'After all these years, Baby John deserves the truth'

From the date he was baptised on April 14, 1984, and named 'John', nobody has ever discovered who he is, and nobody has come forward to claim him
'After all these years, Baby John deserves the truth'

The grave of 'Baby John'. His body was found by a farmer on White Strand, Caherciveen in the evening of Sunday, April 14, 1984.

“I am the Kerry Baby” are five words that help define Ireland’s longest-running murder mystery.

Inscribed on his gravestone, they gave voice to a little baby boy who never lived long enough to say them.

From the date he was baptised on April 14, 1984, and named “John”, nobody has ever discovered who he is, and nobody has come forward to claim him.

Indeed, in later years, someone has even vandalised his little gravestone on a number of occasions.

Thursday’s two arrests, nearly six years into the cold case investigation they launched into the case in 2018, may eventually change that.

The fact that gardaí are describing the arrests as a “significant development” in the case suggests they might be getting closer to finally unravelling the truth behind the compelling case.

Until then, the baby boy’s birth remains as much of a mystery as his macabre death was brutal and both he and the circumstances of his death will remain trapped in limbo.

Baby John, as he was later named by an undertaker before his lonely burial, or The Caherciveen Baby — as he was referred to officially — was found by a farmer on White Strand, Caherciveen in the evening of Sunday, April 14, 1984.

As Jack Griffin crossed some rocks, something caught his eye in the fading light.

Stopping to look at the pink face down form with black hair at his feet, he at first thought it was a doll.

But a closer look made him suspect otherwise and fearing the worst, he blessed himself, and went and got a relative who returned with him to the spot.

Shortly after they got back there, they turned the little body over, and realised to their horror they were staring down at the corpse of a baby boy.

The subsequent report into the case noted: “On first view of the Caherciveen Baby it did not seem as though it had been murdered.

“It looked more like a case of a stillbirth and the baby being thrown into the sea and the wounds on the baby being caused by sea creatures.” 

It was during the post-mortem examination carried out later by the then State pathologist Dr John Harbison it was discovered the baby had 28 stab wounds.

Four pierced his heart.

Dr Harbison also discovered the baby’s neck had been broken.

An investigation was immediately launched, with house-to-house inquiries being made in the area around White Strand, Caherciveen, and adjacent areas.

Gardaí were specifically tasked with trying to trace any single, unmarried woman who could have recently given birth to a baby whose whereabouts were unknown.

At the same time, Joanne Hayes was being treated at Tralee General Hospital, where she had been admitted bleeding and in pain on April 14.

On the night of May 12, she gave birth to a baby boy in a field on her family’s farm just outside Abbeydorney — some 75km away from Caherciveen.

He had died very soon after birth and she had put his body in a plastic bag and hid him.

The baby had been fathered by Jeremiah Locke, a married father-of-two who Ms Hayes started going out with socially in 1981.

She suffered a miscarriage the following year, but became pregnant by Mr Locke again in August, 1982, and gave birth to her daughter Yvonne in May, 1983.

Mr Locke was also the father of the baby Ms Hayes had given birth to on her family’s farm in April 1984.

Word soon reached the gardaí that not only had she been pregnant, but nobody had seen the baby.

Gardaí then interviewed the 24-year-old receptionist, and members of her family, at the start of May 1984.

Her initial statement that — as she stated repeatedly — she gave birth to an illegitimate baby boy in a field on her parents’ farm in Abbeydorney and could show gardaí his body was simply not believed.

They were instead convinced she gave birth to her baby in her bed, beat him over the head with a brush and strangled him before members of her family disposed of his body.

But the day after she was charged with the Caherciveen Baby’s murder, her own baby — known in official reports as The Tralee Baby — was found on her parents’ farm in a plastic bag.

Subsequent tests on a section of lung taken from the Caherciveen Baby showed he had a different blood group to Ms Hayes, Mr Locke and her own baby.

Charges against her and her family were eventually withdrawn in October 1984.

But some detectives persisted with their belief the Caherciveen Baby was hers, and that she had in fact given birth to twins fathered by two different men she had been having affairs with.

This, they maintained, would help explain the fact that the Caherciveen Baby’s blood type was different.

And they put forward the theory of heteropaternal superfecundation — an extremely rare occurrence in humans where a woman can give birth to twins who have different fathers.

It can happen where a woman sleeps with two different men within a few days of each other.

A tribunal was subsequently established to look into Garda handling of the case and how they had ever brought criminal charges against the Hayes family.

Chaired by Justice Kevin Lynch, its remit was also to look into claims by members of the family that they endured threats and had been assaulted during interviews by detectives.

But while the tribunal did indeed focus on Garda actions, and did make critical conclusions, detectives were effectively exonerated of the worst claims made against them.

The gardaí accused of wrongdoing were moved to different departments within the force while Ms Hayes' reputation was torn to shreds.

Her entire life was dissected as much as was her morality and mentality.

Every aspect of her private life was minutely dissected in a mercilessly unforgiving fashion.

The case rocked the country and remains to this day one of the most enduring of its time.

Ms Hayes, already an unmarried mother-of-one, had been having an affair with a married man.

Were it not for the discovery on White Strand, the affair could have remained little more than the subject of the odd knowing wink and a nudge from behind the famously squinty windows of rural Ireland.

The tribunal, which opened in January 1985, all but turned on her and her family.

The young woman had to endure the unedifying and embarrassing spectacle of the minutiae of her sex life being paraded in public.

During the 82-day tribunal hearing, she was cross-examined for a total of five days, and asked some 2,000 questions, including about how she lost her virginity.

The grilling she received at the hearing remains the longest amount of time in the history of the State that a witness has been questioned.

Joanne Hayes received an apology from the State, including an overturn of any findings of wrongdoing against her arising from the Kerry Babies Tribunal. Picture Eamonn Farrell/RollingNews.ie
Joanne Hayes received an apology from the State, including an overturn of any findings of wrongdoing against her arising from the Kerry Babies Tribunal. Picture Eamonn Farrell/RollingNews.ie

The report noted: “Joanne Hayes was well aware from the very start of her relationship with Jeremiah Locke, that he was a married man, but she allowed herself and indeed, encouraged herself to develop an overriding infatuation with him.

“Joanne Hayes entertained foolish dreams that Jeremiah Locke would leave his wife and family and set up house with her and that in some way or other, the fact of his marriage and the problems created by it so far as she was concerned, would just disappear.

“Obviously, it takes two people to have an affair.

“But Joanne Hayes was the main or dominant force in the liaison between herself and Jeremiah Locke.

“For his part, Jeremiah Locke gladly accepted the sexual favours which he knew were so readily available to him.” 

As broadcaster Roslyn Dee would later put it, the case opened a "Pandora's box of hatred and blame and misogyny and misery".

She added: “For a nation that lived such a valley-of-the-squinting-windows existence, where secrets were held fast and all kinds of dirty deeds were swept under the carpet, suddenly there it was, the dirty linen not only out of the cupboard, but hanging on the clothesline for all to see’.

Speaking on The Late Late Show after the tribunal, Ms Hayes said she felt she was the one on trial, not the gardaí.

“I didn’t expect a clap on the back, but I didn’t expect it would go so hard on me,” she said.

“After all, the tribunal was set up to look into the behaviour of the gardaí, but it was I who went on trial.

“The tribunal itself was a terrible experience.

“The report, when it came out, was very anti-women, not just anti-me, but anti-women, and I don’t think it showed any feeling at all.

“I was the underdog going into the case, anyway, I don’t think we could have won against the system.” 

Years after the tribunal concluded, it emerged in State archives that just days before it had been established on December 13, 1984, then justice minister Michael Noonan laid out his proposal for a judicial inquiry into the case.

The December 6 memo, drafted by Mr Noonan's department, stated Garda commissioner Larry Wren concluded that "some aspects of the original criminal investigation were being concealed".

It added: “Officers conducting the criminal investigation into the death of the Caherciveen baby were grossly negligent in their handling of the case.” 

Joanna Hayes' lawyer, Tralee-based Pat Mann, had little to say about Thursday’s requests, as the first he knew about them was a text he received while he was watching a film.

As well as representing Ms Hayes after she was questioned by gardaí and throughout the subsequent tribunal, Mr Mann was instrumental in securing a High Court apology to Ms Hayes and her family in 2020, as well as a settlement of about €2.5m.

That formal apology had reiterated ones the then Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and acting Garda Commissioner Dónall Ó Cualáin in 2018.

The apology was condemned as "34 years too late" by human rights and women's groups.

Superintendent Flor Murphy, who has led the cold case review since 2018, revealed a viable DNA profile had been obtained from samples taken from Baby John in the course of the original investigation.

This sample had, he told reporters in 2018, been examined and compared, and as a result of this analysis, he said gardaí could “conclusively state Ms Joanne Hayes is not the mother of Baby John”.

He also said: "On April 14, 1984, on White Strand Beach in Caherciveen, the lifeless body of a new-born baby boy was found in a bag.

“The baby was called Baby John and he is buried here in Caherciveen.

"Someone is Baby John’s mother.

“Someone is Baby John’s father.

“Someone knew his mother or father.

“People have carried a lot of pain and hurt over the last 30 years.

“This is an opportunity for them to help bring closure to this terrible event and ensure that Baby John receives justice.

"After all these years, Baby John deserves the truth.” 

After their belated apology, gardaí quietly returned to the area around Caherciveen to talk to residents and make statements.

It appeared — at the time — to yield few leads.

 Gardaí investigating the Kerry Babies back in September 2018 as they carry out door-to-door enquiries on Valentia Island. Picture: Alan Landers.
Gardaí investigating the Kerry Babies back in September 2018 as they carry out door-to-door enquiries on Valentia Island. Picture: Alan Landers.

Gardaí have always since believed answers to the shocking murder remain in Caherciveen, that someone, somewhere, has vital information, knows, saw, or heard something that can finally bring this case to an end.

In September, 2021, gardaí subsequently exhumed ‘Baby John’ from Holy Cross Cemetery because they said it was both “essential and important” in the search for justice.

They also appealed to the baby’s mother to come forward.

The subsequent investigation and multiple appeals for help and months of door-to-door inquiries by gardaí in the Kerry Division were also supported by the Garda Serious Crime Review Team.

Hundreds of people have been interviewed and over 560 lines of inquiry have been initiated.

Supt Murphy said of Thursday's arrests: “The arrests are a significant development in this investigation in an effort to establish the truth and deliver justice for Baby John.” 

The farmer who found the Caherciveen Baby could no longer bring himself to talk about that Sunday morning he found the lifeless remains he first mistook for a baby’s doll.

Jack Griffin’s wife told the Irish Examiner in December 2020 he never wanted to relive that day in public ever again.

When he did speak for the first time in a brief interview with the Irish Times in 2018 about the Kerry Babies case, he wondered aloud about how perhaps “a lot of people have put it behind them and moved on”.

Thursday’s arrests make it even harder for anybody directly associated with this case to simply move on any time soon as this latest chapter in this saga opens.

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