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'I go through pain every day': Family of Willie Maughan determined to get justice

Maughan and his girlfriend Ana Varslavane disappeared five years ago.

Image: Garda Press Office

THE FAMILY OF a man missing for five years, believed to have been murdered along with his pregnant girlfriend, have said they have renewed hope that they will get justice after a number of arrests in the case earlier this year.

Willie Maughan (34) and Ana Varslavane (21), who was pregnant at the time, went missing from Laytown in Meath in April 2015. Though their bodies have never been found, the missing persons case was upgraded to murder the following year.

The couple were on their way to meet Willie’s mother Nell but they never showed up. Just minutes before they were due to meet, the family says Ana had called Nell’s phone, which her other son answered. They said the woman could be heard crying out for help.

That day haunts the family, Willie’s father Joe told TheJournal.ie

“I go through pain every day, not a physical pain but a pain through my head, not sleeping properly at night, saying ‘could I have done something different?’ and wondering what did they do to them,” he said.

There have been some really vicious rumours about what was done to them and tears come out of my eyes when I hear the rumours, hearing about him begging for mercy. No parent should hear that. 

Earlier this year four people were arrested and questioned in connection with the murders, but no one has so far been charged. Files have been sent to the Director of Public Prosecution.

Joe Maughan said the arrests gave the family renewed hope that they will get justice for Willie and Ana.

“We have always had hope. In recent months and over the last year the guards have really made massive progress on little resources. Every day I pray for the guards leading the investigation in my local church, and I ask God to give us justice.

“When we first heard about the arrests I was over the moon, the pain left me – a little bit.”

The Maughan family believes Willie and Ana were targeted by a criminal gang because they “knew something they shouldn’t”.

“The people who did this, they never had anything in their life and came into money through drugs. Now they’re saying no one is going to take that from them, ‘that’s mine’ and they have people’s blood on their hands.”

He said there are people who know what happened who could ease some of the family’s pain by telling them where Willie and Ana’s remains are. 

“We don’t know now how many years we have left, myself and Nell. Willie knows we’re looking for him and we’ll never give up but to get him back before our turn here is up would be a great relief for me and my family. To be able to do the Christian thing for him and for her, that’s the most important thing for us.”

Despite numerous threats against the family, Maughan said they will never keep quiet about Willie and Ana’s case and they will carry on seeking justice. 

Willie is never far from the family’s thoughts, Joe said, and his daughter recently called her newborn son ‘William’, after his uncle.

They remember Willie and Ana as “a brilliant couple”. 

“Honest to God, they were like glue, always together. They were happy together, you know?”

Every year Joe and Nell attend the National Missing Persons Day ceremony in Dublin, which gives families a chance to connect with one another and bring attention to their loved ones’ cases.

This year, due to Covid-19 restrictions, the ceremony is moving online and will be livestreamed later this morning, with input from family members and those working to help solve the cases.

In Ireland 823 missing person cases remain open investigations with An Garda Síochána and 52 people who have gone missing this year, including 18 children, have not yet been found.

DNA analysis

One of the speakers at this year’s Missing Persons’ Day event is Chris Enright, director of Forensic Science Ireland. Last year FSI revealed new forensic techniques had helped to solve five missing persons cases.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Enright said this year FSI helped to identify nine missing people. 

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“In some cases these are DNA identifications that are part of an overall body of information that An Garda Síochána has, with other investigative leads they can stitch together and then DNA provides confirmation,” he said

“In other situations DNA is the only way to connect the person with their family members through their DNA and give confidence the missing person had been identified.”

One of the cases FSI helped with this year was that of Stephen Corrigan, whose body was found in the Rathmines area of Dublin in April.

“He went missing in 2011 and his mother was the only blood relative. She gave a sample nine years ago after his disappearance. His body was only found this year and the DNA comparison was the only means to identify him, obviously by that point his body was badly decomposed so the DNA result was a critical factor.”

Unfortunately, it’s a very sad situation, his mother passed away a number of years ago, but she provided a DNA sample that allowed for his identification after her death. 

FSI has 516 DNA profiles for family members of missing persons stored on its database.

“We would have multiple family members providing a sample in some cases, the more samples you have the greater confidence you can give when you have a match,” Enright explained.

There are also profiles for 22 unidentified remains, with the oldest dating back to the 1968 Tuskar Rock plane crash.

“New remains are found every year and every year new family members come forward,” he said.

Enright said the teams at FSI are aware of the importance of their work and find it “very satisfying”.

“Everyone has a huge commitment to the profession and having an impact, looking at the evidence objectively and representing the scientific facts, reevaluating everything objectively and communicating in a  professions way. And that absolute commitment has been sustained all through the pandemic, they’ve done a fantastic job.”

The Missing Persons Day livestream will begin at 11am this morning and will be streamed on all of the Department of Justice‘s social media accounts.

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