Belfast Telegraph

Sunday Life

Belfast doctor wore Halloween mask while killing mum with chisel

Exclusive scheming medic owns up to killing in surprise move before trial

Murder victim Anne O’Neill with her son Dr Declan O’Neill
Murder victim Anne O’Neill with her son Dr Declan O’Neill

By Jane Fletcher

Scheming 'Dr Death' Declan O'Neill lured his mum to her murder with a bogus call and then savagely stabbed and bludgeoned her with a chisel, Sunday Life can reveal.

His face covered with a Halloween mask, he fled the blood-soaked scene on foot as Anne O'Neill's screams echoed around a quiet suburban street.

The 29-year-old then dumped his 'burner phone', SIM card and chisel before driving back to his flat and hopping into bed with his unsuspecting boyfriend Chris Morren.

When police called to the property on Malone Avenue in south Belfast, the Mater Hospital agency doctor pretended to have just woken from his sleep.

But cops didn't fall for O'Neill's lies as they had already checked his parked car and found the bonnet was still warm.

Last Tuesday, in a dramatic turn of events the killer - known as Dr Death by fellow inmates at Maghaberry prison - was taken from his cell to appear at Belfast Crown Court where he admitted his mum's murder.

He had consistently denied the charge since his arrest in October 2017 and was to go on trial in the new year. However, realising the evidence against him was overwhelming, O'Neill changed his plea.

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Mr Justice Colton sentenced him to life imprisonment with a minimum term behind bars to be decided next month.

Now that Dr Death has admitted killing his mum, Sunday Life can reveal for the first time details of her savage murder.

On Saturday, October 7, 2017, retired district nurse Anne O'Neill was at her elderly parents' home at Ardmore Avenue in the Finaghy area of south Belfast.

Killer: Declan Kevin O’Neill
Killer: Declan Kevin O’Neill

But unknown to the separated mother-of-two, her only son was in the final stages of a pre-meditated plan to kill her in the most horrific manner.

A source revealed: "This was very much a pre-planned and pre-meditated murder of a defenceless woman. It was extremely frenzied.

"Declan O'Neill was very forensically aware about getting rid of the evidence to avoid any trail leading to him. He had bought himself a Halloween mask, a 'burner mobile phone' so it wouldn't be traced back to him, and had stolen a chisel from a set at a block of flats.

"He knew that every morning when his mum woke up the first thing she would do was to go for a cigarette," added our source.

"Shortly before 7am, he made a call from the 'burner phone' to her mobile and once she was outside in the back garden, he left the phone and walked down the front path of his grandparents' home and attacked her. He stabbed her repeatedly with the chisel and bashed her head off the ground."

Anne's agonising dying screams alerted local neighbours who rushed to her aid at the rear of the house.

One neighbour said at the time: "I woke up and heard her screaming, 'Help me, help me.'

"It was a really high-pitched voice, she was clearly terrified. Then I heard a male voice shouting, 'I'm going to find you.'"

Mrs O'Neill, who was separated from her husband Kevin, lived at Drenia, a cul-de-sac just off Brooke Drive in south Belfast, but had been staying with her elderly and ill parents George and Clare Burleigh. Our source said: "When the paramedics arrived, she was still alive but her injuries were so severe, they couldn't save her.

Declan O’Neill
Declan O’Neill

"Those at the scene said it was one of the most brutal killings they had ever witnessed. The horror of the attack still lives with them to this day."

The area was immediately sealed off by police who carried out a finger-tip search of the scene and surrounding gardens.

The meticulous examination unearthed key evidence - the blood-stained, sharp-pointed chisel and the 'burner phone'.

The SIM card was found in a rubbish chute at the block of flats on Malone Avenue where Dr O'Neill lived, and the chisel matched one that was missing from a set discovered at the flats.

As a murder inquiry was launched, detectives soon focused their attention on the junior doctor.

Less than two hours later and around two-and-a-half miles away, heavily-armed police pulled up outside his flat. "Officers first located his car. A check on the bonnet revealed it was still warm which indicated to them he wasn't long home," explained our source.

"They knocked on the door. He pretended he had just woken up but was arrested on suspicion of murder."

Police also arrested Dr O'Neill's then boyfriend Chris Morren, from Randalstown in Co Antrim, but detectives soon ruled him out of their enquiries and he was freed.

The brutal murder shocked friends of the doctor who described him as "hard-working and quiet", and someone who loved his mum but was constantly bombarded at work by her calls.

In a Facebook message on Mother's Day which showed him and his mum together smiling, Dr O'Neill wrote of the love for her but also spoke about the strains at times on their relationship.

The soon-to-be killer said: "I give off constantly about her and sometimes I don't know how to put up with her, but I wouldn't swap her for the world."

But there were problems in the relationship with murder victim Anne, who suffered from mental health issues, bombarding her son with up to 50 calls and text messages a day.

One friend told Sunday Life: "Declan had a lovely personality and a very kind nature with his patients.

"But in saying that, he was a tortured soul at work. He would receive up to 50 phone calls a day from his mum who he said suffered from paranoid schizophrenia.

"Declan said she was a bit of a control freak, always wanting to know his every move every hour of every day.

"She just bombarded him with calls all day. However, that was no excuse for murdering her and that is something he is going to have to live with for the rest of his life."

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