Joe Leogue revisits the Tina Satchwell missing person case as today marks six months since the last reported sighting of the Youghal woman.
Garda investigating the disappearance of a Cork woman say they are following up to 200 lines of inquiry.
Today marks six months since the last reported sighting of Tina Satchwell, whose husband Richard Satchwell alerted gardaí to her disappearance from their home in Youghal last March.
Supt Eamonn O’Neill said gardaí continue to work on the case out of an incident room in Midleton Garda Station.
“We are following up to 200 lines of inquiry, both locally, nationally, internationally,” he said.
Supt O’Neill said that some of these lines of inquiry are of a technical and forensic nature, and all are being followed.
“Anyone with any information can call us in complete confidence,” said Supt O’Neill.
“We are very anxious to hear from anyone with anything to tell us.”
Ms Satchwell, aged 45, has been missing since March 20, and since then gardaí have conducted examinations and searches of the Satchwells’ harbourside home, as well as the harbour itself and in areas surrounding the town.
Her husband and Tina’s family in her native Fermoy have made numerous public appeals for information relating to her disappearance.
Mr Satchwell said that suitcases and a large sum of money from the sale of the couple’s house in Fermoy were also missing from their home after his wife’s disappearance.
Mr Satchwell subsequently found suitcases he believes may have belonged to his wife in the car park of a Youghal supermarket.
Midleton Garda Station can be contacted on 021 4621550.
Picturesque Youghal remains an active search area six months on from Tina's disappearance
THE coach pulled up at Market Square, and as the grey-haired tourists in chinos, shades, and windbreakers disembarked, they were greeted by a sunlit view across Youghal harbour to a finger of land reaching out towards them from neighbouring county Waterford.
To their left, the mouth of the River Blackwater widened to meet the harbour. To their right, the clear skies afforded sight of the Celtic Sea horizon.
Other than the early morning tour group, the area was quiet. A handful of locals came and went from the nearby credit union, others popped into the pub on the corner for a cup of coffee.
A little over four weeks earlier, the area was a stark contrast to this weekday tranquility as gardaí, the coastguard, and army units plunged the depths of the harbour and combed areas surrounding the East Cork town in their continuing efforts to find Tina Satchwell.
Today marks six months since the last reported sighting of Ms Satchwell, a 5ft7in woman of medium build with shoulder-length blonde hair and blue eyes who has apparently vanished without a trace.
This week there was little evidence of the investigation on the streets of Youghal. Those living and working locally pause when asked about the missing woman, before offering little other than expressions of sadness that such a case should visit their seaside town.
The still streets belie the intense ongoing efforts to locate the 45-year-old, and this week gardaí have revealed that, behind the scenes, they are following up to 200 leads in the case.
Her husband, Richard Satchwell, said he last saw her on March 20, when he left their home in terraced Grattan St, just 100m or so from the tourists’ vantage point in the harbour.
Mr Satchwell said he went to nearby Dungarvan to run an errand, leaving Tina at home. When he returned, she was gone. No one has seen her since.
He reported her disappearance to gardaí four days later. Despite public appeals by gardaí, her husband, and her family, nobody has heard from Tina Satchwell since.
Mr Satchwell said she left with suitcases and over €26,000 in cash that the couple had from the sale of a house in Ms Satchwell’s native Fermoy.
“We have conducted an intensive investigation for the past six months into Tina Satchwell’s disappearance,” Supt Eamonn O’Neill told the Irish Examiner this week.
Supt O’Neill and Det Insp Brian Goulding are heading up the investigation, based out of the district headquarters in Midleton.
“We have an incident room manned continuously and we are holding regular conferences on the case,” says Supt O’Neill. “We are following up to 200 lines of enquiry, both locally, nationally, and internationally.”
Supt O’Neill says some of these lines of inquiry are of a technical and forensic nature, and all are being followed. “This is a very live investigation,” he says.
In June, gardaí carried out a forensic examination of the Satchwells’ home on Grattan St. A month later, Mr Satchwell alerted gardaí that he had found two suitcases in the carpark of a supermarket that he believes may belong to his wife. Gardaí removed the items for a technical examination.
Last month gardaí conducted searches of the harbour, along with a section of roadside ditch on the Golf Links Rd, two education centres in the area, and waste ground surrounding a nearby telephone mast.
All the while, both Mr Satchwell and Ms Satchwell’s family in Fermoy have publicly appealed for information. They have appeared on RTÉ’s Crimecall, among other media, seeking information.
Alan Bailey, a former detective sergeant at the ‘cold case’ Garda Serious Crime Review Team, says these family appeals will become more important as more time passes.
Mr Bailey was a national co-ordinator for the specialist Garda taskforce Operation TRACE and upon retirement wrote Missing, Presumed, a book documenting the cases of six missing women.
While he has no involvement in the search for Ms Satchwell, he gives an insight into the Garda efforts involved in a missing persons case. “The whole thing with missing persons and a cold case in particular, and what I am very conscious of after 39 years of policing, is that today’s crime is tomorrow’s statistic,” he warns.
“The gardaí can go at a case full belt for months, but eventually other cases come in for them.
“That’s where family and friends are so important. Look at Fiona Pender’s mother. She died last week, her daughter is missing for 21 years, and only three or four weeks ago she was making a public appeal for her daughter.”
With intensive investigations continuing in Youghal, Mr Bailey says motives for leaving and methods of doing it will be examined carefully.
“At the outset, when there’s a report of a missing person, the first thing investigators are looking for is what we call the ‘push-pull factor’,” he explains.
“Maybe there is something wrong at home that forces a person to leave, like if there is trouble in the house, or maybe there is a pull factor such as someone falling in love with someone else and leaving to be with them.
“You’re trying to isolate one or other of those to see if there’s a reason for a person leaving. When neither of those exist, it then becomes a suspicious case.”
Mr Bailey says bank accounts are monitored after a person is reported missing — and that transactions prior to their disappearance are examined to see if any unusual patterns emerge.
“When someone goes missing unexpectedly, it’s a complete life-changer for all the family. It is then they find the little things that were going on that they may not have noticed, but it’s all adding up now,” he says.
“It’s an ongoing process. You’re watching the whole time — was there a passport applied for? Were airline tickets bought? You check hospital records to see if anything comes up. Were social welfare payments claimed?”
But after the initial flurry of evidence gathering, when years have passed, when leads are followed, what is left for investigators trying to crack a cold case?
“One of the big things we found in cold cases, over the passage of years, is how loyalties and relationships change. With some of the cases we had, we had no doubts who caused the deaths of certain long-term missing people, but the problem was that alibis were supplied for them,” says Mr Bailey.
“But if I’m living in fear of somebody, and with the passage of time that fear is gone, then I can talk. Or if I’m madly in love with somebody but then realise that maybe they’re not the person I thought they were, that factor is gone.”
For now, gardaí in East Cork are working diligently to ensure the disappearance of Tina Satchwell does not become another cold case.
“We are ready to take calls in Midleton Garda Station,” says Supt O’Neill.
“Anyone with any information can call us in complete confidence. We are very anxious to hear from anyone with anything to tell us.”
Not the first mysterious disappearance in Fermoy
Tina Satchwell is not the first person from Fermoy to disappear in mysterious circumstances.
For decades, two unusual cases in the town eluded gardaí — one resolved years later, the other still unsolved.
Conor and Sheila Dwyer were last seen at St Patrick’s Church, close to their home on April 30, 1991.
The couple, in their 60s, lived in the shadow of the church’s steeple on Chapel Hill. Sheila spoke with one of her sisters on the phone on May 1 — the last reported contact with either of the Dwyers.
Weeks later, when there had been no sight nor contact with the couple, the gardaí went to the Dwyer home.
The found no sign of a break-in, and the couple’s clothes, passports, and cash were in the house. However their car, a white Toyota Cressida, registration number 5797 ZT, was not at the house and has never been found.
In 2006 — the 15th anniversary of their disappearance — retired Supt Eamon Carey told this newspaper it was the most baffling case he had come across during his 38 years in the force. “There was no sign of any struggle and money had been left out to pay an ESB bill. So we didn’t suspect foul play,” he said.
RTÉ told the story of the Dwyers’ disappearance on its radio Documentary on One.
The Dwyers’ son Conor Jr moved to the UK in 1988. He told the programme his parents’ disappearance is “a living nightmare”.
“I question myself sometimes. Why this, why that, why the other thing? How? Why? When? What? I don’t know. And that’s what keeps you awake at night. It rattles around in my brain all the time,” he said.
A year before the Dwyers’ disappearance, a former county councillor and businessman also disappeared from Fermoy, a story also told in that 2008 documentary — but it was a story that came to a conclusion after the broadcast aired.
William “Bill” Fennessy, 54, was a publican, auctioneer, and former Labour county councillor, who disappeared on March 30, 1990. His car also vanished. For years his disappearance went unexplained until a car was found in the river-bed in Fermoy in October 2012.
Human remains were found in the submerged car which was discovered by the Blackwater Sub Aqua Search and Rescue Unit during a routine exercise upriver from the bridge in the centre of Fermoy.
The car was a Daihatsu Charade — the same model driven by Mr Fennessy — and loved ones waited by the riverside clutching a slip of paper with his registration during the attempts to extract the vehicle from the silt in the riverbed.
DNA tests confirmed the remains in the car were those of Mr Fennessy.
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