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Saturday 7 December 2019

Husband sent texts to and from Joanne after strangling her

Joanne’s sister Jennifer Ball with mother Catherine at the inquest. Photo: Collins
Joanne’s sister Jennifer Ball with mother Catherine at the inquest. Photo: Collins

A man who murdered his wife and stuffed her body in a wardrobe, sent messages to and from her phone after her death in a bid to dupe gardai, it is believed.

The body of Joanne Ball (38) was found in her estranged husband's apartment on Ranelagh Road on February 15, 2018.

She had been strangled six days earlier and her body was wrapped in a plastic bin bag and a sleeping bag and stored in a wardrobe.

At her inquest yesterday, her mother described the loss of her "beautiful, bubbly" daughter as the family's "worst nightmare".

The inquest also heard details of Joanne's husband - Keith Lee's affair with another woman in the lead-up to her killing.

Joanne had come home to live with her mother at the end of 2017 after Lee had been arrested in relation to drugs. The marriage broke up after Lee's arrest when Joanne found he was cheating.

Drugs

Early in 2018, Joanne's family were aware she had begun meeting him again to try and rebuild the marriage.

Joanne's sister Jennifer Ball said the family always knew Lee was involved in drugs but thought it was minor.

"The family got on well with Keith, there were never any problems," Jennifer Ball said.

On February 5, Joanne left home and went to meet Lee. They spent the next night, February 6 together at the Travelodge in Rathmines.

That night, there was phone contact between Lee and another woman, Gemma Hanney.

While Joanne was in the Travelodge, Lee met Ms Hanney in a bar. He arranged to meet her at his flat in Ranelagh Road the following day.

He returned to the hotel and went to a nearby bar with Joanne that night.

Gemma Hanney said she met Keith Lee in September 2017 and they "just clicked".

"I knew he was married but they'd split up because he was caught with drugs," she said in a deposition read out at Dublin Coroner's Court.

On February 7, Ms Hanney said she rang Lee's phone and Joanne answered.

"She answered and said 'hi, who's this?' It was Joanne," Ms Hanney said in her statement.

The inquest heard Ms Hanney had been staying in the flat in Ranelagh with Lee but left the previous week.

On February 9, a witness saw Lee and Joanne get out of her car at the apartment on Ranelagh Road.

It is the last physical sighting of Joanne and gardai believe she was killed that day.

Ms Hanney said she met Lee later the same day.

"I bumped into Keith outside his flat. He had a plaster on his ear and said she'd stabbed him with a scissors. He said he had locked her into the flat because she was going nuts," Ms Hanney said.

There were several texts sent to and from Joanne's phone after her death, the inquest heard.

"There was a large amount of activity relating to the sale and supply of drugs," Det Garda Shane Griffin said.

He believed Mr Lee began texting Joanne's phone in a bid to 'dupe gardai'.

"On February 10, he texted Joanne and said 'love you baby, haven't been this happy since our world fell apart.'"

Lee used Joanne's phone to text a reply to his phone.

"Love you baby. I feel the same way. See you in a while x."

Joanne's sister Jennifer Ball was in touch by phone with Lee. She said the family were reporting her missing and urged him to do the same.

On February 15, gardai called to the house in Ranelagh and broke down the door of a second-floor apartment.

Inside they found Marley, Joanne's Rottweiler and an open window. They found Lee 30ft below in the back garden. His legs were entangled in a wooden chair.

He told gardai his legs were broken. He had a knife and began to self-harm.

"He said he killed her and she was in the wardrobe. He said he didn't want to live and to let him die. He said she had stabbed him in the ear and he had killed her," Det Gda Ronan Hobbs said.

An autopsy conducted by Professor Marie Cassidy gave the cause of death as asphyxia due to strangulation.

A small amount of cocaine, ketamine and codeine was found in her system but these played no role in her death.

The jury returned a verdict of unlawful killing. Keith Lee was found dead in his prison cell on April 12, 2018.

Joanne's mother Catherine Ball said: "What has happened Joanne is our worst nightmare, it changed our lives forever, we miss her and think of her every minute of every day,

"She was addicted to Keith," Mrs Ball added.

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