A vulnerable young woman strangled to death, wrapped in a duvet and dumped in a car park may also have been subjected to a sickening sex attack, it emerged tonight.
Shirley Finlay’s murder, and the revelations about her lonely, troubled life, stunned her hometown of Ballymena, Co Antrim.
The victim, with a history of mental illness, was killed just days before her 25th birthday.
Neighbours tonight described Ms Finlay, who grew up in foster care, as heartbreakingly innocent.
One said: “I saw her nearly every day of the week. She used to walk about in a daze, always on her own, talking to herself, laughing and smiling.
“She lived alone and never did anybody any harm. Everyone just feels so sorry for what has happened to her. She used to walk everywhere but you would walk past her and she just didn’t see you.”
Ms Finlay’s body was found on Tuesday at Mount Street in the town, about two miles from her Crebilly Road home.
Police believe she was murdered at another location and disclosed that she was last seen alive 24 hours earlier.
Detective Chief Inspector Tom Woods, who is heading up the inquiry, said a post mortem had confirmed she was strangled.
“As to a motive, we are still at a very early stage in our investigation,” the detective stressed.
“We are not ruling out a sexual motive and a number of other possible motives.”
He added: “She was a very vulnerable person.”
Investigators were also scrutinising CCTV footage, particularly around the car park where her body was found, in a bid to discover any clues.
Mr Woods said: “A member of the public was parking his car in Mount Street when he noticed what he thought was a bundle of rags,” the officer went on.
“He went over to have a look and then immediately contacted police. When they arrived on the scene they found the body of a young woman inside a duvet cover.
“We need the public’s help to tie down Shirley Finlay’s last movements - where she had been, who she was with. We firmly believe that the car park was used to dispose of the body and she was murdered elsewhere.”
Public representatives on all sides were horrified by the killing.
Nationalist SDLP councillor Declan O’Loan and Democratic Unionist councillor Davy Tweed both expressed their shock.