"Pornography incarnates male supremacy. It is the DNA of male dominance. Every rule of sexual abuse, every nuance of sexual sadism, every highway and byway of sexual exploitation, is encoded in it."
- Andrea Dworkin
It was the 22nd of August 2012. A Wednesday. Thirty seven year old Elaine O'Hara had just been discharged from St Edmundsbury Mental Health Hospital in Lucan, Dublin, Ireland.
She had been there for six weeks and was excited to leave. Elaine had plans for the next few days. She had volunteered to help at the Tall Ships Festival in Dublin. That was the kind of person that Elaine was. She loved to help and always worked but she was vulnerable and had suffered with her mental health for years. As a child, she was bullied in school and lost her close friend as a result of a fatal road traffic collision. That had a deep and lasting impact on her. Elaine began to cut herself when she was just sixteen years old and had overdosed on medication on at least two occasions. Elaine tried to cut her wrists and had spent time in and out of hospital. Elaine told her father, Frank O'Hara, about a noose in her apartment. But whenever Elaine needed help, she received it and on that occasion, it was no different but after the six week period, Elaine was looking forward to getting back to work and doing normal things.
Despite Elaine's mental health problems, there were times when she was happy. Elaine wanted children one day. She loved them and adored spending time with her niece. Elaine worked in a newsagents part time and in childcare and was studying to be a Montessori teacher at night. She got on well with her family and in particular with her father Frank and his partner Sheila Hawkins. Elaine's mother died in 2002 which had left her distraught.
That day, the 22nd of August, Elaine was discharged from the hospital around noon. She went to her apartment in Belarmine Plaza, Stepaside, Dublin. She lived there alone. Elaine left to pick up a prescription from the pharmacy and went to see Frank. When she was with him, she called her place of work, the newsagents, and reminded them to include her in the work schedule for the following week. Elaine and Frank went to a garden store to purchase a plant for her mother's grave. They drove to Shanganagh Cemetery. Elaine had been in good form that day but when they were at the grave, Elaine was upset and kissed her mother's tombstone. They went back to Frank's house and Elaine played with her niece before she went back home. She told Frank she would meet Sheila early the next morning for the festival. Sheila was going to the Tall Ships too.
Elaine got back to her apartment just after 4pm that afternoon. One of her neighbors saw her leave again just after 5pm. She left in her car. Over an hour later, a man who was jogging at the time, saw Elaine back at the cemetery. She asked him how to get to the railway bridge. He gave her directions and left. Another woman at the cemetery believed she saw Elaine at a grave crying loudly.
The next morning, Sheila waited for Elaine to meet her but she never arrived at the house. Her father tried to make contact with her but received no reply. The next day, the 24th of August, Frank discovered that Elaine had not volunteered at the festival and had not told anyone that she would not be there. That was not like Elaine and Frank reported her missing to the police. Elaine's family searched the area and her apartment but there was no sign of her.
Two days later, Elaine's car was found at the cemetery, not far from where she was last seen. Some were afraid that Elaine may have taken her own life. She had just been released from hospital, there were reports she was distressed at her mother's grave and she had asked for directions to the railway bridge. Did Elaine commit suicide? The family had to wait over a year before they would find out.
One year later, on the 11th of September 2013, three men at the Vartry Reservoir near Roundwood in County Wicklow spotted something shiny and a yellow rope in the water. They were on the bridge that day talking. It was a mild day for September after what had been a very dry Summer and the water was low. Due to that some items that had been in the water were visible. The men fished out some items including a woman's vest top, a hoodie, handcuffs on chains, leg restraints and a leather face mask with a ball on the front. They were surprised by the items and left them on the wall. But one of the men could not get the items out of his mind and feared something more sinister may be at play so he returned to the spot where they left them the next morning and brought the items to the police station.
The next day, police went to the Reservoir but they could not see anything in the water as it was murky. The following day, the 13th of September, in a matter that seemed to be unrelated, a woman walking her dog called police. The woman was walking her dog on Killakee Mountains, Rathfarnham, Dublin when the dog went into some undergrowth and would not leave when she called him. He remained at the spot until she checked to see what he had found. He found what appeared to be partial human remains. The remains were badly decomposed and police did not immediately know the identity of the person. Around the same time, police who were looking after the items that had been found in a different county, went back to the Reservoir and found two nokia phones, sim cards, handcuffs, sex toys, glasses, house keys, car keys and loyalty cards. One of the loyalty cards was for a grocery story called Dunnes Stores. It had a barcode on it and police asked Dunnes Stores to verify who owned the loyalty card. It was Elaine O'Hara's card. That same day, it was established that the remains found in Dublin were those of Elaine O'Hara. Due to the items retrieved, police believed they were dealing with a possible murder case.
The two nokia phones, despite being in the water for a considerable amount of time, worked. Due to that, police managed to gain access to a number of text messages and quickly ascertained that they were dealing with phones connected to some sort of Master/Slave type relationship. Police also had access to Elaine's computer and documents found at her apartment referring to "The Gorean Lifestyle-A Woman's Right is Slave." They discovered that Elaine had a profile on a BDSM website called alt.com and the profile indicated that she was a submissive and that that was her sexual preference. BDSM relates to bondage and discipline, dominance and submissive and sadism and masochism. People who take part have different festishes, sexual desires and urges. Some people like to control others, tie them up, hurt them and others like to be controlled and hurt. There are extreme forms depending on how far the participants want to go. The nokia phones that were found indicated there were three phones of interest, one was the Slave phone which was the number registered to Elaine, one was known as the Master phone and the other was an 083 number that police believed was owned by the same person who owned the Master phone. They traced them to a forty two year old man called Graham Dwyer.
Graham was an architect and a partner in a firm in Dublin City Centre. He was married to an architect called Gemma. He had a son from a previous relationship and two young children with Gemma. On paper, it did not appear that he was the person police were looking for. He lived in a nice area of Dublin, had a family, a good job and his hobby was being a member of a model flying club. When police spoke to him, he denied any involvement and told police he did not own the phones. But police told him they had evidence. They matched the phones to the cell towers that the signals pinged off when messages were sent and that was beside the one at his place of work. They also had CCTV footage of Graham leaving Elaine's apartment and semen found on Elaine's mattress matched his DNA. Graham admitted that he had a sexual relationship with Elaine but he told police that he did not know what happened to her.
A thorough analysis of the phones and computers uncovered some 2600 text messages. The text messages revealed a Master/Slave arrangement between Graham and Elaine and due to the nature of the text messages leading up to Elaine's disappearance, police believed that Graham killed her. He was charged with murder.
It was the Prosecution's case that Graham Dwyer committed what was almost the perfect murder. It was their case that Graham lived a secret life, one completely unbeknown to his friends and family, that involved fantasies involving sadomasochism and in particular cutting. Those fantasies escalated and went from the urge to cut to the urge to stab, rape and kill which were evident in the text messages found. It was their case that he believed that Elaine would make the perfect victim due to her vulnerability and psychiatric issues. The Court heard that Elaine was a loving and trusting person who longed to be loved by someone and to have a child. It was the Prosecution's case that Graham used that to take advantage of her and manipulate her.
The Jury heard about and were shown videos that were found on Graham's computer. They were told that there were thirty eight videos that were "possibly relevant" to the case. In thirty five of the videos, there was footage of women and two of the videos were self made videos of Graham. One was of Graham and Elaine. Elaine was tied up and Graham was stabbing her. In one of the videos, Elaine could be heard saying “please stop.” Elaine was not the only woman who featured in the videos. Other videos were of women tied up and in some Graham simulated stabbing them. Some of the women appeared not be aware they were being filmed as they were blindfolded. One clip showed a woman with her mouth covered but it was clear she was screaming as a man, who the Prosecution believed was Graham, pushed a knife into her.
The footage of the self made videos of Graham included one that appeared to show him stabbing himself and another that showed him talking about using chloroform on himself.
The Court heard that Graham's wife Gemma had told police that she did not know about Graham's secret life but one of his girlfriends, the mother of his first child, told police that he would leave a kitchen knife at the pillow when they were having sex.
The Court heard that Graham and Elaine met online in late 2007 and began exchanging text messages and then met several times. Graham was referred to as either Master or Sir and Elaine was referred to as Slave. The contact ended but resumed again in March 2011.
"Hi Elaine, hope you are keeping well?"
"Who is this please?"
Graham told Elaine that he was a sadist and that "You should help me inflict pain on you and help with my fantasy. Blood turns me on."
The Prosecution told the Court that those fantasies were Graham's fantasies. The Court heard that Elaine's sexual preference was that of the submissive role. She would be restrained, tied up and punished. But while the arrangement may have started that way, it was clear and evident by the text messages Elaine sent that she wanted to end the Slave/Master type relationship and she told Graham she was no longer into blood. The Prosecution told the Jury Elaine had allowed Graham to stab her on occasion but she did not want him to do it again. The text messages revealed it caused her pain and left her distressed. Graham did not want to stop and wanted to go even further:
"I want to stick my knife in flesh while I am sexually aroused. I would like to stab a girl to death sometime."
The text messages indicated that if Elaine helped Graham find someone to stab, then he would not stab her:
"My urge to rape, stab and kill is huge. You have to help me control it or satisfy it."
Elaine wanted no part in finding someone else for Graham to stab. She expressly told him via text message in July 2011 that she did not want him to stab her anymore. On that occasion, Elaine tried to break contact but the contact continued. Elaine was desperate to have a child of her own and told Graham that "she needs to be free of stabs unless you want to give me a child, Sir." Graham agreed to father a child for her. But Elaine changed her mind. She believed it would be better to have a child when she was in a relationship. Elaine told Graham that a relationship was hard to find as she was "marked with so many stab wounds."
The Jury heard that Elaine was in hospital due to psychiatric difficulties in the six weeks before her disappearance. The day she was discharged, the 22nd of August 2012, was the last day her family saw her.
Throughout her stay in hospital, Graham remained in touch with her and he was aware she was in hospital as she had tried to take her own life. In text messages, they discussed suicide:
"If you ever want to die, promise me I can do it."
"Yes Sir, I promise Sir."
Elaine received another text :
"If anything happens to you, who knows about me"
And the response she received was:
"Ok, let's keep it that way. "
On the 21st of August, the day before she was released, Elaine told Graham that she couldn't wait to get out but was afraid she wouldn't be able to cope.
Graham did nothing to alleviate her fears and instead told her she had a big punishment coming, "getting knifed in the guts."
It was the Prosecution's case that Graham planned to meet Elaine the day she was discharged from hospital and it was his plan to kill her that day. It was their case that he followed through with his plan. They believed he told Elaine to bring only her keys and meet him at the railway bridge. He believed that nobody knew about him and therefore he would not be connected to Elaine in any way. The Prosecution believed that the text messages between the two phones outlined exactly what happened that day, the 22nd of August.
At 8am, Elaine text Graham and told him
"This place although a pain in the ass at times is safe and because I know what’s comin I don’t want to leave."
He assured her it would be fine: "It will be ok. Trust me."
He asked Elaine:
"When you say you know what’s coming next what do you mean?"
She text: "Well tonite and the talk about killin and stuff but at the mo mainly tonite I’m scared. Did you know sir that I’m scared of u. U have this hold over me that terrifies me."
"That’s good for you to feel owned and that your life is in my hands every time you submit to me. I love that, thank you. Do not fear death."
"Sir can I ask a favor? Please don’t mention killin 4 a while until I settle back to life. Please sir."
"But tonight’s punishment will be like me pretending to do someone for real ok?"
When Elaine was discharged that day, the text messages continued between the slave phone (Elaine) and the Master phone (Graham):
12.07pm: Slave: got out earlier than expected. It’s official I’m out. On way home now.
12.08pm: Master: well don’t im delighted
12.09pm: Slave: any instructions sir
12.14pm: Master: Have a bath, make sure c*** shaved, no under wear not even a bra. loose clothes, footwear for mud. make sure u are fed and take a pain killer.
12.21pm: Slave: can I do what I want until I am needed.
12.21pm: Master: like what
12.22pm: Slave: I don’t know yet, just anything i want to do
12.23pm: Master: u will be in a lot of pain later and next few days.
Slave: It’s going to be that bad? I’m going to be busy next few days. Tall Ships please don’t make it really sore Please
12.26pm: Master: You will have stab wounds, you know the drill. Last few did not bleed .These will.
12.27pm: Slave: Sir how many
12.28pm: Master: As many as I like
12.28pm: Slave: Yes Sir
12.50pm: Master: I want you to park at Shanganagh Cemetery at 5.30, leave your iPhone at home, Just bring slave phone and keys. You will get further instructions there.
12.58pm: Slave: Sir are we doing this if it’s raining? Are you coming back to my place? I need to clean, it’s dirty.
12.59pm: Master: Yes if it’s raining. No I won’t be back at your place.
13.02pm: Slave: No offence sir, but do we have to do it in rain. It’s cold.
15.55pm: Master: Don’t worry, it’s never as bad as u think it’s going to be.
16.23pm: Slave: Yes Sir
16.24pm: Master: Don’t be nervous and enjoy being told what to do
16.29pm: Slave: Easier said than done sir.
16.30pm: Master: Empty yourself and become nothing. You are property and a piece of slave meat. Your only job is to serve.
16.49pm: Slave: Can I wear socks with runners? Can I bring inhaler? Didn’t have time to eat, will we be late back?
16.52pm: Master: Yes to socks, leave inhaler in car. You should be back at car abt 8. More painful getting stabbed on empty stomach, suit yourself. See you in a bit. x
17.05pm: Slave: Did they close the recycling place at Shanganagh.
17.10pm Master: Stay in outer bit on way in.
17.20pm: Slave: A lot of kids I work with live around here.
17.22pm: Slave: Here Sir
17.25pm: Master: ok take only keys and Slave phone. Make your way on foot to park next door and text me in middle
17.25pm: Slave: Pls let me take my inhaler sir.
17.28pm: Master: ok
17.37pm: Slave: ok sir is the park with the playing fields in the top part or bottom
17.39pm: Master: ok cross railway bridge in to next park near cliffs.
17.41pm: Slave: I’m lost I’m in football field now
17.43pm: Master: look for railway footbridge near footpath
17.53pm: Slave: Here now, where’s park?
17.53pm: Master: cross bridge, head for opposite end of park near steps to sea
17.59pm: Slave: yes, Steps here
18.00pm: Master: Go down to shore and wait.
It was the Prosecution's case that Elaine went down towards the shore as Graham had directed her to do. They believed Graham picked her up in his car and drove to Killakee Mountains, the location where her remains were found. It was their case that she was murdered and did not commit suicide.
They called witnesses who testified that Elaine was fine that day and was not suicidal. The woman who worked in the pharmacy that Elaine called into that day described Elaine as normal. Jane Cahill, her manager from the newsagents, told the Court that Elaine rang that day to arrange her work hours for the following week and was excited about the Tall Ships.
The Jury heard that Elaine was a vulnerable person. They heard about the psychiatric difficulties she had throughout her life, the attempts she made at taking her own life. Frank O'Hara's partner, Sheila Hawkins, testified that Elaine told her in 2011 that she had had sex for the first time. Sheila believed her as she felt that Elaine's emotional development was similar to that of a fifteen year old.
Frank testified. The Court heard that Elaine told him in 2008 that she was seeing a professional, an architect from Foxrock. Frank asked Elaine if he was married and she confirmed he was. Elaine told him that "he ties me up and masturbates over me but we have never had sex." Frank was so shocked by that statement that he was not sure whether it was true or not at the time.
Dr Michael Custis testified that 60-65% of Elaine's skeletal remains were found including the lower jaw bone, virtually all the spinal cord, all the ribs, both collar bones, right shoulder blade, upper arm bones, left side of pelvis, base of spine, right thigh and left thigh bone, both lower leg bones and bones from right foot. Elaine's skull was never recovered.
The Court heard that Elaine's cause of death could not be determined.
The Prosecution asked the Jury to look at the totality of the evidence and to find Graham guilty.
It was the Defense's case that there was no evidence whatsoever that connected Graham to Elaine's death. They cast doubt as to whether Elaine's manner of death was even a homicide. They reminded the Jury that when Elaine first when missing, some believed she had committed suicide. They pointed out that the cause of death could not be determined and there were no stab marks on the bones found. They argued that the case was merely a circumstantial case, one that only showed their client had a certain sexual interest and nothing more.
Graham was found guilty of the murder of Elaine O’Hara and sentenced to life in prison.
The Court heard a victim impact statement from Elaine’s family:
"It was heartbreaking for us to listen to the texts Elaine received from a depraved and diseased mind. The manipulation of her vulnerability was apparent and when she tried to resist, she was reined back in. We can hear her voice in those texts, just wanting to be loved. Hearing the contents of the videos will haunt us forever. This is our life sentence. For us, there is no parole.”
Graham appealed the conviction on the basis that the State’s use of his own mobile phone data against him and in particular data retention had been incompatible with EU law.The Supreme Court referred the matter to the EU Court for direction.
The phone data was key the conviction. The EU Court has ruled against data retention of EU citizens in past cases. They said that general and indiscriminate data holding is not allowed but there is an exception in that if there are highly specific circumstances.
The Supreme Court are still awaiting the decision of the EU court.
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"When someone just disappears for no reason, it's shocking, it's devastating. I just feel like my life stopped that day and I've just been in a tailspin ever since."
- Adam Vaughan, Janine's brother
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