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A young girl strangled with her own blouse... and the main suspect who got away on a technicality

It is a murder that is barely remembered today but when a young woman was savagely killed in the Dublin Mountains 30 years ago it caused public panic.

Patricia Furlong (21) from Dundrum, Dublin, was strangled with her own blouse at the Fraughan beer festival at Johnnie Fox's pub in Glencullen.

This extremely high-profile case was actively investigated by Detective Inspector Eamon O'Reilly who retired earlier this month after 39 years working as a garda and a record 17 years as a detective inspector.

For nine long years, Mr O'Reilly and other senior gardai worked the case before a chief suspect was arrested -- a well known disc jockey called Vincent Connell who had fled to South Africa in the aftermath of the murder.



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Connell was convicted, and sentenced to life imprisonment.

But the court of Criminal Appeal later quashed the conviction, and Connell was released despite him being later convicted of assault occasioning actual bodily harm to four of his former girlfriends.

Connell died of a heart attack while living in Portsmouth, England, in March 1998 at the age of 44.

Despite Connell being cleared of the murder of Patricia Furlong, Mr O'Reilly is absolutely convinced of his guilt for the crime. "I have no doubt about it -- he got off because of a legal technicality. He was definitely one of the most unusual criminals that I have met. He never seemed to mind being in custody and would just keep on talking and talking. I vividly remember that when he was charged with murder, he insisted on playing the tune called The Piano Man on a guitar which he had on him when we arrested him the day before.

"This man attempted to murder four women apart from Patricia Furlong. These women were terrified of him -- I remember their relief when he was convicted of attacking them," he told The Herald in an exclusive interview.

The Patricia Furlong murder was just one of many high-profile investigations in which Mr O'Reilly played a key role in his distinguished career as a detective.

Yesterday the Herald revealed how Mr O'Reilly spent 12 years investigating the Raonaid Murray case and he is also credited with bringing serial rapist Michael Murray to justice in 1995.

He observed "some horrific crime scenes" during his lengthy career as a senior investigator but it was the tragic suicide of a young woman in the Dun Laoghaire area a number of years ago that Mr O'Reilly describes as the worst scene he ever encountered.

"It was about three years ago and I was called to attend to a sudden death. It was a terrible case, the tragic girl had set herself on fire in her car. She was a beautiful girl aged 29.

"I will never forget that scene -- she had driven into a laneway and set herself on fire. Her car was completely destroyed and her body was completely charred. I often wake up in the middle of the night and think about that," Mr O'Reilly said.

Another extremely tragic case that sticks with Mr O'Reilly is the homicide of Carmel Breen (56) who was killed by her husband Thomas Breen (63) at their Ballybrack home in November, 2008.



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Last October, Mr Breen was given a six-year suspended jail sentence for his wife's manslaughter after evidence was given that he killed Carmel when he put his hands around her neck during a struggle after his wife, who had earlier been drinking heavily, came at him with a knife following an argument.

Many court observers felt the very fair evidence of then Detective Inspector O'Reilly helped Breen to avoid a jail sentence for the crime. In court, Mr O'Reilly, who led the investigation into the killing, said that there had been "an element of terrible bad luck" in that although Breen believed he had strangled his wife, in fact the compression had created "interference with the nerves in her neck which caused her immediate death".

He also agreed he was an "honourable man" who was "bereft by the loss of his wife".

Mr O'Reilly told the Herald: "This was a family dispute and I knew both of those people very well. I consider that it was a very tragic and unfortunate death."

During his lengthy career, Mr O'Reilly had been the subject of a number of death threats from criminals that he has helped to send to jail, including dissident republican terrorists and gangland criminals involved in armed robbery.



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"In one instance, an armed robber from the city centre threatened to 'blow my f***ing head off' and when I informed him that he was facing a lengthy stretch in jail for the crime I arrested him for, he told me that he would get someone else to do it.

"On another occasion, my colleagues warned me that there was information about a threat to my life after I led the investigation into two dissident republicans for an armed robbery which they received sentences of 10 and 12 years for respectively," Mr O'Reilly explained.

"In a situation like that it is necessary to take certain security precautions and I did that," he added.

But despite having a firearm throughout his career, he was never forced to use it.

In fact, the only time he had to draw his weapon was when a woman threatened to set vicious Doberman and Alsatian dogs on him when he was conducting a search of a property in south Dublin after a number of burglaries in the area.

"I pulled the gun but thankfully was not forced to fire it," he recalled.

kfoy@herald.ie