‘Disappeared’ search: Charlie Armstrong’s family wait in hope
The family of one of the ‘Disappeared’ was maintaining an emotional vigil at a desolate bogland location in Co Monaghan yesterday, where the excavation of a body was continuing.
The skeletal remains found on Thursday are believed to be of labourer Charlie Armstrong, who went missing in 1981.
Mr Armstrong’s family are said to be “overwhelmed” and “in a state of shock” at the discovery.
His widow Kathleen said she was sad but relieved her husband’s body appeared to have been found.
She said last night the past 28 years had been a nightmare.
“I wouldn’t wish it on anybody.
“I hope the rest of the families get their loved ones as well as us.”
The grandfather from the republican stronghold of Crossmaglen was 57 when he vanished on his way to Mass in 1981.
No-one has ever admitted responsibility for his disappearance but the IRA is strongly suspected of his murder.
The Independent Commission for the Location of Victims' Remains said formal identification would take some time.
ICLVR spokesman Frank Murray said the DNA testing process could take up to four weeks.
“We can't be absolutely confident it is him, but we have for some time been conducting a focused search on the site for Charlie Armstrong and nobody else,” he said.
“We did find skeletal remains, but it will require DNA examination to establish the precise identity.”
The family and the commission received several maps pointing to the whereabouts of Mr Armstrong’s secret burial site over the years.
Areas close to the current excavation site were searched before, to no avail.
A final map sent to the commission is believed to have more accurately pinpointed the site, leading to the discovery of the body, and giving the family hope of closure after 29 agonising years.
Mr Murray said: “The commission received different threads of information at different times. It's a very difficult site; a strange mixture of a quarry and a bog, and waterlogged most of the time.”
Mr Armstrong’s widow Kathleen said previously: “All I want is a grave to visit and to know I will lie beside him when I go.”
Mr Murray also confirmed searches were continuing in counties Monaghan, Meath and Louth for the remains of other people murdered and buried at secret locations.
A total of 16 people are included on the list of the disappeared.
The IRA admitted in 1999 that it killed and buried nine people — Seamus Wright, Kevin McKee, Jean McConville, Columba McVeigh, Brendan Megraw, John McClory, Brian McKinney, Eamon Molloy and Danny McElhone — in secret locations.
The bodies of Mr Molloy, Mr McKinney, Mr McClory, Mrs McConville and Mr McElhone — and hopefully now Mr Armstrong — have been found.
Another body, of Eugene Simons, who disappeared from his Castlewellan home in January 1981, was found by accident three years later in a bog in Dundalk.
Others who vanished include Peter Wilson, Gerry Evans, Captain Robert Nairac, and Seamus Ruddy, who disappeared in France and whose murder was admitted by the INLA.
Earlier this year, the ICLVR confirmed it was also investigating the disappearance of west Belfast man Joe Lynskey, a former Cistercian monk who later joined the IRA and went missing in 1972.
Two others, Sean Murphy from Armagh who vanished in 1986 and John McIlroy from west Belfast who disappeared in 1974, are not on the official list as yet.
Good Samaritan whose disappearance sparked a 29-year riddle
Charlie Armstrong disappeared on a Sunday morning as he performed an act of kindness for a neighbour, said to be typical of the man.
Just before 10am on August 16, 1981, his wife Kathleen set out to walk with her children to Mass, as she did every week.
Charlie was due to leave the house after her and drive four miles up the road to take an elderly friend to church.
When the pair did not arrive for Mass, Mrs Armstrong thought perhaps the elderly woman had been taken ill. It was only when she returned home and found the woman had telephoned to say that Charlie hadn't shown up that she began to think something was wrong.
By nightfall the family was seriously worried and the police were called, but could do little as he was an adult and free to go where he pleased.
The family always remained adamant he would never just take off and leave. Kathleen said he would never walk out on her and his children.
The day after he disappeared a man from Crossmaglen phoned the Armstrongs to say he'd spotted their Datsun car parked in Dundalk.
The police took it away for forensic examination. Years afterwards the family was told there were traces of gunpowder in the front passenger seat, but by then they had all accepted he was dead.
There was never any suggestion Charlie was involved with the IRA, or that he was a police informer.