Belfast Telegraph

Emotional scenes as Inga Maria Hauser memorial unveiled at forest burial spot

By Claire McNeilly

Inga Maria Hauser. An unforgettable name, synonymous with an unspeakable crime. An unsolved one too, although the local people who gathered yesterday in the pouring rain at Ballypatrick Forest Park fervently hope all that is going to change - and soon; it has been long enough.

There was a feeling too, that while the evil ones who carried out this heinous act 30 years ago remain at large, the rest of us are still collectively shouldering the guilt.

A poignant, fitting memorial stone was unveiled in this idyllic yet desolate part of Co Antrim but, even three decades on, everyone who remembers hearing the shocking news that day in April 1988 instantly remembers the name.

The 18-year-old backpacker from Munich was one of many who died a violent death during another deeply troubled year in Northern Ireland but, unlike innocent victims of the bombs and bullets of despicable, unjustifiable sectarian conflict, her brutal murder remains both motiveless and unexplained.

In many ways, we invited her here, with our fabled folklore of 'Norn Iron' hospitality and endless craic. That young German woman trusted us with her life when she came off that ferry, and we let her down. It was an ugly episode that still shames us all.

A man standing next to me, shielded from the torrential rain by a dark woolly hat, grasped my arm gently. He was fighting back tears when he admitted that he was still feeling forlorn - but, for him, the guilt is more pointed, more personal.

"Thirty years ago I drove past her that day... the day she was murdered," he said.

"She was hitch-hiking and I could have stopped and given her a lift, but I didn't.

"She was carrying a backpack and heading towards this forest. I slowed down and almost stopped, but at the last minute I drove on.

"I'll never forget looking in the mirror... it was definitely her.

"Two weeks later I was driving down the motorway when I heard the news about her murder. I nearly crashed."

Inga Maria, a student who desperately wanted to see the world, was last seen alive 30 years ago yesterday on the Galloway Princess ferry from Scotland to Larne.

But her body wasn't found for another fortnight, buried here, in Ballypatrick Forest.

John Dallat and Keeley Moss during the service yesterday
John Dallat and Keeley Moss during the service yesterday
Inga Maria Hauser
Ballypatrick Forest Park in Co Antrim

At 1pm, beside the car park leading to those deep, dark woods, more than 100 people stood in silence some three decades later to mark the anniversary of her death. It was wet, bitterly cold and sombre in that grassy, wooded copse, which would shortly burst into life with poetry and song.

Tour guide Seamus Milliken (60) and his wife, Bridie (58), a pharmacy assistant, had come to the memorial service because, they admitted, they had "always been saddened by what happened".

"She was so young, talented and beautiful," said Bridie. "She was looking forward to coming to Northern Ireland and yet she never got to see its beauty.

"I hope and pray they catch who did it for her family's sake."

Seamus added: "Her murder has tarnished the name of the good people in the Glens of Antrim. No one could believe such a horrific thing could happen in such a beautiful area. Anyone who knows about it anything should tell the police."

Detective Chief Superintendent Raymond Murray, who's leading the investigation, recently confirmed that all the suspects linked to Inga Maria's murder were still alive.

Yesterday, SDLP MLA John Dallat and singer Keeley Moss, who have been campaigning for justice for the teenager, said they fervently hoped the net was closing in on her killers.

Ahead of the short service, Mr Dallat added: "Let us remember the police appeal, and we must encourage those witnesses who do exist and who could complete the last piece of the jigsaw to come forward."

Local poet Dr Clare McCotter read a trilogy of poems published in the teenager's memory, the first entitled Backpacker.

And then, Ms Moss, who's also a blogger, sang Inga's Song before unveiling the memorial stone, which bears the poignant inscription: 'Time will see your tears run dry. There's a Mocking Bird singing songs in the trees.'

Pointedly, the musician explained that Inga's mother Almut, who's now 77 and suffers from severe dementia, was unable to be there yesterday, but she said she had penned that particular piece of music from Mrs Hauser's perspective.

She added: "We're overwhelmed with the turnout to this remote and obscure place, but the people have come with heart and the memory of a young girl that none of us ever got a chance to meet."

Mr Dallat said: "The stone blends in so well to the forest. It has such as strong message for anyone reading it, and in the future they will be able to remember the life of this young girl and she will live on."

A total of 30 red roses tied with black ribbons - a rose for every year since the tragedy occurred - were set before the memorial by members of the public, with a small bunch of yellow daffodils enlivening an otherwise sombre symbolic floral display.

On that soggy, sodden earth, placed beneath those neatly ordered flowers was a white leaflet showcasing the brightly-smiling face of Inga Maria Hauser.

Ms Moss, who along with Mr Dallat recently met Mr Murray, said: "I have never felt more optimistic about the possibility of those responsible being brought to justice.

"I'm in touch with her older sister, Frederika. It's been a very emotional time with every successive anniversary, but I believe we're getting closer.

"There is no doubt that those who are responsible are still alive, and I would urge those who are in a position to advance this case to do that and bring closure to the Hauser family and closure for Inga Maria herself."

Despite losing her husband, for whom she was a carer, a few weeks ago, Maria McGarry (62) from Armoy, braved the harsh elements to pay her respects.

"I was walking, running and biking along these roads back then when Inga Maria was murdered," she said.

"I have daughters and a granddaughter now and it makes me think. You always worry. I often think of how Inga Maria's mother lost a daughter who was so young and beautiful. The memorial is very poignant.

"I believe the police will find those who did this."

It was, perhaps fittingly, a miserable day weather-wise but, for those of us who attended, the misery was fleeting and finite.

If only the same could be said for the Hauser family.

Belfast Telegraph

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