DETECTIVES believe a potential murder investigation into the discovery of the remains of tragic Elaine O'Hara could hold the key to other unsolved missing women cases.
It is expected that gardai will today launch a murder probe into the grim find in the Dublin mountains.
Last night, a senior gardai source said: "This could be the big one. What is happening here could be the most significant development in the investigations into all the missing women.
"Literally dozens of specialist gardai are working the case and it could well be that an entirely new suspect emerges – somebody who has been operating under the radar. The hope would be this individual would have little experience in how to deal with gardai and may panic if indeed the Elaine O'Hara case turns out to be murder."
Detectives quickly ruled out the possibility that Ms O'Hara's remains were linked to Operation Trace, which has been focused on high-profile cases involving women who have gone missing during the past two decades.
But now there is also the possibility that whoever may have been responsible for her death could have killed before.
The suspected female murder victims include Deirdre Jacob, Jo Jo Dullard and Annie McCarrick – all of whom vanished in the 1990s.
Previously, the focus on their disappearances mostly centred on the notorious convicted rapist Larry Murphy, from Baltinglass, Co Wicklow.
However, any possible fresh investigation may open an entirely new line of inquiry.
American student Annie McCarrick was living in Sandymount in south Dublin when she went missing.
On March 26, 1993, the 26-year-old, from Long Island, New York, took a bus from her home to Ranelagh before boarding another to Enniskerry. She was reportedly last seen in Johnnie Fox's Pub in Glencullen, Co Dublin.
Jo Jo Dullard (21) was last spotted using a pay phone in Moone, Co Kildare, on November 9, 1995. She was hitchhiking home from Dublin to Kilkenny when she vanished.
Meanwhile, Deirdre Jacob (18) was last seen at the gate of her parents' house in Co Kildare on July 28, 1998.