A lover of model planes. ’Fantastic’ knowledge of computers. A predilection for knives. What did we learn of Graham Dwyer? Noel Baker reports.
GRAHAM Dwyer lived a double life, the darker side of which was so well-hidden that few people had any idea he was anything other than a mild-mannered architect with a keen interest in model aircraft.
Born in Bandon, Co Cork, Dwyer was evidently a high achiever, securing a good job with A&D Wejchert Architects on Dublin’s Baggott St, while living in Foxrock, south Dublin.
With his wife Gemma, he had helped to redevelop and renovate a cottage in Rathmines. He seems to have been a devoted father with a gift for computers and a love of the outdoors, not surprising given his youth spent in the Scouts.
The view from people locally is that Graham was a typical, normal lad growing up. While not sporty, he was popular in school, he liked music and was a gifted artist. He desire to become an architect was expressed early on — he took technical drawing classes at another secondary school in Bandon, the Tech (St Brogan’s College), because it wasn’t available as a subject in the Hammies, as it’s known locally. People looking back thought him a normal, nice guy.
Interested in art and design, he also played music, and for up to six months in his later teens he stepped in to play bass in a band called Strangeways, named after the Smith’s album Strangeways Here We Come. It seems the group had some songs of their own as well as playing cover versions of songs by the Stone Roses and other bands. They concentrated on gigs in the local area but the group, made up of lads from the Hammies and Bandon Grammar, came to an end when its members began to move away.
Throughout his school years Dwyer was popular with girls and had a number of girlfriends. Despite going to Dublin aged 18 to begin his third level studies, and remaining there since, he kept in close contact with his friends from Bandon and would go out for a few pints on the many occasions he returned home. Over the years he attended the weddings of many of his friends and they in turn attended his in 2003 to Gemma. By 2011 it was the 20th anniversary of leaving school for that particular year in the Hammies, and even though Graham missed it due to work commitments in Poland, it is understood he was upset at not being able to attend.
Dwyer was thought of as as nice, normal guy.
Professionally, things moved on apace. He graduated from the faculty of architecture in Dublin Institute of Technology and from Dublin University in 1997 with a 2.1 degree in architecture and became an associate member of the RIAI (Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland) in 1998. He became a full member in 2001. It was while studying in DIT that he became father to Sennan through his then-partner, Emer McShea.
From 1996, Dwyer worked in a variety of architectural offices, including Keane Murphy Duff, Oppermann Associates, and Burke-Kennedy Doyle. In 2001 he joined A&D Wejchert Architects and became an associate there in 2003 while continuing studying part-time in UCD to complete an MSc in urban design.
In 2000, he and his wife bought No. 9 Gulistan Cottages, off Upper Mountpleasant Avenue in Dublin 6, for E200,000. By 2007 the architect duo had transformed the two bedroom property, which featured twice in one day in the Irish Times, including a photograph of the husband and wife team who had changed it into a beautiful modern town house. Graham was quoted indirectly as saying the space in the property was like that of an apartment, but without the hassle of management companies and with the added bonus of your own front and back door. It was then on the market for €590,000. The couple moved to their home in Foxrock, raising their two children. Life seemed good, but clouds were gathering. There has been mention of financial pressures — Dwyer alluded to just that subject in some gardai interviews, referring to “massive” pay cuts, including one of €10,000 in January 2013, aligned to Gemma losing her job in the crash.
And as revelations flowed during his trial, highlighting the hidden life he led online and his relationship with Elaine O’Hara, there were also hints from his past regarding his predilection for knives.
The mothers of Dwyer’s children both took the stand during the course of his murder trial — and both provided testimony that painted a less-than-flattering picture of the architect.
Dwyer’s former partner, Emer McShea, revealed that his fantasies about knives were not a recent phenomenon. She said when they were together two decades ago, he would pretend to stab her while having sex.
Ms McShea, the mother of Sennan, who is now in his early 20s, said that one night, Dwyer told her of his fantasy to stab a woman “while having sex with her”.
Ms McShea and Dwyer had started a relationship during their college days.
Speaking on Day 22 of the trial, she said that on one occasion, he started talking about his stabbing fantasy, after which he then started to bring a kitchen knife into their bedroom and would pretend to stab her during sex. Ms McShea said he had never actually stabbed her.
Ms McShea said she had been in a relationship with Dwyer when she was in college in the early 1990s and that she gave birth to Sennan in 1992.
Her appearance also revealed that Dwyer had sent a card to Sennan to mark his 22nd birthday last November, in which Dwyer had referred to the case and added that he was “sure of an acquittal”.
Ms McShea said she had noticed her former partner’s handwriting when checking the post, and that she then contacted her son, who asked her to open it.
A note inside stated: “Everything going well here. All forensics clear and we are sure of an acquittal now we have a mountain of evidence it was a suicide.”
Ms McShea also confirmed that gardaí had shown her CCTV footage and stills from Ms O’Hara’s apartment block as part of the investigation. She said she was able to identify her former partner on the footage in the months of January, June, July, and August 2012.
Later, in an interview with gardaí, Dwyer said Ms McShea was probably delighted that he was in trouble
Sennan McShea, meanwhile, testified that he too had identified his father in CCTV images from Ms O’Hara’s home at Belarmine Plaza, Stepaside.
He also confirmed he had given his mother permission to open the card from his father when she had called him last year. He said he then gave her permission to pass the card on to the gardaí.
Mr McShea was asked about July 2012, when his father had contacted him to say he would be near his home in Donegal if he would like to meet. He confirmed that his father had texted him from an 087 phone number.
Sennan said that in the summer of 2006, he had spent some time in Cork with his grandparents. Aged 14, he had been smoking in secret; his grandmother found out and told his father. Sennan said he had been planning on informing his father about the smoking himself but “I hadn’t actually got around to it”. When Graham Dwyer learned of his son’s smoking, he “hit the roof” and gave Sennan a lecture on the dangers of smoking and got very upset by it.
Another letter became one of the focal points in evidence given to the trial by Dwyer’s wife, in which Dwyer referred to Ms O’Hara as “that awful girl”.
The letter had been sent in February 2014 to Gemma Dwyer by her husband.
“Do not believe the gardaí,” it read. “They actually have no evidence, apart from my name and someone else’s phone number in that awful girl’s diary.
“I did know her, yes. I was helping her and I wasn’t totally honest with you.
“There is another man, someone who likes Real Madrid and wears pink underwear, who is involved in this.
“I believe this girl committed suicide and this man disposed of some embarrassing items on her behalf.
“She tried to kill herself several times. Why do you think none of her family are pushing this? I saved her life once.”
The letter also referred to Ms O’Hara being discharged from a mental hospital and that there was evidence she had obtained a prescription for eight items.
Dwyer had written: “I should have gone to the police when she went missing. I might have known where she might be, but I didn’t.”
Gemma Dwyer said she first met the man who would become her husband in the 1990s when they were architecture students in the Bolton St campus of Dublin Institute of Technology. They later married and lived in a Rathmines cottage that they renovated. They moved to a home in Foxrock in 2007.
She wrote down the names and dates of birth of their two children on a piece of paper, and also outlined her husband’s “huge” interest in model aeroplanes. She explained that he ordered lots of items relating to model airplanes from the internet and would have them delivered to their home.
She said Dwyer would work on his planes every evening and fly them every weekend, adding that he would also fly them at a club on Wednesday afternoons, weather permitting, having gone straight from work. he would then be home around 8.30pm, she said.
She also described her husband’s computer skills as “fantastic”: “He could do anything with computers.” The couple had used the same computer at one stage. “We both had our own sections on it. He set it up,” she said, adding they would log on under separate profiles and that she never looked at her husband’s section.
She confirmed that Dwyer also had a big interest in cars and that he would frequently buy and sell them. She said he had a Porsche 911 that he was particularly fond of and he kept it the longest. “He called it his baby,” she said.
Gemma Dwyer said that her husband previously had an interest in mountain biking and that this would take him to the Hell Fire Club in the Dublin Mountains. He also has a tattoo on his left shoulder which Ms Dwyer said pre-dated their relationship. “It’s a symbol from the Book of Kells,” she said. “It was on the old Irish penny.” She said he had it before she met him.
As for the date of Friday, September 13, 2013, the day Ms O’Hara’s remains were found, Ms Dwyer said: “My birthday is the 13th of September and also Graham’s birthday.
“We went out to dinner, out to a Mexican restaurant on South Great George’s St, and celebrated the birthday together.”
Ms Dwyer also told the trial that she recognised from a photograph a spade that was found in a wooded area close to where Ms O’Hara’s remains were discovered. “The spade from our garden,” she said.
John Flynn, one of the owners of Roundwood Model Aeronautical Club in Wicklow, where Dwyer was a member, said 35 people were involved in the club, and that he knew Dwyer “reasonably well”. Dwyer had taken part in a flying competition at the club on June 11, 2011, and had come fifth, with a DVD made of the event and given to members. One DVD excerpt showed him flying a blue and black Extra 300 electric plane.
Dwyer was also a member of Shankill Radio Flying Club. Patrick Kenny, a fellow member of the club, was asked about a dead animal being found at the club. “It came to light on the day Mr Dwyer was arrested,” he explained. “It was a sheep… a carcass and wool spread all over it.” He recalled that it was found early in the summer of 2012, about 10ft to 15ft behind the clubhouse. Under cross-examination, he confirmed that he could not be sure about the date.
Another member of the Shankill club, Denis Brennan, said of Dwyer: “He drove several cars. One was a Porsche sports car, an Audi estate, an Audi sports car and a jeep.”
As for family members, Dwyer’s sister, Mandy Wroblewski, said it would have been common to receive communication from her brother by post. “Birthday cards, anniversary cards to myself or my husband.”
Younger brother Brendan said the last time he had met Graham Dwyer was at Blind Strand in Cork in September 2013, a month before the garda investigation began. Explaining who was present, Brendan said: “Myself, my dad, Graham, our brother James, and James’s brother-in-law.” This was the third consecutive trip for the group and before that, Graham’s son Sennan had gone with them.
One of Graham Dwyer’s oldest friends, Colm Costello, recalled a meeting at the Dwyer home on July 2, 2012, “We were planning the 20th anniversary of leaving school. It was an opportunity to meet up.
“I believe I’ve known him 39 years,” Mr Costello said, but as this case has shown, very few people really knew Graham Dwyer.
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