A daughter of the Sligo man accused of killing 14-year-old Melissa Mahon has told the Central Criminal Court that her sister told her that their father killed the girl.
Shirley Conroy (aged 18) agreed with Brendan Grehan SC, defending, that on January 31, 2008 her sister said: “I’ll tell you why I’m like this but you have to swear not to tell anyone or I’ll get into big trouble with the gardaí.”
Ms Conroy immediately thought of Melissa Mahon who had been missing since September 14, 2006 and asked her sister: “Did Dad kill her?” She said her sister said that he did.
Ronald Dunbar (aged 44) also known as Ronnie Dunbar, of Rathbraughan Park, Sligo, has pleaded not guilty to murdering the schoolgirl on a date unknown between September 14 and September 30, 2006. He also denies threatening to kill one of his daughters during the same period.
The jury heard that Shirley Conroy’s then boyfriend rang gardaí on January 31,
2008 and asked for someone to come to his home in relation to the disappearance of Melissa Mahon.
Detective Garda Pauline McDonagh said she arrived at the home of Shirley Conroy and Danny Lynott to find Shirley sitting on a sofa with rosary beads in her hand and her sister in an armchair by the fire in a trance like state.
Det Gda McDonagh said Shirley’s sister told her that her father, Ronald Dunbar, had killed Melissa Mahon, had strangled her in a bedroom, put her body in a sleeping bag and dumped it. The girl said she had helped her father dispose of the body.
Danny Lynott told Sean Gillane BL, prosecuting, that he and Shirley lived with their son in a house a number of doors down from the accused and Shirley’s sister moved in after the accused threw her out.
Mr Lynott said that on January 31, 2008 Shirley’s mother, Lisa Conroy who lived in England, left a message on his phone for Shirley which he played to her on loudspeaker. Her sister was in the house and a row developed between the girls and their mother via telephone during which Lisa Conroy said to Shirley’s
sister: “I hope Dunbar rapes you again”.
Mr Lynott agreed with Mr Grehan in cross examination that he left the house to bring his son to his mother’s. When he returned her heard Shirley’s sister
shouting: “I’m going to go to jail”. He said she looked terrified, her hair was everywhere and she was crying. He said both women were in “an awful state”.
Shirley told him: “Melissa Mahon is dead, he killed her, Dad killed her”.
Mr Lynott agreed with Mr Grehan that Shirley’s sister said she came home from Youth Reach on a Thursday in September 2006 at around 5pm. Her younger sister tried to stop her from going upstairs but she pushed past her.
She went into a bedroom and saw her father over Melissa Mahon who was on a bed wearing a yellow Disney pyjama top, black trousers and socks. Shirley’s sister said the accused had his hands over Melissa at her neck.
Melissa was gasping for air and then stopped breathing before the accused left the room for something. The sister said she tried to revive Melissa by putting her hands on her chest and leaning hard, but got no response.
She said the accused put Melissa into a sleeping bag which he tied tightly with a purple tie. He then got his two daughters to help him put Melissa into the boot of his car.
Shirley’s sister told Mr Lynott that they drove to Lough Gill and put the body into the water. She said she helped Mr Dunbar by getting into the water and he
said: “That’s Daddy’s little secret”. The accused allegedly said that if it ever got out they would all go to jail.
The girl told Mr Lynott that they went home and burned all of Melissa’s belongings in a fire. She and the accused then went back to Lough Gill with binoculars to see if the body had risen. She said they went out to check for a number of days and that the accused continued to do so in January 2008.
Mr Lynott agreed with Mr Grehan that he rang Det. Gda McDonagh on February 6,
2008 and told her that Shirley’s youngest sister’s story was that the middle sister had killed Melissa during a camping trip and that the accused and youngest sister were present and helped dump the body.
Mr Lynott said he heard that information from Shirley’s older half-sister who lived in England and had spoken to the youngest girl.
He agreed with Mr Grehan that he had known Melissa Mahon and had heard a rumour that he was supposed to have had a relationship with her. He said Shirley confronted him with the rumour well before Melissa went missing. He said there was no truth to it and he had passed no heed to it.
He agreed that Shirley’s sister also told him on January 31, 2008 that Melissa was pregnant and had had a positive pregnancy test in her possession.
Shirley Conroy told the court that the accused had custody of her and her two younger sisters since she was five.
They had lived in England where and the accused had been shot after the accused had assaulted a drug dealer. She said Mr Dunbar had given evidence against a man and they were placed in the witness protection programme, took the name McManus and moved to Scotland before returning to the accused’s home town of Sligo.
Ms Conroy told Isobel Kennedy SC, prosecuting that she knew Melissa from school and that Melissa had run away from her home accusing her parents of abusing her. She said that Melissa was hiding in her father’s house for three weeks in August 2006 before going into care.
She said she thought it was “a little bit inappropriate” that Melissa was in the house. Ms Conroy said Melissa continued to run away from care and would go to her father’s house. She said that he moved from one rented house to the adjacent one in September 2006 but kept the back door key of the original house and would let Melissa into it.
If asked by gardai he would deny that he had seen her and would tell them he would do his best to find her.
Ms Conroy said that she was shown the nightdress found on the shore of Lough Gill and said her younger sisters had two identical nightdresses which they had grown out of. She was shown a tie recovered from the shore and said she believed it was her father’s.
Under cross examination Ms Conroy said that the rumour about her boyfriend being in a relationship with Melissa had been brought to her attention by the accused at a time when she was pregnant and she had dismissed it.
She agreed with Mr Grehan that she had spoken to her father about Melissa in the presence of his then girlfriend, Angelique Sheridan, and had told him that there was a court order preventing his contact with Melissa and that if he was found with her he would be in trouble.
She said she could not recall her father saying that he would kill Melissa rather than go to prison. “I can’t say it didn’t happen, I’m saying I can’t remember”.
Ms Conroy also agreed with Mr Grehan that her sisters had played with an Ouija board with Melissa and that the accused had said they had brought bad spirits into the house. She said her father had said the daemons were there for Melissa as she had brought them in and that Mr Dunbar’s girlfriend gave him holy water which he splashed around to get rid of evil forces. She said she had heard that the board had spelled out “kill Ronnie”.
Ms Conroy accepted that she had gone to the press in 2008 and accepted that she was aware that her youngest sister had put forward three different stories including that the middle sister was on drugs, that the middle sister hit Melissa with a piece of wood and that she’d killed her during a camping trip.
Under cross examination, Det. Gda McDonagh agreed with Mr Grehan that although statements were taken from the Dunbar daughters in early February 2008, the accused was not interviewed until April 2008.
She also agreed that Mr Dunbar’s youngest daughter gave a radically different account of how Melissa Mahon died.
She absolutely denied Mr Grehan’s suggestion that she had told the accused a month ago that he should never have been charged and that the case should never have come to court.
“I said no such thing. I would have no reason to make a comment like that.”
The trial continues before Mr Justice Barry White and a jury of six men and six women. It is expected to continue for a further three weeks.