Detectives were tonight investigating if two men were shot dead before their bodies were found in a burning car close to the border.
The victims, suspected of being from Dublin and murdered over a drugs row, were found sitting in the front seats of a stolen black Volkswagen Golf.
The grim discovery was made by firefighters who tackled the inferno at the edge of a forest in Ravensdale, Co Louth, at 11.15pm last night.
DNA and dental records will be needed to positively identify the men, who are not believed to be big players in the criminal world.
“The whole thing is burnt to a cinder,” said one senior Garda.
The secluded crime scene, in a valley in the foothills of the Cooley Mountains, is just off the main Dublin-Belfast road and about 10km north of Dundalk.
Forensic officers, sniffer dogs and the Garda helicopter were drafted by investigators, along with specialists trained to recover the chassis number in the burnt-out car which was believed to have been stolen in Dublin in recent weeks.
Plastic bags, believed to be holding evidence, were carried out from under the blue tarpaulin which covered the scene, visible from the southbound carriage of the M1.
There was also a cross border element to the inquiry as the Police Service of Northern Ireland confirmed it was investigating the discovery of an abandoned car.
The motor, which was found this morning and had no registration plates, was found in the Foughilettra Road area of Jonesboro, Co Armagh, just across the border.
It is not yet known if the vehicle was connected to the incident in Ravensdale.
“Inquiries are ongoing to establish the circumstances around this abandoned car,” he said.
Deputy state pathologist Dr Khalid Jabbar examined the charred remains before they were removed in two white body bags and placed in two blacked out Toyota Avensis estate cars. They were escorted to Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda, where an autopsy will take place tomorrow.
Prayers were said for the victims during morning Mass in Ravensdale parish church.
Susan Keane, of the Sportsman Inn public house, said it’s not unusual to see a car parked at the scene at night, which she described as a lovers’ lane.
“Nobody has any idea what could have happened at all. It’s more of disbelief how gruesome it was,” she said.
“If it was a shooting it wasn’t just a shooting. It was burning two bodies.”
Local residents said they were shocked by the discovery, unaware of what had happened until morning.
Jim Loughran, local Sinn Féin councillor, said the area is usually scenic and tranquil.
“It’s a nature trail with several walkways off it,” he said.
“It’s usually a very peaceful quiet area.
“We don’t know if it was a tragic accident or something else.”
Louth Fire Brigade said an initial 999 call from a passing motorist was received at 10.52pm.
“A fire service unit from Dundalk was called to deal with what was initially thought to be a routine car fire at a car park in Ravensdale, an area that is usually used by walkers in the Cooley Mountains,” said a spokeswoman.
“As the fire was being brought under control, they discovered one badly burned body.
“They subsequently found a second body in the car.
“The scene was then preserved and Gardai have been at the location overnight.”