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Saturday, 25 March, 2000, 11:11 GMT
Ireland's vanished women

By BBC News Online's Chris Summers

Seven years ago this weekend, Annie McCarrick, a US student living in the Irish Republic, went for a drink with a man in a pub in Glencullen in the foothills of the Dublin Mountains.

She never returned.

Annie McCarrick
Annie McCarrick went to the pub with mystery man
Five other women have also disappeared in suspicious circumstances in the Irish Republic since 26 March 1993 and detectives admit they are baffled.

Superintendent Gerry O'Connell told BBC News Online: "What is unique about this case is that we don't have a crime scene or any bodies - and until we do there is little to go on."

In October 1998, three months after 18-year-old Deirdre Jacob went missing, the Garda Siochana set up Operation Trace, under Assistant Commissioner Tony Hickey, to pull together all six inquiries.

Fiona Sinnott
Fiona Sinnott left behind a one-year-old daughter
Mr Hickey is a tough troubleshooter and the man chosen to oversee Ireland's last high-profile case - the inquiry into the gangland murder of investigative journalist Veronica Guerin in 1996.

The disappearances ceased shortly after Operation Trace was set up, but despite numerous appeals both on television - on RTE's Crimeline and Solved and Unsolved programmes - and in Irish newspapers, no trace has been found of any of the six.

Crimeline producer David Harvey, who has met the parents of all six women, says: "There is a deal of resentment from some relatives, who think the Garda are not doing enough.

"It's driven by frustration. There is no antagonism towards the police, because they know they are doing everything they can. There is just a sense of bewilderment."

The disappeared
26 March 1993: Annie McCarrick, 26, US student went missing from Glencullen in the Dublin Mountains
9 November 1995: Jo Jo Dullard, 21, hitching a lift home to Callan, County Kilkenny
23 August 1996: Fiona Pender, 25, vanished from her flat in Tullamore, County Offaly
8 February 1998: Fiona Sinnott, 19, last seen leaving a pub in Broadway, County Wexford
12 February 1998: Ciara Breen, 18, went missing from Dundalk, County Louth
28 July 1998: Deirdre Jacob, 18, disappeared as she walked home to Newbridge, County Kildare

Mr Harvey said Deirdre Jacob's case was the most puzzling.

"She had been to the post office, which was a 20-minute walk. She walked back and was seen at the front gate outside her home. But she never returned," he told BBC News Online.

Supt O'Connell, whose team has been scaled down to six detectives, said there was little hope that any of the six women were still alive.

"It's two years since the last one went missing, and seven years since the first one," he said.

Supt O'Connell, based in the incident room in Naas, near Dublin,said: "We have checked national insurance records and other documents in Ireland and in the UK and there is no record of any of them.

"There is no definite link between the six but there are similarities."

Fiona Pender
Fiona Pender, a former model, was seven months pregnant
He said the Garda had called on the help of a forensic psychologist and were in constant touch with the FBI and British police but he said there was little to go on.

"Offender profilers work mainly on things they find at a crime scene, as do forensic scientists. But we have no crime scenes and no bodies," said Supt O'Connell.

Mr Harvey said there had been a great response to the TV appeals but added: "To a certain extent, they are looking for a needle in a haystack."

Last month, the focus of attention moved to County Carlow, where a 25-year-old carpenter is in custody after allegedly abducting, robbing and attempting to rape a young hairdresser, who was rescued when two poachers intervened in a remote country lane.

Deirdre Jacob
Deirdre Jacob was seen with a man in County Kildare
But Supt O'Connell said: "People have jumped on it as the answer to our prayers. We are having a look at it, but it's a bit premature at the moment."

So the mystery remains. Who was the man who accompanied Annie McCarrick to Matty Fox's pub on her day off from work at a fashionable Dublin coffee shop?

And was he responsible for the abduction and murder of five other women?

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13 Jul 99 | Europe
Two arrested in murder probe
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