Relentlessly exploited all the way to her death

Shanganagh Cemetery near Bray, Co Wicklow, where Elaine O'Hara was last seen alive.

Graham Dwyer saw his victim as nothing more than an object to fulfil a depraved fantasy, writes Michael Clifford.

Beyond the voyeurism, the disturbing sex, the forensic policework, this was a story of a woman whose vulnerabilities were relentlessly exploited all the way to her murder.

This was a story about Elaine O’Hara, a human being on whom fate did not bestow many conventional gifts, or bless with much luck, despite coming from a loving family.

Throughout the eight weeks of the trial, the essence of this case often struggled for air. The media and the public gorged on every detail to spill out from the netherworld inhabited by both perpetrator and victim. At times, the gore retrieved from the darkest recess of the human psyche was too much for even seasoned observers of the criminal justice system.

This wasn’t a private world known only to the principals of the case. Others who visited it were paraded before the court. Some who appear to have flirted around its fringes found themselves caught in the full public glare on entering or leaving the Courts of Criminal Justice buildings. These bit players found their private lives hauled out into the public square, and questions as to the violation of their privacy will surface in the coming days. Others featured on video images, having sex with Graham Dwyer, knives drawn, engaged in a macabre coupling in which one of the parties obsessed on murdering the other to satisfy his desire.

These are real women too, consenting adults who engaged in activity that they assumed was private, and now, no doubt, some of them are fretting that their darkest secrets have leaked out for public consumption.

Beyond all of that, the trial reeked of profound sadness at the ending of a life that was struggling desperately to get started, thrashing against the pull of forces that bore down on Ms O’Hara’s psychological well-being, all in an attempt to reach some alien shore of happiness.

The trial had a profoundly different narrative to the relatively standard one that inform cases where a man has killed a female lover, partner, or spouse. Usually, it is a case of love turned sour and a man whose lack of basic empathy compels him to regard his own life as being better served by a woman’s death.

In this case, there was nothing to suggest the murderer had any affection for the woman he killed. Neither did she pose a threat to Dwyer’s comfortable existence. He did not kill her for any personal benefit, other than the sexual gratification he got from knifing a woman to death.

And what of his victim? Ms O’Hara’s life was writ large across the trial. She suffered from psychological difficulties since her teenage years. Chronically low self-esteem and mood issues affected her to a major extent. That in itself is not uncommon. She had access to good care, and a loving family. Her father Frank told the court that he “was probably her best friend”. The statement illustrated the tender relationship between father and daughter, but also hinted at how difficult Ms O’Hara found it to make friends in her own milieu.

Instead, it would appear, she sought out a world in which her chronically low self-esteem would see her getting what she thought she might have deserved, living out the sexual fantasies of a submissive. This was where Ms O’Hara met the man who would use and abuse her, keep her in the prison that her mind had become, and ultimately satisfy his most warped fantasy.

Yet her spirt was not broken. She made strides in combatting the dark forces that assailed her. Her psychiatrist, Matt Murphy, told the murder trial she had made considerable progress.

“I would have thought she was doing pretty well, particularly in the last year of her life,” he told the court. She found work in a bank, going on to a position in childcare and working in a newsagents.

Her recovery, however, was arrested not just by the dark forces of the mind. Dwyer also did his utmost to ensure she would not find any contentment. She would no longer be of any use to him in that state. So he manipulated, lied, abused, repeatedly reinforced the low opinion she had of herself. He wanted her in that place where she would serve his purpose. Whenever she gathered the strength to pull herself free of him, he hauled her back in.

One exchange of texts in July and August 2011, just a year before her death, illustrated their relationship. Dwyer texted to tell her to boil knives because he was coming over.

“You can die from blood loss but not an infection,” he wrote. She replied: “Please don’t let me die! Please don’t kill me, please. Sir, I don’t “I’m scared you’re going to kill me.”

The following day, he texted: “Did you say I could kill you as long as I didn’t tell you when it was coming?”

“I don’t think I said that,” she replied. “I will miss you sir, but if I’m ever to find someone and have kids, which is what I really want, I need to be free of stabs. Unless you want to give me a child, sir?”

He said he would, but wouldn’t be around to raise or support it.

“I would drop everything for a baby,” she replied.

“Ok, a life for a life. Help me take one and I’ll give you one,” he wrote.

“Sure, you set it up,” she replied.

She texted him on August 3, 2011, to ask if he had meant what he had said.

“Yes,” he replied. “It’s your reward for helping me stab a girl to death.”

The saddest image to emerge was offered not by the prosecution, but the defence. The court heard from Mary Crosbie, who had been visiting Shanganagh Cemetery on the day Ms O’Hara disappeared. The witness recalled seeing somebody face down on the grass at the edge of some graves, crying very loudly.

The defence obviously wanted to illustrate that Ms O’Hara may have been suicidal. But it might be that she was crying for what awaited her when she would meet by appointment with Dwyer a few minutes later. Perhaps she was crying for the life she then knew she would never have, despite her best efforts to repel dark forces, both internal and those driven by a man who saw her as nothing more than an object to fulfil a depraved fantasy.

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