought it was some type of prank. But once they saw Lorcan on the ground the horror hit home. Just moments earlier everyone had been celebrating, chatting, laughing. Now Lorcan was lying on the ground having taken the full blast of the shotgun in the chest. Olive was by his side. Everyone started screaming. Ger and one or two others were the first to react and they grappled with the barrel of the gun as the masked man started to back out of the room.

We were trying to get the shotgun from him. He was very fit and very strong. I clearly remember he was pulling backwards trying to get out of the room. Once the shot went off he was trying to get out of the room as quickly as possible. We were pulling the barrel of the shotgun and we didn’t know if he had a second cartridge in it. Someone tried to catch him in the door but he got out the door, but the shotgun was caught in the jamb of the door. I still remember pulling the barrel as the gun went up and down in the jamb of the doorframe. And then he was gone. And Lorcan was lying there.

What is particularly galling for the O’Byrne family is that, although the gunman’s accomplice was later caught and jailed for six years, the man who fired the shotgun, the man who took one life and tore so many other lives apart, is still free. While the accomplice confessed to his part in the attempted robbery and killing, the man who brought a loaded shotgun to the scene, and who fired it directly at Lorcan, never owned up. The fact that one other person had been brought to justice meant very little to the O’Byrne family. That person wasn’t the person who fired point-blank at Lorcan, he wasn’t the person who took away the life of a son, brother, and fiancé. When the Garda Cold Case Unit was set up in late 2007, the O’Byrne family contacted the Garda Commissioner and asked that Lorcan’s case be re-investigated. The family believed there was enough evidence to warrant a full review of the case. The Cold Case Unit examines historic murder files, looking for angles that might benefit from a fresh analysis. This includes considering advances in forensic science which can link a killer to a crime scene, and revisiting witnesses who may be able to shed new light. There might also be witnesses who hadn’t come forward before. The murder of Lorcan O’Byrne seemed like a case of an attempted robbery which had spiralled rapidly into murder. Detectives believed it was very likely the killing had been spoken about at length in the criminal world. The more it was spoken about, the more new witnesses might come forward. And there was already a lot to go on. Cold-case detectives read in the file that the murder weapon had been located, the getaway car had been found, and one of the two members of the gang had been successfully prosecuted back in the early 80s. Gardaí took time to study the file in detail and then came back to the O’Byrnes saying yes, they would indeed carry out a full cold-case review to try and catch the man who shot Lorcan O’Byrne.

The other member of the two-man gang which broke into The Anglers Rest that night in October 1981 was John Meredith, a 32-year-old criminal from Ballyfermot who at the time was living at Sillogue Road in Ballymun. Meredith’s role that night was very violent, but he didn’t carry the loaded shotgun; instead he used his hands to drag Niall O’Byrne by the hair through a number of rooms apparently in a search for the pub’s cash box. Meanwhile Meredith’s accomplice, who had entered the front door first, had gone on ahead to the sitting room where he shot Lorcan. The two raiders fled the scene empty-handed but the massive Garda investigation which followed saw John Meredith being identified as a suspect within days. Less than two weeks after the murder of Lorcan O’Byrne, Meredith was charged with the crime. In February 1982, just four months after the killing, Meredith pleaded guilty to manslaughter and this plea was accepted by the State. He was jailed for six years, and in later life he wrote to the O’Byrne family seeking forgiveness for his part in the killing. The O’Byrne family did not respond to his letters; they wanted nothing to do with him. In late 2007 John Meredith took his own life.

From the admissions of John Meredith about his own part in the raid, and the recovery of the murder weapon and the getaway vehicle, Gardaí had a good deal of information from very early on in the case. It would seem that while the attempted robbery had been ill-thought-out on the night in question, some degree of planning had gone into targeting the pub’s takings. Meredith and his accomplice had been watching the O’Byrnes. It’s most likely both men had been in the pub in previous weeks under the guise of being customers, but were secretly watching the movement of cash, and watching the movement of Bernie and Lar O’Byrne and the bar staff. Certainly Meredith would later tell Gardaí that he had watched Bernie O’Byrne bring cash to a bank in Ballyfermot and he knew that she drove a Renault. He and his accomplice had discussed trying to snatch the cash another time that Bernie might be walking from the pub to her car to make the journey to the bank.

Monday was normally the day that Bernie and Lar would go to the bank with the pub takings. They usually went to the Bank of Ireland on Camden Street, but would also sometimes go to the Ulster Bank in Walkinstown, and to a bank in Ballyfermot. Meredith and his partner may have originally intended to hold up the O’Byrnes on the Monday as they went to the bank, but for some reason decided to break into the O’Byrne home instead the night before. When later arrested, Meredith claimed that he and the gunman had hatched a plot about two weeks before the attack to rob the takings of The Anglers Rest. For some reason they decided to strike that Sunday night, but they apparently failed to carry out any surveillance of the pub and living quarters that evening, because until they had actually broken in, they seemed oblivious to the fact that there were around twenty people still inside. And this is despite the fact that there would have been some cars parked outside the premises.

The two gangsters drove to The Anglers Rest in Meredith’s own green Hillman Hunter car. He had bought the car for £400 from someone on Dublin’s southside. Using his own car as the getaway vehicle was not a smart move. When Meredith and his accomplice fled the scene in the Hillman Hunter they drove to Finglas, en route to abandoning the car at Dublin Airport. As they drove in a panic along River Road near Finglas, a Garda attending the scene of a traffic accident saw the car and saw Meredith driving it, and the Garda could clearly see another man in the passenger seat. The officer got a good look at both men. Meredith drove on past the accident scene, but for some reason the Garda fortuitously made a mental note of the car. The shotgun used to murder Lorcan O’Byrne would later be found hidden in a field just a few hundred yards from where the Garda spotted Meredith’s car in Finglas.

Before that terrible night, life at The Anglers Rest had been idyllic for the O’Byrne family. They had been living at and running the premises for over twenty years. Lorcan had been a toddler when the family had bought the pub and moved in. His Dad Lar was in the pub business all his life. Originally from Aughrim in Co. Wicklow, Lar had come to work in Dublin in the 1930s and had worked in many pubs in the city centre.

Lorcan’s mother Bernie was from Dublin’s Liberties. Bernie and Lar had a dream of owning and running their own pub, and in late 1959, early 1960, they set their sights on The Anglers Rest. The couple by now had two children—Lorcan and Anne—and were living near the Navan Road in north Dublin. The Anglers Rest was up for sale and soon after the O’Byrnes viewed it, they bought it. Ger, Niall and Dorothy were all born in the early to mid-1960s, as the family began a long process of turning the pub into a major attraction. “The first couple of years were very tough,” Niall tells me.

Both Mam and Dad were working long hours in the pub, doing it up, and it needed a lot of work. It had a little small bar when they bought it. Upstairs there were about 14 rooms, it was a big rambling house, because it had been a hotel in its early days. Underneath the living area there was a lot of storage space and sheds. Dad gutted all that and ended up with a lounge that held between 250 to 300 people. In the 1960s and into the 70s music was becoming a major part of the pub scene with cabarets and singalongs. Mam and Dad built up a reputation that ‘The Anglers’ had a bar and a big lounge with music and a singalong.

The premises itself was close to 200 years old and had once been a coach stop and hotel. In decades gone by, people heading between Dublin and the West by horse would stop at ‘The Anglers’ for a break. The pub was in a quiet location close to the top of Knockmaroon Hill, near the western wall of the Phoenix Park. The pub was just a few miles north of Ballyfermot, Palmerston and Chapelizod. The O’Byrne family turned ‘The Anglers’ into a major success. Its exterior was characterised by whitewashed walls and neat window boxes. With just a few cottages along the quiet road which overlooked greenery many hundred feet below, ‘The Anglers’ was a little piece of the countryside on the outskirts of Dublin city. “People came from Ballyfermot and beyond, Finglas and Cabra, to drink at ‘The Anglers’, it was a little oasis for them,” explains Ger O’Byrne. “It was set out on its own, and ‘The Anglers’ became a place where whole families came, your Granny came with you and the kids came with you. You knew everybody and they all had their favourite seats.”

For the O’Byrne children, there was no better place to grow up. “The whole area at the time, the best way to describe it is like the Dublin version of Walton’s Mountain,” says Niall. “It was like you went back in time, it was the place that time forgot. From aged four or five we were all running around the bar. We grew up with most of the people in the pub, they knew us. From about the age of ten we were sorting bottles in the morning and hoovering the lounge at weekends.”

When I interviewed Niall and Ger thirty years after their brother’s murder, we visited The Anglers Rest together. They showed me the door through which the two attackers had burst into what was then their home. The O’Byrne family left in 1984, just three years after Lorcan’s murder. They simply couldn’t stay where their son, their brother, had been shot down in such a random and callous manner before their very eyes. Newspapers at the time of the murder referred to the crime as having taken place in the pub itself. While the two raiders were indeed after the pub takings, they never entered the pub premises; they violated the O’Byrne home upstairs. Eventually the family couldn’t bear to stay. The Anglers Rest was sold and the family left the pub trade altogether.

John Meredith and his armed colleague wore balaclavas as they approached The Anglers Rest. It was around 11.30 p.m. on Sunday 11 October 1981. They had spent the earlier part of the evening at a pub on Dublin’s southside. They had been in the company of a couple and another man, but sometime around 10.30 p.m. Meredith and his fellow criminal left the other three and drove from the Dublin 4 area to Finglas, where they got a shotgun which was hidden in a hedge on River Road. They then drove to The Anglers Rest by going around the Phoenix Park via the North Circular Road, Conyngham Road and Chapelizod and then driving up Knockmaroon Hill.

They parked Meredith’s car close to the pub and walked up the concrete steps at the side of the premises to enter the upstairs living quarters. The criminals had prepared balaclavas by tearing off the arms of a jumper which they took from the backseat, and they used a pen knife to make slits for their eyes. Meredith later told detectives that soon after parking the car outside The Anglers Rest, a yard light had come on which lit up the car park and two people walked by and he had quickly pulled off the balaclava. By the time he was putting it back on and getting out of the car his accomplice was already out of the car and, armed with the shotgun, heading for the concrete stairs at the side of the premises.

They walked quickly across the veranda to the front door at the side of the building. The two-man gang knew they were entering a home, they knew the pub was the downstairs part of the building, and the upstairs was a private dwelling. Perhaps they had been watching the patrons leaving the pub. Maybe they had seen the front door of the pub itself being shut. Perhaps they thought they would just find the O’Byrne family still inside the building upstairs. As the two attackers approached the front door of the O’Byrne family home, Meredith’s accomplice was in front, carrying a loaded double-barrel shotgun.

Even today, Niall O’Byrne’s recollection of that night is chilling. He relives it often. Niall was on the inside of that front door when Meredith and the gunman burst in. He was only 17 when his brother was murdered.