Elaine O’Hara: A troubled mind

ELAINE O’Hara’s life seemed to be that of a person desperately seeking affection and friendship, but which was blighted not just by her struggles with mental health but also the dark corners of the secret world in which she spent much of her time.

Time and again, family members testified as to Elaine’s vulnerability, sometimes her naivete, and yet she was also capable of shocking some of the people closest to and most protective of her.

So, on the one hand she had been a childcare worker and someone who at various times told Graham Dwyer that she wanted to change her life for the better. Yet at other times the trial heard that her sexual preference was “for a submissive relationship… for restraint, being tied up, being under control of another and punished”.

Elaine’s father, Frank O’Hara, told of his daughter’s often troubled teenage years. Mr O’Hara said his daughter had a history of psychiatric illness and had harmed herself in the past. He said her difficulties began when she was about 14 or 15.

Elaine O’Hara’s father Frank and her brother John at the Central Criminal Court.

“There was some bullying in school and a close friend of hers was killed in a road accident,” he said. “She became withdrawn.” Elaine had self-harmed around the age of 16 and the family engaged a psychiatrist and she spent time in hospital.

“Her treatment mainly involved a lot of medication as far as I could see,” Mr O’Hara said. “We used to take her out on a Saturday and she’d fall asleep in the cafe, she was so heavily medicated. She never experienced those years that other kids do.”

He said she had received “more pro-active psychology” in recent years and her doctors had reduced her medication.

“She was improving quite a bit.”

She also had asthma, diabetes, polycystic ovaries, and dyslexia. However, he said, despite her illness she had “an incredible work ethic”; she worked as a childcare worker in a school and studied Montessori during the academic term, while also working part-time in a newsagent’s shop.

Her mother passed away in 2002 and Elaine became agitated more frequently. She self-harmed twice more between 2005 and 2007, spending 24 hours in a coma as a result of the second episode.

Mr O’Hara said he had an argument with Elaine in early 2008 and she told him she was seeing a married architect from Foxrock. “She said: ‘He ties me up and masturbates over me... We haven’t had sex’,” he recalled.

“I was shocked,” he said, adding they hadn’t discussed it again, apart from her telling him that it was over at one stage.

He added she had said, over the years, that she had “a play” in mind.

“It might have been unsavoury,” he said. “I suggested she write it down and show it to her psychologist.”

He said she was “always worried” about this play. “It upset her.”

Regarding the aforementioned relationship with the architect, Mr O’Hara said: “I don’t think Elaine would have told me unless she was agitated,”

Mr O’Hara had earlier told gardaí in a statement: “I think I remember her saying also that she had asked him to kill her but he wouldn’t. I was shattered after hearing the news.”

Ms O’Hara’s pharmacist, Soha Yazbeck, who dispensed medication to her on the day she disappeared. They included medicine for diabetes, asthma, depression, vertigo, cholesterol, a stomach problem, and nerves.

She confirmed Ms O’Hara spent €8,470 on medication at her pharmacy in less than two years.

Sheila Hawkins, Frank O’Hara’s partner, said she “recoiled” when she came across oily latex in Ms O’Hara’s apartment, while they were searching for a passport or any other useful item to help them find her in the days after she went missing.

“I recoiled because my hand felt this oily rubber substance. I saw what looked like black latex.”

She said she didn’t tell Ms O’Hara’s father at the time because “the man was very distressed”.

Ms Hawkins said her knowledge of Elaine’s interest in BDSM (bondage, discipline, and sadomasochism) was from a conversation with Elaine’s father. However, she also said Elaine had confided in her, including telling her in 2011 that she had had sex for the first time.

Ms Hawkins, who is a psychologist, said she believed this was true. “I placed her emotional development around the age of 15,” she said.

Others who had treated Elaine during her spells of treatment also spoke about her oscillating moods.

Elaine had been a patient of Stuart Colquhoun, a cognitive behavioural therapist at St Edmundsbury’s Hospital, for almost five years as both outpatient and inpatient.

He said that in addition to treating her for major depression and generalised anxiety, Elaine also had borderline personality disorder, which meant her emotions would feel stronger and last longer than those of other people. His last appointment with her was on August 21, 2012.

“She was in cheerful form, spontaneous, smiling, alert, and seemed happy really. She was excited about working with the Tall Ships.”

He said her mood at that time was “good”, and in keeping with her generally improved outlook on life throughout 2012. “I thought most of 2012 was good actually,” he said. “But her mood was probably a bit better than that even, on that day.”

He said he had previously seen evidence of self-harm on Ms O’Hara and she had also told him that someone else had harmed her, but stressed there was no indication at that last meeting that she was feeling suicidal.

Her GP, Dr Mathew Corcoran, had mainly treated her asthma, but knew she was receiving psychiatric treatment for her depression elsewhere.

The Foxrock-based doctor said Elaine had been his patient since she was a child and that as an adult had low Vitamin B12, mild diabetes, and was on a tablet for cholesterol, which was working well.

“I thought her medical status was better and, overall, she was doing reasonably well in recent years,” he said, confirming she had never presented to him with self-harm injuries.

He had last seen her on July 10, 2012, when she came in with sinusitis and mild respiratory symptoms, including a slight wheeze and cough. He said she would usually visit when she had such symptoms as she was eager they would not develop in view of her asthma. He said he hadn’t been aware she had been in St Edmundsbury’s Hospital or that she had contacted the Samaritans before she went missing in the summer of 2012.

Elaine had multiple admissions to hospital over the years, sometimes involving incidents of self harm, and a nurse who spoke with her the night before she disappeared told her she should go to the gardaí about a man who was constantly coming to her apartment. Rosetta Callan, who had worked as a nurse in St Edmundsbury’s Hospital for 44 years before retiring, said she spoke with Elaine in her room at the hospital the night before she was discharged.

“She was kind of quiet,” she said, adding that she had asked Ms O’Hara what was up during the course of the 45 minute conversation. “She said she was just pissed off. I sat on the bed to see if she wanted to talk to me. That’s when she started telling me about this person she had met.”

Ms Callan explained it was a man Ms O’Hara had met but she had not told her his name. Both of them were interested in bondage, Ms Callan said.

“She said he was nearby and she passed the house every day. She said he had a key to her apartment.

“I said why didn’t she go to the guards if he was harassing her. But, she said she wouldn’t go because he had young children.” Ms O’Hara said of Elaine: “She loved kids”.

“She said he was constantly coming to her apartment and that’s when she got… She kind of got a little tearful,” Ms Callan said, adding that she was “kind of laughing” at the same time.

A friend of Elaine’s, Edna Lillis, said they had first met in 2007 but had lost touch in recent years.

“She showed me her stomach,” she recalled of their last meeting, shortly before they lost touch. “They were recent cuts, about three or four inches long, fresh and right across the stomach. She told me she’d met someone on the internet and he liked to cut her, and she was having some sort of relationship with him whereby he cut her.

“I told her she was playing a dangerous game.

“Elaine just wanted to be loved. She just wanted some attention. I told her to keep notes of her meetings with this person and she said she was. I said to keep notes of his name, address, and various details in case something happened.”

Ms Lillis said Elaine had never got over the loss of her mother. In that last meeting, Elaine had confided that the relationship with the man had been purely physical. “She enjoyed being hurt physically,” she said. “But she was a bit wary of him.”

Dr Matt Murphy of St Edmundsbury Hospital became her treating psychiatrist in late 2007 following the death of her previous psychiatrist, Prof Anthony Clare, who Elaine had first visited back in August 1992, presenting with persistent, obsessional thoughts and fantasies.

By her late teens, there had been a little bit of concern about her diagnosis and the gradual emergence of a possible psychotic illness.

However, Dr Murphy said she had never been diagnosed with psychosis and the tranquillisers were used because of her agitation, and said it was more likely a borderline personality disorder.

Then, in July 2011, Elaine said she had been pregnant but that she had lost the baby at four or five weeks.

Elaine’s sister, Anne Charles, said in November 2011, her sister had texted her to say she had had a miscarriage in May. When asked about the identity of the father and any medical treatment she received, “she fudged the questions”, only saying it was “a one-night stand”.

Elaine’s sister Ann Charles: Elaine told her she had suffered a miscarriage.

Another female friend, who said she broke off contact with Elaine due to constant calls and text messages, said she had also been told of a miscarriage.

Elaine Twomey had known Elaine for 10 years, and said Elaine would go on adult websites to meet men for sex and enjoyed being tied up and cut by men. Elaine had also told Ms Twomey she had been seeing a bisexual man called Adam, who did not cut or tie her up.

Ms O’Hara also told her she had had a miscarriage at two or three months. The witness said Ms O’Hara was sad and disgusted with herself after losing her child. She said Elaine also said Adam was the father, but that she had never told him, and had also not told her doctor. “In my opinion, there was no relationship there, just sex,” Ms Twomey said of the relationship with Adam.

Ms Twomey said that she had severed contact with Ms O’Hara in the summer of 2012 after her friend had started to phone and text her constantly. “I found it too much,” she said. “I deleted her number from my mobile phone.”

Anne Charles said her sister had not had a normal childhood because of her psychiatric problems, adding: “She was quite naive in a way and very trusting of people.”

Her brother, John O’Hara, had made the discovery in Elaine’s apartment of a written reference to a fetish website, and pictures of two hunting knives. And yet Dr Murray said that in 2012, Elaine had been on a reduced dose of medication and “doing pretty well”. “There was a sense that she was maturing and able to manage her moods and feelings in a more capable way,” he said.

However, he decided to admit her to hospital after she phoned in July 2012 to say she felt depressed and was contemplating suicide. Over four weeks there, she was in better mood, he said, “probably as good as I have ever seen her”. By the time of discharge, “She was talking in different terms about life, doing things, engaging in life.” However, Dr Murray said the immediate aftermath of a hospital discharge is seen as “a high-risk period”.

One of the last images of Elaine thrust into the public mind was the last suspected sighting of her alive, as outlined by a visitor to Shanganagh Cemetery that day in August 2012: a woman with mousey brown hair, crying “very loud” at her mother’s grave.


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