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Mystery in Fermoy: The couple who vanished into thin air one day in 1991

The mysterious disappearance of Conor and Sheila Dwyer has been hanging over the town for more than two decades.

ON 30 APRIL 1991, Conor and Sheila Dwyer attended a funeral at St Patrick’s Church in Fermoy, Co Cork, which was just a short walk from their home.

A neighbour remembers seeing them on the steps of the church afterwards.

That was the last ever sighting of the married couple who were both in their early 60s at the time. Along with their car they vanished, leaving no sign of where they had disappeared to or why.

It was not until 23 days later that the couple was reported missing, when Sheila’s sister Maisie became concerned she had not heard from them.

At the Dwyers’ house on Chapel Hill, where they had raised two sons, gardaí found all of their personal belongings, including their clothes, passports and money.

All that was missing was their white Toyota Cressida.

“They kept to themselves”

It has been 24 years now since Conor and Sheila disappeared and in the quiet town of Fermoy a small number of people still remember them.

Neighbour John Murphy described them as “nice, gentle people”.

“They were quiet, kept to themselves. They went off on their holidays and did their own thing and they were good, church-going people.”

Missing couple Conor and Sheila Dwyer. Source: Garda Press Office

He remembers Sheila Dwyer as “a beautiful woman and lovely person”.

Her family, the Sweeneys,  had been well-known in Fermoy and others in the town made similar comments about her.

“She was a reserved lady and she was always perfectly dressed and made up,” local business owner Neil O’Donnell told us at his store on the main street in Fermoy.

Conor Dwyer, O’Donnell said, was “a very outgoing and likeable character”.

And he was a great man for driving the flashy cars. Big monsters of cars parked outside.

Locals who lived in the area at the time all seem to remember these luxury cars outside the house. Dwyer had previously worked as a plumber and as a hackney driver. At the time of his disappearance he was working as a chauffeur for German millionaire businessman Fritz Wolf, who often holidayed at Castlelyons, a small village 6 kilometres away from Fermoy.

For Wolf, he drove a Rolls Royce and a selection of other expensive vehicles.

Tadhg O’Donovan, a Labour councillor who grew up in the area, attended the school directly across from the Dwyers’ home on Chapel Hill.

“Growing up at that particular time, it wasn’t a wealthy area, it was working class so big cars like that wouldn’t go unnoticed by a young lad.”

A normal family life

One of the couple’s sons, also called Conor, told an RTÉ radio documentary in 2008 that his upbringing had been happy and normal.

Portraits of the missing couple, Conor and Shelia Dwyer. Source: Missingpersons.ie

He described his father as a “hilarious” man who often played jokes on them.

I remember one occasion many, many, many years ago, I was about four years of age and I was at Presentation Convent and my first teacher was a Sister Carmel. And for some reason, I think it was a Friday or Saturday morning at 8.30, and I came downstairs without my trousers…
My father was going out the front door and as he was going out he said: “Oh good morning Sister Carmel!” and I legged it thinking the nun was standing outside the door – with great screeches going back upstairs.

“I can still hear my father splitting a gut laughing at the front door, he just couldn’t stop, he was bent in two. And my mother going: ‘You’re a horrible man, don’t do that to the child’.”

In the RTÉ interview he said he could not think of anyone who would want to hurt his parents or any reason they would have run away and left their life and family behind.

Rumours 

Several rumours about Conor and Shelia surfaced over the years.

There had been a suspected sighting of them in Germany but this was never backed up and no further sightings were ever reported.

Some speculated Conor Dwyer was in financial trouble or had become involved in the drug trade in some way, but again, none of this was ever substantiated.

“I often wonder what the hell was going through their minds,” said their son, Conor. “What happened? It’s very, very bizarre, inexplicable. There is no answer. It’s a nightmare, a living nightmare that you have to live with every day.”

At the time he was interviewed, Conor said he believed his parents were alive, and he would never be angry with them if they got back in touch.

Today Conor would be 87 and Sheila would be 85.

Mysteries in Fermoy

The disappearance of this couple was not the only mysterious happening in Fermoy around that time.

Just 14 months before Conor and Shelia went missing another man, 54-year-0ld Billy Fennessy, had also vanished.

“It was very strange. People were dumbfounded by the whole thing,” John Murphy, the Dwyers’ neighbour who had also known Billy Fennessy, recalled.

“It was an extraordinary thing,” Neil O’Donnell told TheJournal.ie.

“It was unusual that one person would go missing in a small town like this, but for it to happen a second time – people were kind of nervous.”

A newspaper cutting from the front page of a local newspaper around the time the couple went missing. Source: Courtesy of Avondhu Press

For more than two decades the disappearances hung like dark shadows over the town, until the discovery of Billy Fennessy’s remains in a car on the bed of the River Blackwater in 2013. The car had been found by members of the Blackwater Sub Aqua Search and Rescue team in a routine dive.

Almost a quarter of a century since Conor and Shelia drove off in their white Toyota Cressida never to be seen again, most people in the town do not remember them.

Many people told us they were vaguely familiar with the story, but were not around during the lifetime of the Dwyers.

“I haven’t heard anyone mention them in the last 10 years now,” Neil O’Donnell said.

John Murphy said it is something people “don’t really talk about now”.

“I think people have moved on, life goes on.”

For the remaining members of the couple’s family, life has also moved on, but they carry the mysterious disappearance with them. As their son Conor put it:

“There’s a lot of unanswered questions. That’s what keeps you awake at night.”

The national Missing Persons Helpline can be reached on 1890 442 552 or through this website.

 

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