Crucifix killer Karen Walsh planned to flee after plastic surgery
Pharmacist wanted life on run with new face and passport
Pharmacist Karen Walsh, who was found guilty of the murder of a defenceless 81-year-old widow, sought cosmetic surgery in Dublin that would have "completely altered her appearance".
The request by Walsh for the facial surgery, coupled with concerns raised by two female prisoners that she had inquired about how to obtain a fake passport, prompted police in Northern Ireland to fear she would flee before her trial.
The PSNI used the information to have her bail revoked while she was awaiting trial over the brutal slaying of mother-of-eight Maire Rankin.
Yesterday a jury delivered an emphatic and unanimous guilty verdict after just one hour and 52 minutes of deliberation at the Laganside courts Complex in Belfast.
Walsh, who told trial judge Tony Hart "I am innocent" as she was led away to begin her life sentence, was found guilty of the murder and sexual assault of Mrs Rankin at her home in Newry, Co Down, in the early hours of Christmas Day 2008.
The elderly widow had been subjected to a "sustained and frenzied" attack with the family's crucifix, which left the marks of the crown of thorns embedded in her chin.
Walsh, who is originally from an eminent Galway family, worked in Dublin. She also owned the house next door to Mrs Rankin in Newry.
The PSNI was alerted to the flight risk posed by Walsh's potential major reconstructive surgery in 2009 after being contacted by a Dublin based cosmetic surgeon.
The surgeon had 'Googled' Walsh's name after a cheque for the mother-of-one's treatment, including botox, bounced.
The cheque was later honoured after a verbal row between the doctor and Richard Durkin, the financier husband of Walsh, who was once appointed to the council of the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland by former health minister Mary Harney.
But the cosmetic surgeon was so concerned that she was attempting to alter her appearance that he contacted gardai and made a statement.
Gardai, whose co-operation with their northern counterparts was last night described as "excellent", then informed the PSNI team investigating Mrs Rankin's murder.
During a bail hearing, Walsh's legal team disputed the significance of the cosmetic surgeon's intervention, saying their client had received botox injections for 12 years and regularly attended Dublin's Blackrock Clinic.
Walsh claimed she had been just receiving routine botox injections when she attended the Dublin surgery in May 2009.
But last night sources close to the murder team said that the risk of Walsh fleeing in advance of the criminal trial was "a real concern."
"We believed that the work she was looking to have carried out would have completely altered her appearance," said one source.
Karen Walsh was subjected to strict bail conditions after the cosmetic surgery row and was required to live in Belfast, sign on daily at a PSNI station and submit to breathalyser tests to ensure she was not consuming alcohol, part of her revised bail conditions.
A 40-strong police unit was involved in the investigation which included interviews with two prisoners at Hydebank women's prison.
One of the women, who had been in custody with Karen Walsh, told the PSNI that there had been a discussion with Walsh about a false passport and that the pharmacist was considering leaving the country.
Walsh, who took the unusual step of appearing as a witness in her own defence, did not react when the jury verdict was announced.
But she protested her innocence as Judge Hart, who warned that she would serve a long time in custody, ordered that she be taken away.
Her husband, who attended the trial, stood outside court as the verdict was announced.