We need your help now

Support from readers like you keeps The Journal open.

You are visiting us because we have something you value. Independent, unbiased news that tells the truth. Advertising revenue goes some way to support our mission, but this year it has not been enough.

If you've seen value in our reporting, please contribute what you can, so we can continue to produce accurate and meaningful journalism. For everyone who needs it.


When life means life: 'God help me. The devil made me do it'

In the 1970s, two serial killers from the UK came to Ireland planning to rape and kill a woman every week.

IMAGINE LIVING BEHIND bars for the majority of your life. Confined in a prison, sharing a cell and looking at four walls, day in, day out, for close to half a century.

A handful of Irish prisoners have clocked up at least 40 years inside.

In total, there are 31 prisoners incarcerated in Ireland who have been in custody for more than 20 years.

Of this, 29 are serving life sentences and two are serving for capital murder, which carries a sentence of 40 years.

Through a Freedom of Information Act request, discovered there are three men who have been imprisoned for more than 40 years for murders committed in the 1960s and 1970s.

Last week, we told you the story of John Joseph Kenny who has been in prison more than 42 years.

This week, we focus on John Shaw – a serial killer who has been in the custody of the Irish Prison Service for 40 years.

John Shaw

One might think serial killers are only found in the US or on our TV screens. However, in 1976, Englishmen John Shaw and Geoffrey Evans set out to rape and murder women in Ireland.

The two men had fled to this island after being released from prison in the UK.

According to Stephen Rae’s book, Killers: Murders in Ireland, the two men were subject of a manhunt by British forces in connection with the rape of three girls, one of whom was the 16-year-old daughter of a police officer.

They soon came to the attention of the authorities here and were up in court for a number of crimes including burglary. Shaw, already a father of three children at this point, had a string of convictions against him. He was previously imprisoned for attempted rape as well as for indecently assaulting a young boy.

His partner in crime Geoffrey Evans, a father of two, also had a remarkable rap sheet.

In 1975, Shaw was imprisoned for 18 months for burglary, while Evans served just three weeks. Upon their release in 1976, the two began to plan how they would go about finding, raping and murdering women.

The two men would go on to abduct, torture, rape and murder, Elizabeth Plunkett (22) and Mary Duffy (24) in Wicklow and Mayo later that year.

The murder of Elizabeth Plunkett 

In late-August of 1976, Elizabeth Plunkett, a currency clerk from Ringsend, travelled to Britas Bay from Dublin with some friends. The plan was to stay for the weekend in a caravan. They were all drinking in McDaniel’s pub but after some bickering with her boyfriend, Ms Plunkett left the pub.

She was oblivious, but Evans and Shaw were looking on. They saw Ms Plunkett leave and followed her as she walked down the a dark road.

1795785_931676123520790_4697843120763748171_n McDaniels / Facebook McDaniels / Facebook / Facebook

Evans drove alongside her. Shaw had gotten out of the car earlier. Evans asked her where she was going and she replied, ‘Dublin’. Once she was in the car, they picked up Shaw.

The two men attacked Plunkett, hitting her and dragging her to the back seat. It’s reported that she was an athletic girl who was strong and put up a fight. When she screamed the men put tissue in her mouth.

Ms Plunkett was savagely beaten, taken to woods at Castletymon and raped by the two men – first Shaw and then Evans before being killed.

“An ordinary little row between her and him led to her death,” retired Detective Gerry O’Carroll told RTÉ Radio One’s Liveline back in 2012.

The accounts of what happened to Ms Plunkett come from the two men’s confessions to police.

Evans said she asked them to let her go. According to Rae’s book, Evans statement read:

John had intercourse with her. He forced himself on her as she didn’t want to. I walked away while John was doing this. After about a quarter of an hour I came back. The girl was lying on the ground. John was sitting next to her.

Evans then raped her repeatedly. He then told Shaw to kill her. In Shaw’s confession, he said Evans told him:

Remember what happened in England.

This is reported to possibly link back to the women they had attacked in the UK but who were not killed.

Shaw raped her again before taking the sleeve of a shirt and choking her to death.

To dispose of the body, they rowed out to sea, tied a lawnmower to Plunkett’s waist and threw her overboard.

Her body would wash up on the Wexford shore over a month after she was reported missing.

Using a stolen Ford Cortina, the pair drove around the country before arriving in Castlebar in County Mayo.

castlebar Google maps Google maps

The murder of Mary Duffy

Mary Duffy, a cook, was just finishing her shift at the local coffee shop just after 11pm on 26 September 1976. She called her brother for a lift, but she couldn’t get through to him. She called his workplace and was told that he was dropping someone else home but was due back shortly. She left a message that she was going to walk on, but that he was to pick her up along the way.

Shaw had been watching Mary and followed her down the road. Dragging her to the ground, Mary struggled to get Shaw off her. It’s reported that her screams could be heard by nearby residents but no one called the gardaí.

She was punched in the face so hard that her braces broke out of her mouth. They would later be found by gardaí. Evans drove the car up alongside them and Shaw put her in the vehicle.

The two men tied her hands and took turns at raping Ms Duffy in the back seat. After a long journey, they arrived at a clearing in Ballinahinch and pitched a tent. Ms Duffy was held captive and repeatedly raped.

The brutality did not end there. Ms Duffy was then tied to a tree and left there for what could have been up to 24 hours.

Ms Duffy was not reported missing in this time as her family assumed she had spent the night in town and gone straight to work. Evans continued to rape Ms Duffy the next day in the tent while Shaw went drinking in town.

Upon returning, Shaw said he gave Ms Duffy tablets and using a cushion from the car, he put it over her head, put his hands around her neck and killed her.

castlebar Lough Inagh

Evans and Shaw drove to Lough Inagh and, again, took a boat out on the lake.

Tying a concrete block to Duffy’s legs, a sledge-hammer to her waist and also a small block to her body, they threw her over the side. Her body would be discovered following a search of the lake nearly three weeks later.

The gardaí at this point were investigating the reports of the two missing women. They were also looking for the stolen Cortina.

Two patrol men came across the car in Salthill and both Shaw and Evans were arrested. During interrogation, both men gave statements confessing to the murders. They brought the gardaí to where they had dumped Duffy’s belongings.

On 29 September 1976, John Shaw and Geoffrey Evans, of Barna House caravan site in County Galway were charged.

When being brought to Dublin’s Mountjoy Prison, handcuffed to Garda Detective Gerry O’Carroll, it’s reported Shaw leaned over and said it was as well he had been caught because he and his partner were planning on “doing one a week”.

In a court appearance in early October in Castlebar that year, Garda Superintendant Thomas Nagle said Evans replied to the charges by saying: “I have nothing to say” while Shaw replied: “I am sorry.”

pic Irish Press 5 Oct 1976

However, the two men fought a long legal battle against their charges.

Closing the state’s case against Shaw, John Lovatt Dolan SC, said that “an extraordinary chain of coincidences proved inescapably” that John Shaw was guilty of murder.

Rex Mackey SC for the defence raised the issue of a fair trial. In his closing argument, he said that before the case came to trial it was a matter of discussion on the Late Late Show on RTÉ.

The broadcast was brought to the attention of the High Court and the Supreme Court, with both courts saying there had been a “flagrant contempt of the administration of justice”.

Mackey said the jury members were no doubt aware of the case which he said had “caused a feeling of revulsion throughout the whole country”.

He said that one of the staples of justice was a “golden thread of innocence” which could not be broken unless the accused was found guilty.

Mackey said the prosecution was relying on circumstantial evidence. The prosecution said it would require two people to dispose of the body at the lake.

“Have the jurors ever heard such nonsense?” asked Shaw’s defense counsel. The defense told the jury there were inconsistencies in the prosecution’s case.

According to the court report in the Connacht Tribune, Mackey said:

He is charged with three crimes, and here I must speak in the most critical possible manner of what Mr. Lovatt-Dolan invited you to say when he asserted that if the accused was found guilty of one of the crimes, that to use his word, inexorably, you had to find him guilty of all others. Possibly, I’m obtuse, possibly you can follow Mr Lovatt-Dolan’s reasoning better than I can, but how, I ask, can you say that some evilly disposed person – and whoever abducted this poor girl was evilly disposed – abducted her for sexual intercourse, can it follow that he was therefore guilty of murder?

The jury of 12 men retired, but later returned, asking to hear some of the evidence again. On Thursday 4 August after being out for five hours, the jury failed to agree on a verdict. Justice McWilliam excused them from jury duty for 15 years.

headline 1 Headline of the Connacht Tribune 5 August 1977.

During the 1978 murder trial, Shaw pleaded not guilty.

The court heard a statement made by Shaw to the gardaí, which he described the last 24 hours in the life of 23-year-old Mary Duffy.

Detective Garda Connolly said on 28 September 1976 at 4am, after being cautioned, Shaw agreed to give a statement, lasting three hours.

He said Shaw had his head in his hands and then rose up off the ground and said: “Okay, I’ll tell you everything.”

He told gardaí: “I didn’t want to do it. It was Geoff made me do it.” Detective O’Carroll told the court he thought Shaw betrayed signs of remorse rather than the signs of a man who was mentally broken.

The detective said that at one stage during the interview he heard Shaw say:

God help me. The devil made me do it. Keep him away from me.

river Irish Press 23 May, 1979.

Inspector John Daly of Galway told the court that Shaw did not want his photo taken by the press, so they put a blanket over his head as he was escorted from the station. He said they told Shaw that he was not obliged to lead them to the belongings of Mary Duffy or the scene, however, as they passed Lough Inagh in the car, he said, “this is the place”.

On 9 February 1978, John Shaw was sentenced to life in prison for the murders of Mary Duffy and Elizabeth Plunkett. He also received 14 years for rape and two years for false imprisonment.

Describing the moment the verdict was read, The Irish Independent reports:

“He leaned forward in the dock, dressed in a three-piece navy suit and wearing a grown-out crew cut, and grinned.”

However, the newspaper states that his grin soon faded after Justice Costello handed down a life sentence for murder.

Mackey asked for liberty to appeal on the grounds that the statements were made involuntarily and were therefore inadmissible. Justice Costello refused his leave of appeal, stating:

The accused has been found guilty by a jury of the count of murder and in my opinion it was a very justified finding.

Geoffrey Evans was found guilty of murder on 8 December 1978.

Both men would go on to appeal their convictions, stating that their Constitutional rights were violated as they were held longer than 48 hours for questioning.

murder Irish Press 23 May, 1979.

In 1979, Shaw had his appeal against his conviction turned down. He appealed on the grounds the trial judge, Justice Costello, erred in law in admitting certain evidence.

The Supreme Court also turned down his appeal in 1980.

In 2003, there were reports that Shaw could be released from prison.

Family members of Mary Duffy expressed dismay at the news, stating they were heartbroken and would fight the release of the men.

In 2004, the Connacht Tribune reported that an urgent plea had been made to the then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern to ensure the two men “rot in jail”.

This appeal was made by Fine Gael’s Michael Ring, amid reports the two men had applied to be released after spending 30 years in jail.

It would be outrageous it they were released from prison. These guys murdered once and they will do it again.

Well-placed sources told that Shaw has not changed since his incarceration and has never showed remorse for his crimes.

One source said: “He is a nasty piece of work who should never be allowed out. If he were to be released tomorrow, he would most certainly kill again.”

One half of the murdering duo, Geoffrey Evans, died in 2012. Shaw remains in prison at Arbour Hill.

Part One: When life means life: ‘All I went for was a few bob. I hadn’t it in mind at all to kill her’>

Readers like you are keeping these stories free for everyone...
A mix of advertising and supporting contributions helps keep paywalls away from valuable information like this article. Over 5,000 readers like you have already stepped up and support us with a monthly payment or a once-off donation.

Your Voice
Readers Comments
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.