Post by Joanna on Jun 10, 2016 23:36:43 GMT -5
Murder in the O'Leary Family
COUNTY CORK, Ireland – On March 10th, 1924, a farmer named Michael Walsh was walking through a field in Kilkerran near Clonakilty when he made a shocking discovery. Under a bush lay a sack which appeared to contain parts of a dismembered human corpse. A severed head lay some yards away.
Walsh reported the find to the gardaí and was so badly affected by the horrific sight that he spent time in a mental hospital. Eight pieces of the body lay scattered around the immediate area AND some were thrown into a river.
The Gardaí were soon made aware of a farmer from the locality, Patrick O’Leary, 40, who had last been seen February 25. They found Cornelius “Con” O’Leary, 37, brother of the missing man, in a pub in Milltown. The gardaí accompanied him to the field and showed him the remains. Cornelius seemed surprisingly unperturbed by the grisly sight but identified the body of his brother, saying, “Yes, this is Pat.”
A few minutes later, he looked again and added, “I do not know whose head it is.” The gardaí reminded him the had just identified the head as his brother’s. “Oh, I am innocent,” he replied. “My hands are clean.’ He advised police he had not taken part in any murder. The gardaí had not accused him of anything, so their suspicions were immediately aroused at this unusual reaction.
There would be precious little clarity from other members of the O’Leary family. Hannah and Mary-Anne were asked to identify the head of their brother which the gardaí laid out on the table in front of them. Both women seemed disinterested, claiming never to have laid eyes on that person before. They were urged to look again and after several minutes Mary-Anne, 41, eventually admitted it was her brother. Hannah, 38, followed suit.
At the wake the following evening, a members of a large crowd of mourners were appalled to see various body parts of Patrick’s dismembered corpse strewn about in an open coffin. When informed people were suspicious, Cornelius O’Leary shrugged and said, “I’ll go to heaven, anyway.”
One Garda remarked to Hannah, who was known locally as a surly, bad-tempered woman, that it was a terrible case. She nonchalantly answered, “Wisha, it can’t be helped.”
A day later, the O’Leary watchdog was observed running past the house carrying a human arm stripped of flesh in its mouth.
The lack of grief exhibited by the family shocked the community and the gardaí quickly began researching the background of the eccentric O’Leary household. It had not been a happy home. The father of the family, Patrick, had died in 1921 at age 80. He had eight children, one of whom had died. Three others had moved away, leaving Con and Patrick on the farm with their two sisters. Unsurprisingly, the elder chose to leave the 40-acre farm to his widow on his death with instructions it would pass to Patrick, the elder son, following his mother’s death. For some reason, Con, the younger brother, chose not to work at home, laboring instead for William Travers, a local farmer. Patrick was not happy with the situation and in August 1922, complained to Travers. In turn, Travers told Con about this confrontation and Con replied that he would not work for his brother as he would not get paid. The two brothers did not have a good relationship and had not spoken for several years prior to their father’s death.
Mary-Anne also worked and lodged away from home, leaving Patrick to manage the farm, with Hannah and his mother in charge of the house.
Patrick was considered somewhat strange. For example, he refused to sleep in the house because he had to share a bed with his brother. Things came to a head shortly before Patrick’s disappearance, when it was rumored that he had sold cattle at a local fair, but failed to inform his family members of the transaction.
Patrick was missing for almost 10 days before the body parts were discovered, yet not one member of the family had alerted the authorities. Con told the gardaí he had not mentioned it because Patrick often went away, so he didn’t take any notice of his absence. Mary-Anne claimed she expected Patrick to write any day, although later she admitted her brother was illiterate.
A bloodstained fork was found in the loft and there were traces of blood visible in several places, including the walls and on some potatoes in the loft. The gardaí believed they had sufficient evidence to declare a murder had occurred and that it had been committed by a member of the O’Leary family. However, none of the O’Learys would admit to anything. For this reason all four members of the household were arrested, including the elderly mother, Mrs. Hannah O’Leary, and all four were charged with having murdered Patrick O’Leary at some time between February 26 and March 7.
The O’Leary story would soon become the most closely followed murder trial in the history of the new state. The trial was fixed for Green Street in Dublin June 24, 1925. Mary-Anne O’Leary had died of natural causes while in custody and the state’s charge against Mrs. O’Leary was withdrawn due to lack of evidence, leaving Con and Hannah to face the court on the murder charge. They were tried jointly with both pleading not guilty. Con showed a keen interest in the proceedings while Hannah mostly sat with her head bowed, seldom looking up.
The defense argued there was no evidence and no bloodstains had been found on any clothing belonging to the accused pair. There was no way the court could know which member of the O’Leary family committed the crime, if any, the defense contended, and the actual perpetrator might not even be in the courtroom, or the killer could have been the recently-deceased Mary-Anne.
Neither Con nor Hannah took the stand. Their lawyers also refused to call witnesses for the defense, indicating there was no need because of the total lack of evidence that a murder had been committed by either defendant.
Mr. Campion, the prosecutor, emphasized the horrific nature of the death and dismemberment of Patrick O’Leary. He called the accused “monsters” for attempting to blame their deceased sister for the crime and reminded the court of their total lack of interest in the horror that had been inflicted on their brother.
During deliberations, the jury became deadlocked. A hasty second trial was convened in which the same evidence was presented. This time the jury did not hesitate, finding both defendants guilty in 30 minutes. A recommendation of mercy was requested in the case of Hannah, presumably because of her gender. Con received no such consideration. Hannah and Con O’Leary were sentenced to death by the presiding judge. Both maintained their innocence. Con exclaimed, “I had not hand, act nor part in the murder … I am going to die an innocent man.” The siblings appealed the conviction but following a four-day hearing, their appeal was refused.
On July 27, 1925, just before the sentence was to be carried out, Hannah O’Leary received a last-minute reprieve from the governor-general and her sentence was commuted to one of penal servitude for life. Leniency for Con O’Leary was not forthcoming, however. He went to the scaffold at Mountjoy Prison July 28 at 8 a.m.
According to the records, Con O’Leary’s demeanor was “calm,” although the same was said of all condemned prisoners. No Irish execution had been conducted publicly since 1868 and the standard line was that it had proceeded without incident. Whether O’Leary or any of the others executed really went peacefully to their deaths will never be known.
Hannah O’Leary was finally released from prison in September 1942 after serving 18 years. She was considered “not quite right” and no family member was willing to accept her upon her release. Thus, she was sent to live out her days with a community of Good Shepherd Nuns.
In February 1924, Mrs. O’Leary had shared her home with four of her children, but barely a year later, three of them were dead, one of natural causes, one murdered and a third on the gallows. The fourth was imprisoned at Mountjoy. By 1927, she was in her mid-70s and living alone in Kilkerran. She had little choice but to sell on the farm. The new owners wasted little time destroying the house and sheds.
Hannah died in the County Home in Clonakilty in January 1928, completing the eradication of the entire O’Leary family in West Cork. The hearse carrying her remains drove through Clonakility where it was reported “the only person in attendance was the undertaker.” A fittingly tragic end to a truly horrific case.
The O’Leary case is included in Colm Wallace’s book, Sentenced to Death: Saved from the Gallows, which examines the death penalty in Ireland. Published by Somerville Press, the book will be released June 17.
Source: The Southern Star, June 4, 2016.