Phones led to a conviction after what was a ‘near perfect’ murder

Members of the Garda water unit recover items including a rucksack from the reservoir near Roundwood, Co Wicklow. Picture: Garry O’Neill

It was very nearly the perfect murder. That was how prosecution counsel Sen Guerin SC described the killing of Elaine O’Hara on the opening day of the Graham Dwyer murder trial.

But Dwyer’s perfect plan could not have factored in the unusually dry Irish weather, and was trumped by superb policing and investigative work.

On the evening of September 10, 2013, three Wicklow friends bumped into each other on a bridge over Vartry Reservoir in Roundwood.

They were commenting on how low the water was. A shiny metal object caught their attention, setting off a momentous chain of events.

The Garda Water Unit was called in. Among the items recovered included a rusty chain with cuffs on either end; bondage cuffs, comprising long straps with padded restraints and buckles; a ball gag, which comprised a ball, strap, and buckle; a black blindfold with a Velcro strap; a hoodie; and a vest.

The water unit found other sex toys and, thanks to a metal detector, Nokia mobile phones.

The discovery of these phones and the metadata they provided was to prove crucial in the investigation.

A key investigator in the case was Sarah Skedd, a civilian employee of the force, working as a crime and policing analyst.

She carried out mammoth work on two sets of relevant phones, one set involving Ms O’Hara’s phone and an 083 number which was registered to Garoon Caisholm with an address similar to Dwyer’s sister; and a second set of two Nokias found at Vartry Reservoir. The latter were not registered to anyone and were prepaid.

There was a total of 2,600 texts from the various devices. One text from the 083 phone (in the name of Garoon Caisholm) to Ms O’Hara on March 21, 2011 read: “My urge to rape, stab, kill is huge. You have to help me control or satisfy it.”

In the exchange, she asked the man about his wife’s pregnancy.

“Promise I can kill you by stabbing,” was the reply.

On April 14, in an unknowingly prescient remark, Ms O’Hara said: “You really have to be careful with your phone,” referring to Garda use of satellite tracking.

He replied: “Help me rape and stab a young girl... It will be all worth it when I kill you”.

On May 24, he said he was lucky with the last victim and said he needed the perfect plan.

Ms O’Hara responded: “Yes sir, don’t you know, there’s no such thing as a perfect plan”. He described four ways he could kill her.

Ms Skedd used motorway toll booth information to track the user of one of the Nokias.

On July 4, 2012, this phone was used in Galway that morning and in the afternoon in Dublin 2. She examined toll booths for cars passing through between 12.30pm and 2.15pm for a vehicle owned by a south Co Dublin owner. She identified a 99G car which, it turned out, was owned by Dwyer.

When she examined the Nokias she found that there was only one number in each.

The number in one phone was named as MSTR. In the second phone was a number named as SLV. In court, these were referred to as ‘Master’ and ‘Slave’. Ms Skedd said there were 1,369 texts and 11 calls involving them between December 1, 2011, and August 22, 2012.

She found that, any time both Dwyer’s work phone and the Master phone were active in the same time period, they used cell sites in the same area.

She said there was nothing to contradict the suggestion that the same person was using Dwyer’s work phone as was using the Master phone.

On December 21, 2011, Dwyer’s work phone used a cell site at the ESB HQ on Fitzwilliam Square, near where he worked.

The Master phone used a cell site known as Fitzwilliam that same morning. She found the Master phone used a cell site at Howth Harbour at 12.50pm that day and that Dwyer’s work phone used a cell at Howth Yacht Club five minutes later.

On August 21, 2012, the day before Ms OHara vanished, Ms Skedd found that the Master phone used a cell called Fitzwilliam, close to Dwyer’s work, to send a message.

She said that, up to 4.52pm on August 22, the Master phone had been using a cell close to a phone mast being used by Dwyer’s phone at 4.54pm.

Detective Sergeant Peter Woods, who led the investigation, gave evidence in the trial about the interviews they had with Dwyer on his arrest in October 2013.

He told Dwyer that the Master phone was at Carron, Co Tipperary, when he was there in July 2012. Dwyer said it wasn’t his phone.

Sgt Woods read Dwyer a text sent to Ms O’Hara from the 083 phone concerning the birth of a baby girl. He told him the name was the same as his daughter.

He further told Dwyer the 083 phone was registered to his sister’s address. Dwyer said he couldn’t explain that. Dwyer admitted to watching erotic horror or gore movies and accepted it was sick.

Sgt Woods put it to him he was on CCTV at Belmarine and that his DNA was in her apartment. Dwyer replied: “I can understand how it would be there. I’m not an innocent person, but I’m innocent of murder.”

The detective pointed out to him that his work mobile had not been in any contact with Ms O’Hara in 2011 and 2012, to which Dwyer said: “I can’t explain it.”

He showed Dwyer one of the mobile phones found at Vartry and said to him: “You thought you’d done the perfect crime”.

Dwyer replied that it wasn’t his phone.

Sgt Woods said CCTV had captured him carrying a backpack out of Ms OHara’s apartment block on August 15, 2012. He said it wasn’t returned and ended up in the reservoir, next to Ms O’Hara’s keys and glasses. It was a bit sloppy of you, to which Dwyer replied: I can’t explain that.”

In the prosecution summing-up, Sen Guerin SC said: “Remarkably, when Graham Dwyer moves, these phones move with him. Whether he’s going to Ballyshannon, Galway, Carron, north of the Liffey... wherever he goes, the phones go. They are stuck to him like a shadow.”

He said the record of the texts held up a mirror to the life of Graham Dwyer and that it was utterly impossible for it to be anyone else.

At the end, the evidence piled high against Dwyer.

Chief Supt Diarmuid O’Sullivan speaking at a press conference after Graham Dwyer was found guilty. Picture: Maxpix

Garda and the prosecution linked him to two mobile phones — the 083 phone and the Master phone — and, in turn, to the contents of those texts. They did this through a detailed tracking of the movement of the phones and Dwyer’s work phone, as well as indications as to his identity in certain texts, such as the name and gender of his newborn baby.

Once the link was established, the texts clearly showed a desire to murder Ms O’Hara. This desire was again repeated in the testimony of Ms Day.

Separately, the prosecution established a relationship — a violent sexual relationship — between Dwyer and Ms O’Hara, through computer contact, Dwyer’s own admissions, CCTV footage of Dwyer at Belmarine, and videos of them engaged in violent sex.

The prosecution also clearly established a history of violence by Dwyer against women generally, including against a former partner, and used the testimony of Ms Day, his extensive video collection of gore and his descriptions of him raping and stabbing women, including a woman in Newcastle.

In his closing address, Mr Guerin said Dwyer stabbed Ms O’Hara for his own sexual gratification in what was an abusive, manipulative, and predatory relationship.

He said the architect was a sadistic and brutal pervert with nothing on his mind other than murder and that the stabbing of Ms O’Hara was the implementation of a plan he had set out in the texts.

Mr Guerin said Dwyer wanted people to think it was suicide in the circumstances of Ms O’Hara’s disappearance, just out from mental hospital.

It very nearly worked out for him, he said.

Dwyer thought it was the perfect murder. But, as Ms O’Hara told him, although tragically for her, there’s no such thing.

More on this topic

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Garda HQ fears Dwyer ruling will hit future probes

High Court’s praise of gardaí a factor in killer’s appeal hearing

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