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Thursday 21 September 2023 Dublin: 12°C
Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland Mark Nash pictured in 1998 after being sentenced for the murder of the young Roscommon couple.
# Cold Case
Mark Nash sentenced to life for the brutal murder of two women at Grangegorman
The mutilated bodies of the two women were found in their sheltered accommodation nearly 20 years ago.

CONVICTED DOUBLE MURDERER Mark Nash has been found guilty of the “cold case” murder of two women, whose mutilated bodies were found in their sheltered accommodation in Grangegorman in Dublin nearly twenty years ago.

Nash is already serving a double life sentence in Arbour Hill Prison since October 1998 for murdering two people in Ballintober, Castlerea in Roscommon and leaving a woman seriously injured in mid-August 1997.

The 42 year old, who is originally from England but has last addresses at Prussia Street and Clonliffe Road in Dublin, had pleaded not guilty at the Central Criminal Court to the murder of Sylvia Sheils (59) and Mary Callanan (61) between March 6 and March 7, 1997.

However, a Central Criminal Court jury today found him guilty of the charges by unanimous verdict after deliberating for just over four hours.

Mr Justice Carroll Moran thanked the eleven members of the jury for giving a considerable proportion of their life to the trial and told them they would never have to serve on a jury again.

Mr Hugh Hartnett SC acting for the accused asked the judge for the sentence to be backdated as there was a delay on the part of the State in bringing the prosecution in 1999 and it was appropriate for there to be some back dating.

Mr Justice Carroll Moran denied this and sentenced Nash to a life sentence for the double murder from today.

The judge then offered his condolences to the family of Ms Sheils who he said have all have suffered.

“Nothing I say that can change it and I’d like to pass on those condolences on behalf of anyone else in the courtroom who has been affected as well,” said Mr Justice Moran.

The trial

From the outset the trial was set to last six to eight weeks but instead it continued for more than nine weeks during which the jury heard evidence from 71 witnesses including gardai attached to the Bridewell Garda Station in Dublin, Mill Street Garda Station in Galway, the National Bureau of Criminal Investigations (NCBI) at Harcourt Square, Mountjoy Prison and Forensic Science Ireland (FSI).

Mark Nash had been formally charged with the offences in respect of the double murder at Grangegorman in October 2009.

It happened after ”a spectacular breakthrough” led to the DNA of the two deceased women being found on a black pin-striped velvet jacket belonging to Nash as part of the cold case review.

Mr Brendan Grehan SC and Ms Una Ni Raifeartaigh SC acted for the State and called 71 witnesses over the ten weeks as well as having 39 exhibits.

It is understood there were over 260 persons of interest in the investigation, over 1,800 statements were taken at the time as well as 1,700 lines of enquiry.

Mr Justice Carroll Moran told the eleven jury members that the prosecution’s case was based on three things; the admissions made by the accused; the print of the caterpillar boot found in bedroom number one of Orchard View at Grangegorman; and finally the scientific evidence and DNA.

It was the prosecution’s case that there was 13 confessions made by Mark Nash to the Grangegorman murders and all were consistent from beginning to end.

Victim impact report

The niece of Ms Sheils, Suzanne Nolan today delivered a victim impact report which was prepared by her mother, Stella Nolan, who was a sister of the deceased.

In it Stella Nolan recollected how it was Friday March 7 1997 when she heard the news that her sister, Sylvia Sheils, had been murdered while she slept in her bed.

Stella Nolan had been present in court throughout the trial and also knew the other victim, Ms Callanan well.

“For 18 years, justice has been delayed and justice delayed is justice denied. Not only for me, but for my family. Murder does not affect one person only – it affects the whole family. The grief and loss is felt by parents, grandparents, grandchildren, fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, in-laws, cousins, friends and acquaintances. It never goes away,” read Suzanne Nolan.

“Death – as hard and all as it is inevitably to deal with – is a natural event’ murder is not. It is the illegal unlawful taking of the life of another. It is the most fundamental crime in my view,” she continued.

Suzanne Nolan read how it has been incredibly difficult and painful for her mother and for all their family to deal with the consequences of Sylvia’s life at the age of 59 years being taken the way it was and equally difficult to live through the past 18 years waiting for justice – through judicial reviews, appeals and review processes; waiting to see the perpetrator of the crime held accountable.

In Stella’s words, Suzanne Nolan told the court how these murders had affected the lives of three families – Mary’s and Sylvia’s – but also the family of Dean Lyons, an innocent man imprisoned for 9 months for their deaths.

The late Dean Lyons was the first person who made an independent admission to the murder of Sylvia Sheils and Mary Callanan and he was charged with the murder of Mary Callanan in Grangegorman on July 27 1997. In April 1998, the charge was withdrawn from Dean Lyons.

Described as a peace-loving, gentle and sincere person, the court heard Sylvia Sheils was never violent and lived a quiet life.

She had been a civil servant for 20 years and worked in the Valuation Office as a draughtsman and took early retirement.

Sylvia Sheils was educated in Loreto Abbey Dalkey and Loreto Convent Kilkenny. Described as well read and loved music, she played chess and was well informed of politics and every day affairs.

“Her life was as valuable to her as each person’s is to them. I often talk about her to my grandchildren. But they will never know her, although some of them are very like her. This is such a sad loss, as it is also a constant reminder of what happened to her. Nothing can ever change that. So for me there is no joy, only sadness and loss,” read Suzanne Nolan.

“She was my only sister, my younger sister. For me, it’s taken all my reserves of strength to attend this trial. I was 63 when the murders were committed. I’m now 81. The impact on my life of the most horrific and savage murders is massive and it continues to affect me and my health. It also affects all of my children and my family as they try to support me.”

“Sylvia and Mary’s lives were taken from them while they slept in their beds. They had mental health issues and were very vulnerable women. They were completely innocent. They played no part in what happened to them. They had a human right for their lives not to be taken from them. Nothing or no one can undo what has been done. I can forgive the sinner, not the sin – it can never be forgotten,” concluded Ms Nolan.


Retired State Pathologist John Harbison reported in 1997 that the serious genital injuries to the two women found dead in the sheltered accommodation 18 years ago was “outside” his experience in 26 years.

Detective Garda Eugene Gilligan, since retired, who was attached to the Garda Technical Bureau at the time and was one of the first witnesses in this trial told the court he arrived at Orchard View on the morning of March 7 1997 and he first identified the body of Mary Callanan who was found in her bedroom wearing a blue floral nightdress which had been gathered around her upper chest with just a slipper on her right foot.

The court heard two electric carving knife blades were found in her bedroom, one beside her neck and another on the floor. A third kitchen fork which featured a red handle, was also found protruding from her vagina which was extremely difficult to remove.

“It had been pushed up into her vagina with an amount of force and embedded in the bone. It was a two pronged fork and one of the prongs jammed within the bone,” said Mr Gilligan who held the two pronged fork up at the time for the court to see.

Ms Callanan also had a “severe facial and knife wound through her mouth and lips, her throat been severed with 36 strokes” as well as an attempt made to amputate her left breast.

The second lady at the scene Sylvia Sheils was found wearing a bra, a black slip and the torn remains of her knickers attached to her left thigh as she lay on her back across the bed with her feet on the ground. Ms Sheils had sustained neck, head, chest, abdominal and vaginal injuries.

Mr Gilligan said two knives were found in her bedroom, a Prestige brand of a steak knife with the blade slightly bent, found amongst the bed clothes, as well as a large serrated carving knife, found under her bed, with the blade bent to around 180 degrees.

Ms Sheils had at “least 17 separate injuries afflicted to her body, some ten separate wounds to her head and neck area.”

How the confession happened

Gardai from Mill Street Garda Station in Galway gave evidence during the trial about seeing Mark Nash pushing a bicycle along Two Mile Ditch on the Tuam Road in Galway in 1997.

At the time Nash was a man wanted for the murder of Carl and Catherine Doyle and for the serious assault of Sarah Jane Doyle in Ballintober, Castlerea in Roscommon on August 16 in 1997.

After being arrested Nash was taken to Mill Street garda station where he was interviewed by former Detective Garda Anthony Reidy and former Detective Garda John O’Donnell.

Mr Reidy told the court how during the course of questioning about the Roscommon event, Nash said he wished to volunteer information in relation to a double murder he committed in Dublin five months earlier, while on route from a fundraising event at the GPO to Stoneybatter.

“Mr Nash said he wanted to talk to us about the Phibsborough incident. He said a few months ago he was on his way home from Dublin city centre to Stoneybatter and broke into a back window of a house and stabbed two women.”

Mr Reidy then read a few passages to the court from the memo which Nash signed that night in Mill Street Garda Station:

About three months ago I was walking home and I stabbed two women in their sleep, my mind was disturbed at the time, you have to understand that. I have had this memo read over to me and it is correct.I cannot explain my mind at time, but everything seemed to turn black, I lost control and decided to break into a house, I went in a side entrance to the back of house.

Two copies of sketches drawn by the accused on August 17 1997 while being questioned in Galway were also provided to the jury.

The first was of the inside of the house detailing the rooms at Orchard View where he said at the time he had murdered the two women and the second was a sketch of the outside of the house indicating the area where a person was hiding behind pillars across the road.

Mr Reidy told the court that on the following day Nash was taken from Mill Street Garda Station to Mountjoy Prison in Dublin where en route he pointed out the house where he murdered the two women.

Letters sent 

During the trial the court were also read two letters send to Sarah Jane Doyle by the accused following her serious assault by Nash in Roscommon on August 16 1997.

The first letter was made up of a sealed envelope addressed to “Head Injuries” at Beaumont Hospital which contained three pages as well as a second envelope containing £140.

The first letter read: “I went mad. This is the second time I’ve gone this way and it lead to the same thing before, I’m insane and I don’t deserve to live, I’m so sorry to all of you and by the time this reaches you I will be dead.”

“I fucking flipped, I can’t think, I’ve gone mad and I can’t help myself, who would have thought it could have ever possibly gone this way. Sorry Sarah I shouldn’t say it but I love you, good bye Mark.”

The court also heard how Nash wrote a second letter to Ms Doyle in a cell in Mill Street garda station on August 17, 1997.

The lengthy letter running over three pages was read to the court and contained an excerpt which described Nash’s “violent tendencies” which he has “had for a long time now, episodes where I lose all self-control.”

“It happened before in or near Prussia Street but you will read all about it no doubt,” the court heard.

It continued: “I’m telling the full truth, I want it in the open” and was at the time signed by Nash.

Another confession was Nash telling the prison chaplain at Mountjoy he wanted him to contact the authorities to tell them he wanted to contact the gardai about the Grangegorman murders.

Nash later retracted his statements blaming “media reports, teletext and radio” accounts as well as “prompting” questions asked by the gardai in Galway for his knowledge of the 1997 double murder.

The black velvet jacket

In his opening speech to the trial on January 22 2015 Mr Grehan told the court that apart from Nash “admitting” he had carried out the murders, there was “in addition completely independent, objective and scientific evidence by way of DNA analysis which the prosecution say, can only be rationally explained by pointing to Mark Nash for these murders.”

In 2009 “a spectacular breakthrough” led to the DNA of the two deceased women being found on a black pin-striped velvet jacket belonging to Nash as part of a cold case review.

The jacket did not originate at the crime scene but five months after the killings in Grangegorman, Chief Supt Dominic Hayes who held the rank of Detective Sergeant at the time and was attached to the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation (NBCI) at Harcourt Square in 1997, told the jury he went to Nash’s flat on Clonliffe Road to obtain the jacket.

While there gardai also seized one pair of black caterpillar boots, another pair of boots and a suit.

The court heard evidence that the jacket was worn by the accused on the night of March 6 1997 when he was attending a charity quiz at the GPO on O’Connell Street, a fact that has never been retracted by Nash.

Dr Linda Williams from FSI told the court she got a profile match from the threads of the jacket which matched Ms Sheils’ DNA profile.

Dr Williams also told the court how a DNA profile obtained from a “particle” found inside the seam of the right sleeve of the black velvet jacket also matched the deceased Mary Callanan.

Mr Grehan said the most obvious explanation of why DNA of both women were found close together on the jacket was because the person that carried out the murder was the person that was wearing the jacket.

“The jacket identified by Mark Nash found DNA profiles of both deceased ladies. These matters are powerful corroborating evidence of Mark Nash’s guilt,” said Mr Grehan in his closing speech.

Bloodied footprint

The jury heard from the prosecution that the only significant item recovered by Superintendent Gilligan was a footprint in lino from the front room of Orchard View in Grangegorman and that footprint was in blood.

“In the aftermath of the terrible murders, one of the sole pieces of evidence which could link Mark Nash to the scene was the footprint of a caterpillar boot and Mark Nash owns a pair of caterpillar boots,” said Mr Grehan.

The “plank in the prosecution’s case”, Mr Grehan said was “no mere coincidence” that Nash owned a pair of caterpillar type 9 boots.

Delay in trial proceedings

Today in court after the verdict, questions were put by Mr Grehan to Assistant Commissioner Derek Byrne who was appointed to investigate the case in 1997 to get to the bottom of how these independent admissions could be made and to get to the truth.

The court heard that on October 10 2009 Nash was formally charged with the offences in respect of the double murder at Grangegorman.

Mr Grehan told the court Nash was sent forward for trial in the Central Criminal Court and it was fixed for the following year but Nash called judicial reviews proceedings to have the trial halted before the High Court due to prejudicial pre trial publicity.

Nash then appealed to the Supreme Court and it was dealt with by them in December 2014.

The court heard from Mr Grehan that the first of the deceased women Ms Sheils would have been 60 years of age later in 1997 if she had lived and she was a single lady who in 1980 was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

In June 1994 she moved to Orchard View and was described as a bubbly and friendly person.

The second of the deceased Ms Callanan was 61 years of age at the time of her death, was single and diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.

Ms Callanan was an only child and both her parents died in the 1960s. It was on the death of her father she suffered a nervous breakdown.

Mr Grehan told the court that Nash was born in Ballina in Co Mayo in 1973 and moved to England in 1974. He later moved to Leeds where met Lucy Porter who he had a child with in 1996.

In October 1996 Nash was arrested in England, admitted on bail and came to Ireland where he secured temporary rented accommodation in Prussia Street. Nash then began a relationship with Sarah Jane Doyle and moved to live with her in Clonliffe Road.

The court heard today he had a number of previous convictions that began in March 1990 in a juvenile court when he assaulted a female and was fined.

Other convictions over the years included driving offences and assaults

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