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Dessie Fox: The violent killing of an 'incredible family man'

As part of this week’s Getting Away With Murder Series, we go back to 1990 and the killing of a father-of-three in Kildare.

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Getting Away With Murder: Ireland’s Unsolved Homicides will tell the story of this country’s unknown killers and forgotten victims. In this six-part series, TheJournal.ie will revisit a number of cold cases, speak to the detectives tasked with solving these murders and hear from the families left behind with no justice – but lots of questions. Here, we go back to 1990 and the killing of a father-of-three in Kildare. 

ON 30 SEPTEMBER 1990, bookmaker Dessie Fox planned to attend a race meeting at the Curragh.

As he drove to the venue, he was ambushed. The occupants of a red Toyota Carina behind him opened fire on his car at Healy’s Bridge in Prosperous, Co Kildare, causing damage to the right rear indicator and the front left tyre.

The 47-year-old attempted to reverse away but his vehicle left the road, forcing him to stop. The raiders then caught up with him and as they approached, one shot from a handgun through the passenger door. The bullet entered Fox’s leg, severing a main artery.

“Within a minute, you go unconscious. Another 30 seconds and you’re dead,” retired garda Brendan McArdle who worked on the case told TheJournal.ie.

It is now 27 years since Dessie Fox was killed and no one has ever been prosecuted.

Targeted

Gardaí believe a gang specifically targeted Fox because he was a bookmaker and would usually have a large amount of cash with him. What is unclear is which gang was responsible.

Investigators believe there were two raiders in the stolen Carina; one of them wore a Puma cap which was discarded near the scene. They took a black leather briefcase containing cash, a canvas money back, billheads, a Motorola portable car phone and car keys.

Former garda McArdle said officers knew they were dealing with an organised gang.

“They went out to rob him and there was a lot of work put into it. There were lots of suggestions about different criminal gangs, but it wasn’t easy to put forward a particular group.

Somebody knew what route he took and they chose to target him at a certain part of his journey. They decided not to rob him in, say, Dungannon in Co Tyrone, or in South Armagh or in Monaghan or in Dundalk. In other words, the logistics of the gang would suggest that it was somebody from the greater Dublin area, rather than from the likes of Monaghan or from the north of Ireland.

“You have to start working out the aspects of why. Was there somebody in the gambling or in the bookmaker scene or general races scene who knew that he was carrying large sums of money and why did it not happen to another bookmaker?”

‘Dessie’s dead’

“I have a very vivid memory of that day,” Mick Duggan, a friend and neighbour of the victim recalled to TheJournal.ie.

“I was sitting in my own house here when a very good friend of Des and a guy who would have gone with him regularly to race meetings came to my door. He was nearly knocking the door down. I opened the door and he fell through it and his words were, ‘Dessie’s dead.’

I kept saying ‘What are you talking about?’

“That was the start of an incredible three or four hours. The news bulletins began to talk about a person being dead, and then a bookmaker being dead and eventually the local priest came to my house and we went across to relay the news formally to Bernadette and the girls.”

It was a horrific experience to be honest – one that I’ll not forget.

‘An incredible family man’

Duggan described the bookmaker as “a great friend to speak to” and a “modest, kind guy”.

“He was a very intense person on the other hand. It was an intense job he had, there’s a lot of stress in betting. He was always on the run, always a busy man, literally running all the time. Whether it was for his family or his work or his community, he was always on the go.”

Though his job was hectic, Duggan said Fox’s family was everything to him and much of the rushing he did was to get back home.

“He was a really incredible family man, he had three beautiful daughters and he was really besotted with those three girls and his wife. He was very involved in their education and their pastimes… They were great musicians.”

Questions left unanswered

Making a renewed appeal about her father’s murder on the 20th anniversary in 2010, Lorna Fox O’Mahony said her family’s lives had been “shattered”. She was 15 at the time of his death, her older sister 19 and the youngest just seven.

“As time has passed, that sense of loss has never diminished, but the horror of how he died has also sunk in. For us to deal with this, we need to know the truth of what happened on that day,” she said.

“It has been, and continues to be, a struggle to deal with not knowing,

My dad was a kind and generous man, and we were a very close family. My sisters and I looked up to him, we relied on his advice and guidance, and we knew that he was always there for us. My life with my dad ended shortly after my 15th birthday, but even as a teenager I could see the respect, admiration and affection that people had for him.

“I just loved being with him, and he would often take me with him while he went about his business. Whether he was popping to the shops to buy bread, calling with friends or doing work for our local GAA club, I’d always want to come, and he’d take me along and often tell me stories about when he was young.

Since we lost my dad, I’ve missed having that closeness with him as an adult, missed getting to know him as an adult. My mum, my sisters and I have all missed being able to talk to him about important decisions in our lives. And it’s not just the big things. We miss him every day, we miss talking to him, asking his advice, sharing our day-to-day lives with him. We lost so much that day, and so did my dad. He has missed seeing us grow up, start our first jobs, get married, and have our own children – his grandchildren. He never had the chance to raise his family, grow older and enjoy retirement with my mum.

‘A very violent death’

Garda say the investigation into the 47-year-old’s murder is still very much open and they are hoping some new information may help bring his killers to justice.

“It was a very violent death. For his family, they would naturally wonder how did he feel – was he scared, was he frightened?” Duggan said.

“If you could only find out who did these things and why they did it, it would be some closure. Is it too late now? Have they already met their own ends? It does get a bit more unlikely as time goes on but then you never know – even at this stage if someone believes they know something it could help allow people to have some peace.”

Anyone with information about Dessie’s murder can contact Crimestoppers in confidence on 1800 25 00 25.

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