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'What did she go through?': The unsolved murder of a young Clare woman

Interpol is involved in the worldwide investigation into the death of Emer O’Loughlin.

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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 revisit the appalling, violent killing of a Clare woman and the international search for her murderer. 

“I WAS JUST home from work when I heard the phone. Her boyfriend rang me and said Emer was missing. He said there was a fire in the neighbour’s mobile home and she was there at the time, but they didn’t know if there was anyone in it.”

That phonecall on 8 April 2005 would mark the beginning of a living nightmare for Johnny O’Loughlin and his family. His 23-year-old daughter Emer had been murdered. Almost 12 years later, they still do not know why.

After travelling the world with her longterm boyfriend Shane, the young Clare woman moved into a mobile home with him on land owned by his family. They planned to live at the caravan site in Ballybornagh until they could afford to build their own house.

Emer had just received news that she had been accepted to the National College of Art and Design (NCAD) in Dublin.

“She was delighted. She was brilliant at art like, she loved it,” her father said. “She used to call to the house when she wasn’t in college, she might stay the night, she’d have tea and play with her stepbrother.”

‘Something wasn’t right’

On 8 April, Shane received a call to say his neighbour John Griffin’s mobile home was on fire. When he arrived at the site, Emer was nowhere to be found. The electricity in their caravan had not been working that morning and she had talked about finding somewhere to charge her phone.

He got worried when there was a fire there and she wasn’t around. Her keys were there, her car was there, her dogs were there. She had two dogs – and she never went anywhere without the dogs. If she went off to college, the dogs would be tied up but they were roaming around. We knew something wasn’t right.

Human remains were visible in the burnt wreckage of the caravan.

“When she wasn’t around, we presumed it was her. She wouldn’t just go missing.”

DNA results confirmed their worst fears. It was Emer.

A post-mortem, however, was unable to determine her cause of death. It was not until 2010 – after her body was exhumed – that it was concluded the young woman had suffered a violent death before the fire.

The Irish Independent reported at the time that she had died of severe head and back injuries. A traditional Nepalese knife was recovered from the remains of the caravan.

Griffin, the owner of the mobile home Emer’s body was discovered in, was nowhere to be found when the fire was first reported. Gardaí later traced him to Galway City, and when interviewed he said he had stayed with a relative the night before Emer’s death and knew nothing about the blaze.

Two days after gardaí tracked him down, Griffin barricaded himself inside Dun Aengus fort on Inishmore. The Irish Independent reported the man threw rocks at people who approached him and after a nine-hour stand-off with gardaí he was overpowered. He was admitted to a psychiatric hospital for five days.

On 18 April, after having shaved his head and beard, he boarded a ferry to Inis Mor. A pile of his clothes were later found folded on the edge of a cliff on the island.

‘Protecting him’

Gardaí believe Griffin faked his death and fled the country. He is believed to be hiding under an assumed name in Europe and there have been a number of reported sightings over the last decade.

An Interpol notice says he is suspected of murdering a young woman and of setting fire to the caravan after assaulting her.

Authorities believe he may be in the UK, Germany, Spain or the Netherlands. Interpol said he could be using the names ‘Fozzy Griffin’, ‘John McDermott’ or ‘John Griffin’ but with a different date of birth.

In 2011, Crimestoppers appealed for information about the whereabouts of Griffin and offered a substantial cash reward. Garda Superintendent Pat Murray said officers were “very anxious” to speak to him.

Johnny O’Loughlin said people in Ireland connected to the main suspect in his daughter’s murder know where he is and are “protecting him by not giving him up”.

‘A life sentence’

In an RTÉ documentary on Emer’s murder, her mother Josephine spoke about how important it was for her to see justice served for her daughter.

“It’s not an easy thing, but then I say to myself: I’m thinking this is hard, what did she go through? So that’s the only thing that’s keeping me going, the fact that whoever did this will be caught.”

Josephine has since passed away.

On the ninth anniversary of the young woman’s death, her sister Pamela shared a post on Facebook, reminding people that the person who murdered her sister is still “out there free as a bird”.

She said her family faced “a life sentence living with this terrible loss and waste of a young life”.

Not knowing why this was done to her is the toughest thing to cope with especially when there are people out there who do know, but choose to betray her and us with lies and keep their silence.

“Nine years is a long time and patience with the whole process is wearing mighty thin,” she said.

“I’ve often wondered what she’d be doing now if she was still alive. Would she have kids? Would she be living in the house that she was planning to build with her longterm boyfriend?” Pamela asked, when interviewed for the RTÉ show.

“I do wonder if she would have stayed with her art, would it have been something she would have pursued? Would she have become well known as an artist? And there are so many things we’re going to miss out on over the years to come because Emer was taken away from us.”

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