Coroner’s open verdict on cause of pilgrim’s death

THE husband of an Irish pilgrim whose body was found several months after she went missing in Medjugorje has said he was not surprised that the authorities in Bosnia and Ireland were unable to determine the cause of her death.

Stephen Brady made his remarks after the Dublin County Coroner’s Court yesterday returned an open verdict at the inquest into the death of his wife, Winifred (Winnie), 59, of Millbrook Avenue, Kilbarrack, in Dublin.

The mother of five was reported missing on September 6 last while on a pilgrimage to Bosnia- Herzegovina with a group of friends. Her body was not discovered until four months later by a hunter on a remote hillside.

Her husband gave evidence yesterday that he travelled to Medjugorje last September for 10 days to help with the search, and returned to Bosnia- Herzegovina in January to identify her body.

Mr Brady said his wife had taken a taxi to a location near where she was found, as she was unable to walk there due to arthritis. He believed she would have travelled there as it was the site where the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared.

Mr Brady told Dublin County Coroner Dr Kieran Geraghty that the initial search for Winifred’s body in September would not have covered this area.

The inquest heard Ms Brady was on medication for her arthritis. However, Mr Brady said reports that his wife was being treated for depression related to a much earlier time following the death of her son Christopher more than a decade ago.

Frances Caffrey, another pilgrim, described how Ms Brady had been drinking heavily during her visit to Medjugorje and had become upset with some members of their party.

“She was very depressed from the very first day. To me, she wasn’t a well woman,” said Ms Caffrey.

She also pointed out that Ms Brady had sought a bedroom on her own a few days into the pilgrimage.

On the morning of her disappearance, she was “very agitated” because she was unable to join the others to climb a holy mountain.

Ms Caffrey said if her friend tried to follow them she may have been unsure where they were going, as her body was found near a different holy site.

Another pilgrim, Margaret Fitzsimons, also told the inquest that she had noticed Ms Brady drinking a lot during the trip and that she had spoken about wanting to go home.

Ms Fitzsimons, who shared a room with Ms Brady at the start of the week, said she was woken suddenly one night by her friend’s screaming and shouting. She could not provide any explanation for Ms Brady’s outburst.

The dead woman’s sister, Bernadette Shevlin, said she couldn’t understand why her sister had gone back to visit a mountain she had already climbed and why the site had not been searched when she first disappeared.

Deputy State pathologist Dr Michael Curtis, who conducted a postmortem on Ms Brady’s body, said there was no obvious signs of any trauma or unnatural cause of death. However, he said the autopsy was limited because of the decomposed state of the corpse. As a result, the cause of death was not determined.

Mr Brady said he had not expected that the inquest in Ireland would provide any different results to the one held in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

More in this section

War of Independence Podcast

A special four-part series hosted by Mick Clifford

Available on

Commemorating 100 years since the War of Independence