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Unanswered: Eva Brennan

‘Fears were openly expressed that a serial killer was operating, either alone or with other like-minded predators, in an area of the country where instances of female disappearance had become so common that it had been dubbed the ‘Vanishing Triangle’.’ Alan Bailey, ‘Missing,Presumed’.

The second member of Ireland’s Vanishing Triangle is the oldest by a over a decade and has the least number of headlines tied to her name, if any in recent years. The common thread shared with Eva Brennan and the other victims of the Triangle is that she was here, and then she was not. While the Triangle has grown and developed new markers, Eva has never been seen again, alive or dead.

Twelve weeks after Annie McCarrick’s Express Feature left off, Eva Brennan was leaving a family lunch in Rathgar, Co. Dublin. Lunch at her parents’ house was a ritual she followed without fail. There were no obvious red flags pointing to what was about to happen next.

Eva failed to return for lunch the next day. Her family thought she would reappear once she was hungry. When her short absence turned to two days it raised eyebrows. It was out of character for Eva. Her life revolved around her daily visit to her family home. She was predictable: rarelywent out, lived alone and went to mass.

Her father, Davy Brennan, visited Eva’s apartment. He rang the doorbell but received no answer. With no sign of Eva, her father grew increasingly concerned. He headed over to the nearby Horse and Hound Pub owned by the Brennan family. With the help of a barman, they broke one of the apartment windows and got in. What was inside gave Eva’s loved ones no hints to where Eva was. The jacket she had worn during that Sunday lunch was in the apartment. It was the only indicator that the apartment had been touched since then.

With no Eva, her father went to the Garda station. The Brennan family knew something was wrong. However, the Gardaí had a different idea. According to Eva’s sister Colette ‘They [the police] said she was over 21’ and therefore they did not believe Eva’s sudden disappearance was a result of a crime.

Her father returned to the station the next day, gave a description and pressured the Gardaí to visit Eva’s residence. Meanwhile, the dark shapes of the Triangle were starting to form. Annie McCarrick was still missing and had no new evidence attached to her name. The year previous, men digging turf in the Dublin mountains had found the remains of Patricia Doherty, a woman only a couple of years younger than Eva. And that following June, Antoinette Smith’s body was found in the same foothills of the mountains.

Over the next three months, no Garda investigation was launched. The family was forced to conduct their own search for Eva. Multiple theories point to why there was a lack of Garda involvement. The first is the obvious pointed out by PJ, Colette’s husband. He spoke out comparing the efforts to locate Annie McCarrick and Eva. He has stressed there is ‘a complete world of a difference between the reaction to the disappearance of the American policeman’s daughter and Eva’s.’

Maybe it was the Irish way of being over-friendly to ‘outsiders’, maybe outside pressures from the States, Annie’s father’s experience or a combination of all three. But the truth that can be found in PJ’s remark is that in the business of locating missing people, it is all about who you know.

At the end of their rope, the Brennan family did everything they could to get people’s attention and the help they needed. Years later, Colette, during a radio interview with Newstalk, described her father as a man that did not like to ask for help or favours. Davy Brennan used his connections as a member of the Fianna Fail party to get in contact with the then Taoiseach Albert Reynolds. He knew the Taoiseach through a network of horse racing fans.

Immediately the family saw a change. Suddenly there were Gardaí in their house, drinking tea and waiting to piece together Eva’s disappearance. Finally acting to bring their daughter and sister home.

This was a sharp contrast to the supposed attitude and line of belief the Gardaí had first followed. Eva struggled with bouts of depression. According to her sister, Colette, Eva would tell her not to mind her and pass it off as her hormones. In the 1990s, mental illness and wellbeing were still hidden by the signature Irish pint and a jolly smile. It is theorised that because of reports of Eva’s unsteady wellbeing the Garda shrugged off the case as anything investigation worthy. If it was suicide a body would show up for them or, the best scenario, she had run off and would return to her family in a few years.

Case closed?

Her family was not convinced. Colette has said she does not think her sister took her own life. There is certain evidence pointing to this, Eva’s strong faith in religion, suicide being a sin in the Catholic line of faith and her strong bond with her family. Colette strongly believes ‘She would have left a note.’

Whatever relief the police’s cooperation gave the family was quickly taken away. A new Taoiseach was elected, and the Gardaí disappeared again. An Garda Síochána at that time only left behind empty tea mugs and a rumour. Some Gardaí suggested that Eva may have had ties to convicted double-killer Michael Bambrick, from Clondalkin.

The family found it easy to poke holes in this theory. The reclusive Eva, according to all information available, had never been in the same area that Michael Bambrick had lived. Bambrick, anyhow, seems like an unlikely character for Eva to associate with. His Dublin
neighbours told the media in the 1990s, that he was ‘weird’. According to stories brought forward by the black humoured neighbours, he had gained the nickname “Josephine” and mothers of the neighbourhood had to guard their washing lines against his fascination for little girls’ clothes. He murdered two women he had a history with, Mary Cummins, (the mother of two of his children), and Patricia McGauley, (the mother of another pair of his children). These personal crimes of passion make Bambrick an unlikely suspect in Eva’s disappearance, going by his known history.

According to Colette, her and a family member visited Eva’s apartment months later to clean it. After rigorous cleaning removed the dust and dirt built up from months of being uninhabited, the Gardai decided to conduct forensics on the apartment. The Brennan family was handed with another crippling set back in the case. However unlikely as it would be to gather clues from a months-old open crime scene, it was the only scrap of hope they had in months.

The next few years were just blank. No Eva. Every report of remains being found, something out of the usual, led the Brennan family back down to the Garda station asking the same question again and again, ‘Is it Eva?’ Colette has spoken out about the family’s struggle every time a body or piece of remains made headlines. The news seemed to be their only source of intel on the progress of Eva’s investigation. All she wanted was a phone call from the Gardaí confirming or denying her worries.

Colette described how her parents coped, ‘Mummy stayed in the house for about three years waiting in the kitchen every day for Eva to come home. It’s not fair, it’s really not fair.’ In Winter 1995, a case that reminded some of Eva’s appeared in the media. Marilyn Rynn disappeared after attending a Christmas party. Marilyn was forty-one and lived a quiet life working as a civil servant at the Department of Environment. Her family reported her missing at the same speed the Brennan family reported Eva missing. The Garda suspected, just like Eva,  suicide. An investigation was only triggered when her family gathered media attention with their concerns.

Marilyn’s body was found a couple of hours into the first Garda search. It was discovered within the undergrowth along where she would have walked from the bus stop to her home in Blanchardstown, West Dublin. She was officially missing for seven days.

Marilyn was assaulted and strangled to death by a former telephone technician called David Lawler. David Lawler lived a stable life from the outside, with a wife, a young son and career. It is reported he is the cousin of sexual offender Larry Murphy, who has been linked to other members of the Vanishing Triangle.

During his trial the court was told he was overcome by ‘homicidal and sexual impulse’. The killer himself only spoke once during his hearing and that was to admit his guilt. He was the first person in the history of the Irish state to be put behind bars using DNA  evidence. He was handed a life sentence.

Like Bambrick, it has been reported that the convicted murderer was set free after serving out a portion of his sentence.

Renewed interest in Ireland’s Vanishing Triangle highlights the high-profile disappearances of Jo Jo Dollard, Deirdre Jacobs and Annie McCarrick, still presented as the lead star in this tangle of unanswered questions and breadcrumbs of evidence.

Unfortunately, Colette did not get the closure for which she had spent decades searching. She died in 2014. In interviews, she had discussed the passing of her father and her hope that the afterlife would provide the answers her family had been searching for and reunite them all again.

The Brennan family has created a positive out of their heart-breaking situation. The family drew up an action list based on their experience, knowledge and lessons learnt with the hope of helping others. Colette recounted this list to the Independent newspaper, ‘Don’t be put off – know your own. Report the person missing. Check phone, bank accounts and passport. Talk as a family. Use posters, internet, TV and newspapers. Be kind to yourself. Ask the police to stay in contact.’

Eva’s picture and description have moved to online archives and social media posts counting the years since she was reported missing by her father. The last sighting of Eva at her ritual lunch is the only memory left of her. Ever since her disappearance she has been just her description, wearing a pink tracksuit and leggings, a man’s wristwatch with a brown strap and a red handbag.

Evidence of what happened to her, just like what happened to the other victims of the Vanishing Triangle, exists somewhere on this Green Isle, whether it be under the soil of the infamous Dublin mountains, hiding in someone’s house or backfield has yet to be answered. Someone must know something. And if you, reader, know something the Gardaí, the families, friends and the concerned public are interested.