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Mother whose daughter was drowned by her husband asks for remains to be exhumed for burial in US

Martin McCarthy killed his young daughter Clarissa before taking his own life in west Cork in 2013.

Image: RTÉ

A WOMAN WHOSE daughter was drowned by her Irish husband in west Cork in 2013 is calling for her daughter’s remains to be exhumed and repatriated to the United States, where she now resides.

In an exclusive interview with RTÉ’s Claire Byrne Live programme, American citizen Rebecca Saunders said that she felt the decision to bury her three-year-old daughter with her Irish father Martin McCarthy was a “huge mistake”.

“Ever since Clarissa’s casket was closed and she was lowered down into that grave, I just felt like I had made a very grievous mistake,” she said.
“And while I understand the reasons why I decided what I had decided eight years ago, certain circumstances were brought to light that made me realise just how involved Martin’s plan was and I feel like burying them together was a huge mistake.”

Clarissa 25 months old Two-year-old Clarissa. Source: RTÉ

The tragedy in 2013

In the summer of 2004, Rebecca Saunders arrived in West Cork as an American school girl for an eight-week study abroad programme.

She met a local farmer, 42-year-old Martin McCarthy, and the pair were soon engaged.

Against her family’s wishes, Rebecca returned to West Cork to marry Martin McCarthy, and a few years later they had a baby girl called Clarissa.

But the marriage fell apart. In 2013, on the day she sought legal advice about a divorce, she arrived back at the farm to find Martin and Clarissa missing.

“I kept calling his phone and it would go to voicemail,” Rebecca told the Claire Byrne Live show.

“People started arriving and everybody started going in different parts of the field with flashlights… It was after about two hours of doing that, I was done. I had already driven down to the beach and I remember saying to myself this isn’t happening, this isn’t happening and I finally called the guards and I said I can’t find my daughter. Her and her father have gone off somewhere and I don’t know where they are and we’ve searched everywhere. The guards came down to the house. And it was pretty much once the guards got there, not long after that somebody had found Martin’s note in the dairy.”

An extract from the letter, read out on the Claire Byrne Live programme with Rebecca’s permission, said:

“If you can take Clarissa to America I can take Clarissa to heaven. You can now get on with the rest of your life as mine and Clarissa’s is about to end. By the time you will get to read this letter I and Clarissa will be in heaven. You did not realise how much I loved you, I could not see my daughter being raised up by a step father.”

Rebecca recounted the moment her daughter’s body was found.

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“I feel like it was probably 20 minutes after I had gotten on to the beach myself that all of a sudden, I saw this movement to the right of the beach and it was two men, ran down to the water and there she was, she was coming in on the tide…

“She still had her hat on and I knew once somebody shouted at other people just a while group of men came trying to resuscitate her…. It just felt like it was eternity, and you know during that time, time stood still.”

Rebecca told the Claire Byrne Live programme that she intends to have her daughter’s body exhumed so that she can bring her home to the United States where Rebecca now lives with her husband and two daughters.

“I feel like I essentially abandoned her because I am not there anymore and the grave and where she’s buried and how she’s buried and who she’s buried with, just gives me a great deal of stress that I would sleep better, I would be able to function better if I was able to take her home with me.

I know that exhuming her is not going to bring her back to me, but it will be some small amount of closure. And I hate to use that word but that is what it will be when I can exhume Clarissa, when I can take her home with me. There will be some small amount of closure that I no longer have to think that she’s in the arms of that monster. 

Rebecca Saunders has set up a GoFundMe page to help bring her daughter to the US.

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