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Unanswered: Imelda Keenan

‘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 third member of the Vanishing Triangle is most of the time, like Eva Brennan, not considered a node making up the Triangle. She fits the profile: a woman in the 1990s who vanished off the face of the Green Isle. Imelda Keenan was a student like Annie McCarrick, she was 22 years old, and 26 years ago she disappeared. Not much is publicly available about her, this journalist must admit. The sources of information are mainly fuelled today by her last surviving brother and the public Facebook groups that send happy birthday posts out to her in cyberspace.

From the outside Imelda seemed to be happy. She was engaged to her fiancée Mark Wall, lived in an apartment in Waterford with him and was attending a computer course at Central Technical Institute Waterford. She did not have the narrative of someone who was about to go away. On the morning of January 3rd, 1994, dawning leopard-skin trousers and a denim jacket the brown-haired blue-eyed young woman informed her fiancée she was going out to collect the dole from the post office. The post office was closed at that time of the day. She left her rented accommodation to walk down William Street, where her memorial plaque now lies, to Lombard Street. She was seen crossing the road by the local doctor’s secretary and a friend. She turned the corner by the Tower Hotel and that was it.

It was the beginning of what Imelda’s brother Gerald Keenan describes as a ‘dark cloud’ that still hangs over the Keenan family. Suspicious, right? The Gardaí at the time were not too convinced and in modern times, Operation Trace, the task force that has spent a decade trying to find answers to the Triangle has scratched Imelda off its list. A large number of sources list the Triangle to six women. Imelda and Eva having the least amount of press attention at the time and not even a breadcrumb theory attached to their names.

However, Gerald has his theories. He told a crowd at a missing persons event, ‘Unfortunately deep down I have a theory that there are people in Waterford with vital information who won’t come to our assistance. We have asked them, we are begging them, come forward now.’

Gerald, who has spent the last 26 years speaking to the media and asking the public to come forward with information has, similarly to Eva Brennan’s father, even asked a government official for help. He pleaded to Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan to change the attitude of An Gardaí Siochana for Imelda’s sake. ‘The Gardaí should be given more power to investigate people who are involved in a serious crime… rather than bringing them in to make a statement and just sticking it in a file and sticking it into a cabinet. I’d like the Gardaí to have the power to go a little deeper.’

In all Gerald’s statements to the media, his hope rings out. But has it fallen on deaf ears? Despite the Gardaí at the time labelling the case as unsuspicious it is important to consider the time frame. Just eight months later teenager Arlene Arkinson would be declared missing and largely considered dead further up the country and Marie Kilmartin’s body would be found in a midlands bog. Neither of these victims are considered members of the Vanishing Triangle despite the lack of convictions and mysterious circumstances surrounding their cases.

Fifteen-year-old Arlene spent the evening of August 13th, 1994 babysitting her older sister Kathleen’s daughter. While Kathleen was out at bingo Arlene’s friend phoned her to invite her to a disco at the Palace Hotel just across the Northern Irish border in Bundoran. Once Kathleen had returned from bingo, Arlene relieved from her babysitting duties was ready to go to the disco. Outside Arlene’s sister’s home, her mode of transport was a parked van driven by one of her least favourite people in the world. Her friend’s mother’s partner, just years away from being a convicted child killer and sexual abuser, Robert Howard. Sources have stated her friend and her friend’s boyfriend persuaded the uncomfortable Arlene into the van. After the disco, during which Robert Howard never left the teenagers sides, it was time to go home. According to the statements given to Gardaí by Arlene’s friend and her boyfriend, Robert Howard dropped Arlene home first and she went inside her house. Providing Robert Howard with a solid alibi. The Gardaí attentions drifted away from Howard.

Arlene’s father told the Gardaí she had never returned home. Later the two teenagers would admit to lying. The last time they had seen her was when they were dropped home by Howard. Howard drove off with Arlene. It was not until the 2000s after a long list of crimes that Howard was cuffed. He was only then put on trial for Arlene’s murder, he was acquitted to the family’s and public’s shock. The result of this is believed to be due to the dismissal of evidence in Howard’s other crimes. Her sister Kathleen Arkinson made this appeal to the Garda Commissioner to allow for a fair trial, for victims and information to testify against his character. ‘The justice system has failed us in every way. We have done everything we can and we are still here… please look into this as soon as possible because it’s dragging our lives away. We can’t go on like this forever.’

Robert Howard died in 2015. But the pain has not stopped for the family as they continue to search for Arlene’s body. In June 2018, when a body was found in county Sligo, Kathleen recalled she ‘prayed it was Arlene and was devastated when I was told it wasn’t. We seem to suffer blow after blow.’

Marie Kilmartin’s daughter, Áine, has expressed her suffering and disappointment to the media about how her mother’s case has been handled. Like Gerald Keenan and Davy Brennan, she campaigned to the media and government officials. She successfully got the investigation into her mother’s murder reinstated.

Maire Kilmartin, after being forced to put her baby up for adoption and a stay in a mental facility, moved to Portlaoise with her friend and nurse. Marie was not the type to go out alone, she lived with depression and a mild form of agoraphobia, which made leaving her house difficult. A large part of her anxieties included men and the dark. She found her place in the world at a volunteer’s centre helping senior citizens. She grew comfortable with the people she worked alongside and the environment at the centre. She felt needed. But she would never walk home alone. She would always get a lift home or take the bus. On the 16th of December, Marie was dropped home by fellow volunteers. She had been invited to continue their Christmas party celebrations at a local the pub, but she refused. This surprised no one. Her friends watched her walk into her house and shut the door. It was late evening at this time, already dark out.

Her roommate and nurse arrived home to the lights off. Like in the Annie McCarrick disappearance, shopping bags were sitting on the kitchen table still packed. Marie was reported missing the next morning. Breaking their trend, Gardaí treated the case as suspicious from the beginning because of Marie’s mental health conditions. The landline in the house was checked and it was discovered at 4:30 pm, a half an hour after Marie had been dropped home, someone had chatted on the phone for over two minutes. This call was later traced to a telephone booth close to a facility where Marie spent time as a patient and near the Portlaoise prison. A caller into the TV show Crimeline who was hitchhiking in the area said to have seen a man in the booth on that day around the time the call was made, (the only call around that time). They described a man around thirty and dark-haired. The last known sighting of Marie alive was the morning after her disappearance by someone who knew her in a supermarket. The witness described her as unsettled and nervous. Six months later Marie’s body was discovered submerged in water in a bog drain weighed down by a cement block and concealed by parts of a gas heater and a pram. This discovery was made 32km from her home.

Áine continues to campaign for justice for her mother and answers. ‘There are people out there that know what happened to my mother. These people know exactly what happened and they are fully aware there is still a murderer at large.’

Unfortunately, in Imelda’s case, no answers can be given to this day. Gerald described his mother dying of a broken heart, his brother dying of cancer in 2011 made worse by the stress of his sister’s case and his oldest brother most recently. ‘That’s three hearts gone from our family, each one having died without ever knowing what happened to our precious little girl.’

Evidence of what happened to the cases mentioned in this Feature exists somewhere in Ireland. Whether it is 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.