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Thursday 7 December 2023 Dublin: 10°C Noel Long

Gardaí believe convicted cold case killer Noel Long is suspect in 'large number' of sex attacks

Long, 74, was found guilty in August of murdering Cork woman Nora Sheehan 42 years ago.

GARDAÍ ARE UNDERSTOOD to be investigating whether a “large number” of sex attacks on women spanning more than 40 years could have been carried out by convicted murderer Noel Long. 

Long, 74, was found guilty in August of murdering Cork woman Nora Sheehan 42 years ago. He was prosecuted as a result of a cold case review that retrieved DNA samples retained by the State.

A panel of seven men and four women unanimously accepted the prosecution case that Long, who has a 1972 conviction for sexual offending and multiple previous assault convictions, was guilty of the 1981 murder. Long is appealing the conviction. 

Now, The Journal understands that other unsolved cases are being examined to ascertain if Long might possibly have been involved in them. 

There are a large number of incidents which investigating gardaí believe they could “put” to the convicted killer, it is understood. 

A source familiar with the investigation said that it is proving difficult progressing those investigations at present as traumatised victims do not wish to revisit the incidents from the past. 

One example was given at the end of the Nora Sheehan trial, when Long’s counsel made an application in the absence of the jury for the case to be struck out on grounds of the delay in the prosecution. The submission was turned down. At this stage, however, it was mentioned that the Serious Crime Review Team had tried to progress a rape allegation against Long from 1982 but the victim was not willing to become involved.

The complex investigation into whether Long was involved in crimes which he has not been tied to would likely require a much larger probe into his activities and require a full-time team. 

Cold case caseload

Cold case reviews stemming from a murder investigation are not unusual; gardaí constantly reassess unsolved murders. In this case, detectives in west Cork assisted by specialist National Bureau of Criminal Investigation investigators from the Serious Crime Review Team had begun to re-examine murders that had taken place in their area. 

Nora Sheehan’s murder was one of these. Her body was found by forestry workers at The Viewing Point at Shippool Woods in Cork six days after she went missing in June 1981. 

Long, who grew up on Cork’s southside and qualified as a welder, had been involved in crime since he was a teenager, and his history of violent and sexual offences at the time had marked him as a likely suspect in the Nora Sheehan killing soon after her body was found.  

He had joined the British Army in the late 1960s and briefly lived in the UK before returning to Ireland. In an article by Barry Roche in the Irish Times in August, a garda who had known Long since he was a teenage offender said that “after his stint in the British Army he was very aggressive and angry any time we ever stopped him. He definitely came back a changed man.”

He was tried for a number of crimes over the years between his return to Ireland and the Nora Sheehan trial, some of which resulted in sentencing and some of which resulted in trials ending on a technicality. 

As part of the cold case review, investigating gardaí visited Long in 2021 and seized clothing from him as they launched a fresh examination of the case. 

As well as taking a deep dive into statements and intelligence entries, and revisiting witnesses from the time, investigators also devised a new forensic strategy for the case. Advances in DNA examination techniques and technology enabled gardaí to progress the case to a trial and eventual conviction. 

These advances have now allowed other cases to be examined in which Long has been identified as a possible person of interest.  

Long term suspect

As part of the cold case review, gardaí also looked at other sexual assault cases from around this time where Long was a suspect, in an attempt to determine if he could be arrested and DNA obtained from him, which could then have been used in the Sheehan murder trial.

At the time of Nora Sheehan’s murder in 1981, Long was living on the outskirts of Cork city near Curraheen with his then-wife and two sons. 

As well as being suspected of a number of sexual violence crimes, he was also arrested under the Offences Against the State Act for an armed robbery. 

In a pretrial hearing the court heard that on 16 June, 1981 – four days after Nora Sheehan’s body was found at Shippool Woods near Innishannon – Long was arrested and detained for two days under the counter terrorism legislation in relation to an armed robbery at a post office in Cork city.

The gardaí who had arrested him suspected him of murdering Sheehan and while he was in custody for the armed robbery they took the risk of questioning him at the time, despite not having power to do so. 

The jury never heard about Long’s arrest nor that he was questioned by gardaí regarding the murder of Sheehan, where he denied any involvement or that he knew the victim. 

Long was released from custody two days later on 18 June, 1981.

During a pretrial hearing, a former garda Matthew Thorne (91) said that he had in fact arrested Long for the murder of Sheehan, although Section 30 of the legislation he had been arrested under would not permit such an arrest. 

Sources told The Journal that various gardaí have attempted down through the years to find a way to progress even more cases against Long – at one time taking a fork he was using in a meal to retrieve a DNA sample so as to prosecute him for Sheehan’s murder.

Regardless of the previous suspicions and efforts by gardaí he is now in custody for murder.

Sources have said that local detectives and the Serious Crime Review Team are “committed” to progress more cases against him if the evidence connects him with the crimes.