Detectives were today scouring mountain woods for the body of a part-time model who vanished almost twelve years ago.
A phone-call from a member of the public sparked the latest search on the Laois-Offaly border for Fiona Pender who was seven months pregnant when she was last seen.
A small makeshift wooden cross with “Fiona Pender” scrawled on it in pen was found at the site of the search by a walker in the woods, on the road between Mountrath and the village of Clonaslee, on Sunday.
The walker contacted gardaí about the find and local officers called in the Garda Technical Bureau, crime scene investigators and the dog unit.
The cross, made from two lumps of a wood and a nail, has been sent to the Garda Technical Bureau’s main laboratory in Dublin for forensic examination.
Some of the 20 officers involved in the search began digging at the site of the find shortly after 9am this morning.
The operation, involving the Garda Dog Unit, is centred on a forest around four miles outside Mountrath, Co Laois, about 30 miles from where the 25-year-old lived in Tullamore, Co Offaly.
Investigating officers stressed the search which began yesterday afternoon in the Slieve Bloom mountains was precautionary.
Ms Pender, who was also a hairdresser, disappeared from the flat she shared with her boyfriend at Church Street in Tullamore on August 22, 1996.
There have been numerous reported sightings and Garda searches for her body over the years in Ireland while Interpol carried out investigations in Britain, Germany, Italy and the US.