Ireland gripped by frenzy over freed 'Beast of Baltinglass'

The release of convicted rapist Larry Murphy has refocused attention on the disappearance of six women in the 1990s
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The Independent Online

He has has been called the "Beast of Baltinglass" and described as the biggest single threat to the lives and safety of young women in the Republic of Ireland.

Larry Murphy a convicted rapist and attempted murderer, pleaded guilty to the rape of a woman whose life was saved only by the chance arrival of passers-by. Now he has walked free from a Dublin prison.

But the belief is that he is a particularly dangerous man since for a decade he has refused to answer all questions about the mysterious disappearances of other young women from his part of the country. This means the public, and many police officers, view him as the prime suspect for a string of presumed murders.

And because the 45-year-old carpenter has served 10 years of his 15-year sentence he is now legally at large. Police have responded to a wave of fear and anger by issuing assurances that they are watching him carefully.

The case has given rise to almost frenzied coverage in some sections of the Irish media, with widespread public concern about where he will now live. One of his first acts after his release was to visit a police station, apparently to lodge a complaint about newspaper coverage.

His release has generated protests including a heated meeting near his home village, and the gathering at a Dublin home for released prisoners of a 200-strong crowd who wrongly believed he was inside.

The public sense of menace was increased by the manner of his departure from jail. He strode purposefully from Dublin's Arbour Hill prison on Thursday, a healthy-looking figure wearing a baseball cap and dark glasses, ignoring cameramen and reporters as he entered a waiting taxi.

As he was driven away, spectators shouted words such as "rapist", "beast" and "bastard", and worse at him. One woman said: "I can't believe how cool and casual he was as he walked out. I can't believe a taxi took him away. I just hope they throw him in the Liffey."

From Baltinglass in Co Wicklow, Murphy is the subject of a book entitled The Beast of Baltinglass. He pleaded guilty at his trial but has never apologised or expressed remorse for his crimes. In prison he refused the counselling which is offered to sex offenders.

His apparent lack of emotion has helped build a public persona of an unfeeling monster who could strike again. His wife and family have disowned him, his brother Tom declaring: "All I can say is that I will not be having him here."

Murphy was jailed after he abducted a young businesswoman in 2000, subjected her to a terrifying ordeal which lasted for hours and included repeated rapes and an attempt to suffocate her. He admitted both rape and attempted murder.

The incident showed features of premeditation and planning which have added to the belief that this may not have been his first attack.

The question is whether he was also connected to the disappearances of six young women between 1993 and 1998 – mysteries which gripped Ireland at the time, and which have never been solved. A police "cold-case" investigation called Operation Trace reviewed the disappearances of the women, Fiona Sinnott, Deirdre Jacob, Jo Jo Dullard, Ciara Breen, Annie McCarrick and Fiona Pender.

Murphy was interviewed and police found no specific evidence linking him to the cases. But the disappearances stopped when he was arrested. In a television interview last month, Tom Murphy said that he had suspicions his brother was responsible.

"There's nobody gone missing since and I find it difficult now to believe that he wasn't involved," he said.

This point was echoed by a retired detective superintendent, P J Browne, who said: "Police interviewed Larry Murphy and he failed to co-operate. The question I would ask is why the disappearances stopped when Larry Murphy went to prison".

Police Sergeant Seamus Rothwell of Newbridge police station said of the disappearance of 18-year-old Deirdre Jacob near the town in 1998: "Larry Murphy could have been working in Newbridge at the time but it has never been proved that he was.

"We are not sure where he was that day – we are keeping an open mind."

Tensions have been raised by internet postings claiming that Murphy has been spotted in various locations around Dublin. Police have been at pains to indicate they know exactly where he is, classing him as a high-risk offender.

They said a management plan was in place to monitor his movements and his whereabouts. He must formally register an address with them within seven days and must be in contact with an officer at least once a month.

More stringent measures have been put in place in recent years for the management of more than a thousand sex offenders in the Irish Republic, but they do not apply to Murphy since he was imprisoned before their introduction.

A local councillor who addressed a protest meeting said: "There's a lot of fear, a lot of people scared. No one wants to see an individual like that landing in their community."

The Justice Minister, Dermot Ahern, rejected suggestions that he could interfere in the decision to release Murphy, who was granted the normal 25 per cent remission for good behaviour. Any suggestion that he could change a sentence was "absolute nonsense", he said.

An opposition spokesman, Charlie Flanagan, retorted: "It is intolerable that a convicted rapist such as Larry Murphy can be released having served only 10 years of a 15-year prison sentence for the savage rape and attempted murder of a woman.

"Remission is tied into the process of rehabilitation, but in this case all and any attempts at rehabilitation were dismissed."