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Dublin: 5 °C Wednesday 11 December, 2019
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'What happened Joanne is our worst nightmare': Unlawful killing verdict returned at Joanne Ball inquest

Joanne’s body was found in a wardrobe in her estranged husband’s apartment at 92 Ranelagh Road on 15 February 2018.

Joanne Ball.
Joanne Ball.
Image: Garda Press

THE MOTHER OF Joanne Ball (38) described the loss of her “beautiful, bubbly’” daughter as the family’s “worst nightmare”.

Joanne’s body was found in a wardrobe in her estranged husband’s apartment at 92 Ranelagh Road on 15 February 2018. She had been strangled six days earlier and her body was wrapped in a plastic bin bag and a sleeping bag and stored in a wardrobe.

“What has happened Joanne is our worst nightmare, it changed our lives forever, we miss her and think of her every minute of every day,” Catherine Ball said.

At an inquest into her daughter’s death, Mrs Ball said she last saw her daughter alive on her birthday, 2 February and Joanne surprised her with a cake.

She described her daughter as bubbly and beautiful. She said Joanne loved hill-walking and animals and her four dogs and two cats were like her children. Joanne and Keith Lee had been together for 20 years and married for 13.

“She was addicted to Keith,” Mrs Ball said.

Joanne had come home to live with her mother at the end of 2017 after Lee had been arrested in relation to drugs.  The marriage broke up after Lee’s arrest when Joanne found he was cheating. Early in 2018, Joanne’s family were aware she had begun meeting him again to try and reconcile the marriage.

Joanne’s sister Jennifer Ball said the family always knew Lee was involved in drugs but thought it was minor. 

“The family got on well with Keith, there were never any problems,” Jennifer Ball said.

On February 5 Joanne left home and went to meet Lee. They spent the next night, February 6 together at the Travelodge in Rathmines. That night, there was phone contact between Lee and another woman, Gemma Hanney.

While Joanne was in the Travelodge, Lee met Ms Hanney in a bar. He arranged to meet her at his flat, 92 Ranelagh Road the following day. He returned to the hotel and went to a nearby bar with Joanne that night.

Gemma Hanney said she met Keith Lee in September 2017 and they “just clicked”.

“I knew he was married but they’d split up because he was caught with drugs,” she said in a deposition read out at Dublin Coroner’s Court.

On February 7, Ms Hanney said she rang Lee’s phone and Joanne answered.

“She answered and said ‘hi, who’s this? It was Joanne,” Ms Hanney said in her statement.

The inquest heard Ms Hanney had been staying in the flat in Ranelagh with Lee but left the previous week.

On February 9, a witness saw Lee and Joanne get out of her car at 92 Ranelagh Road.

Gardaí believe Joanne was killed that day.

Ms Hanney said she met Lee later the same day.

“I bumped into Keith outside his flat. He had a plaster on his ear and said she’d stabbed him with a scissors. He said he had locked her into the flat because she was going nuts,” Ms Hanney said.

There were several texts sent to and from Joanne’s phone after her death, the inquest heard. 

“There was a large amount of activity relating to the sale and supply of drugs,” Detective Garda Shane Griffin said.

He believed Mr Lee began texting Joanne’s phone in a bid to “dupe gardaí”. 

“On February 10, he texted Joanne and said ‘love you baby, haven’t been this happy since our world fell apart’.”

Lee used Joanne’s phone to text a reply to his phone.

“Love you baby. I feel the same way. See you in a while x.”

Joanne’s sister Jennifer Ball was in touch by phone with Lee. She said the family were reporting her missing and urged him to do the same.

“I thought they might have run away together but I never thought she could be dead,” she said.

On February 15, gardaí called to the house in Ranelagh and broke down the door of a second floor apartment. Inside they found Marley, Joanne’s Rottweiler and an open window. They found Lee 30ft below in the back garden. His legs were entangled in a wooden chair. He told gardaí his legs were broken. He had a knife and began to self-harm.

“He said he killed her and she was in the wardrobe. He said he didn’t want to live and to let him die. He said she had stabbed him in the ear and he had killed her,” Detective Garda Ronan Hobbs said.

An autopsy conducted by Professor Marie Cassidy gave the cause of death as asphyxia due to strangulation. A toxicology report found evidence of a small amount of cocaine, ketamine and codeine in her system but these played no role in her death.

The jury returned a verdict of unlawful killing. Keith Lee was found dead in his prison cell on April 12 2018.

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Louise Roseingrave

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