Johnnie Fox’s is a landmark.
It’s a pub which has become a tourist magnet in the Republic of Ireland, where people flock to listen to live music and taste Irish cuisine.
It is situated near the summit of the Wicklow Mountains and is therefore Ireland’s “highest pub” but that was not why I found myself making my way into Johnnie Fox’s last week.
Like a dark tourist, I was using the pub as a starting point before heading out to the mountains to look for Ireland’s “ missing women ” in the “Wicklow Triangle” – also called the “Vanishing Triangle”.
Starting with the case of US-born Annie McCarrick, who vanished while living in Dublin in March 1993, at least seven other women disappeared in this area between then and 1998.
Annie was reportedly last seen by a doorman at Johnnie Fox’s accompanied by a young man in a wax jacket, although no one has ever identified this suspect and, over the years, the sighting has been disputed.
Nevertheless, this reported connection between Annie and the pub has become the basis for the dark tourism attached to it and why it is a jumping off point for many people to consider the cases of the seven other women – Jo Jo Dullard, Fiona Pender, Fiona Sinnott, Ciara Breen, Deidre Jacob, Eva Brennan and Imelda Keenan – who all vanished in the area.
The Gardai police set up Operation Trace in 1998 to consider whether the cases were linked and if what had happened to the women might have been the work of a serial killer.
That possible explanation was given credence when a businesswoman
from Carlow – within the area of the “Wicklow Triangle” – was abducted in February 2000 in the town’s car park, forced into the boot of a car and driven to an isolated spot nine miles away.
She was raped and then forced back into the boot to Spinans Cross in the Wicklow Mountains, where she was raped again.
The woman fought back and so her assailant put a bag over her head in an attempt to suffocate her – all the time digging what appeared to be a grave where he would have buried her.
As luck would have it, two “hunters” appeared – this was the police’s description although they were
undoubtedly poachers – and the rapist fled. But the attacker was known them and Larry Murphy was arrested.
Murphy was sentenced to 15 years and released in August 2010, after serving only 10 years.
During his time in jail he refused to participate in treatment programmes and is reported to have said about his victim, “Well, she’s alive, isn’t she?” and, “She was lucky”. Unsurprisingly, his release caused a public outcry.
On his release, he first moved to Spain, then to Amsterdam and, as far as I am aware, is currently living in London, where he works as a carpenter.
I can’t prove the cases of all the women who vanished in the Wicklow Mountains between 1993 and 1998 are linked and there do, at first glance, seem to be differences in the circumstances in which they went missing.
Nor can I say for certain they are likely to have met their end at the hands of the same perpetrator. To do so we would need to find their bodies and harness forensic evidence.
However, after sitting in Johnnie Fox’s, what I can now say, much more confidently, is that I know of no other case where so many women disappeared in a such a small area and over so short a time frame – disappearances which suddenly stopped – and that even now if we were able to find just one of their bodies, we might be able to unlock the mystery and get justice for their families.
●David Wilson’s Crime Files is on BBC Scotland on Sundays at 10.30pm. You can hear David and Emilia Fox on the true crime podcast If it Bleeds, It Leads.