Murder victim Maire Rankin's nightdress has still not been discovered
Published 06/10/2011 | 01:53
The nightdress worn by an 81-year-old grandmother on the night she was killed by her neighbour has never been found.
Earlier this week Galway pharmacist Karen Walsh was found guilty of the murder of Maire Rankin whose naked and badly bruised body was found in the bedroom of her Dublin Road home on Christmas morning, 2008.
The widowed mother of eight was subjected to a "sustained and frenzied" attack, including a sexual assault, by Walsh.
The nightdress worn by Mrs Rankin has never been found despite extensive searches of the crime scene.
The missing nightdress is one of several unusual features of the high-profile investigation which led to the dead widow's home being sealed by police for 18 months after the murder.
Ms Walsh, who protested her innocence as she was led into custody on Tuesday, claimed that she had left her neighbour's home at 2am and returned to her own home next door where she relayed concerns about Mrs Rankin's health to her husband, the Dublin financier Richard Durkin.
Ms Walsh took the unusual step of giving evidence at her own trial and relayed details of the conversation she claims she had with her husband in the early hours of Christmas morning.
Phone records also showed seven attempts were made to contact Mr Durkin from a phone in Mrs Rankin's house between 7.30am and 7.40am on Christmas morning.
However Ms Walsh, who is in receipt of legal aid, did not call Mr Durkin as an alibi in her defence.
Last night Brenda Rankin, one of Mrs Rankin's eight children, said that there was "no euphoria" at the unanimous verdict which was returned in under two hours.
"It (the verdict) was just a quiet time of calm and peace that justice had been done," said Ms Rankin. "Now I feel we can breathe again."
During the trial at Belfast Crown Court, the jury heard that Mrs Rankin, who had 15 fractured ribs and suffered a "multiplicity of blows" to the head, was "a very modest" woman who would not have walked around her home naked.
A forensics expert said there was "strong evidence" that a wound on Mrs Rankin's face was caused by someone pushing the head of a crucifix into her chin, and "rocking the figurine from side to side," with pinprick marks on her chin caused by the crown of thorns on Jesus's head.
Ms Walsh, who received a mandatory life sentence, will find out the minimum term she will serve in the coming weeks.
If she had pleaded guilty, Ms Walsh would have been entitled, in accordance with sentencing practice in the North, to a discount of up to a third on the minimum sentence she would serve.
But prosecutors are expected to push for a lengthy minimum tariff.
Ms Walsh, who had lived in a suite at the Berkeley Court Hotel in Dublin during the week and travelled to her house in Newry at weekends, has already been warned that she will serve a lengthy custodial sentence before she will be considered for parole.