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Satanic killing that shocked the nation

IT was a 1973 satanic killing that failed to grip a nation until now.

Seven-year-old John Horgan was tied to the rafters in an attic before being brutally killed.

But the case didn't receive much attention until it re-emerged during an inquest this week.

Now the Herald can reveal that the killer was tried in an adult court and was given a life sentence.

He has since been released and is living abroad.

Tragic John spent the afternoon of June 14, 1973 in the care of a trusted teenage neighbour while his mother went to town.



fractured

The next time the child would be seen, he was tied to the rafters in the attic of a neighbour's house in the Hollyville area of Palmerstown surrounded by religious symbols, including a silver cup and three hosts.

He had been killed by a massive blow to the head which had fractured his skull.

It should have been one of the most talked-about murders of the 1970s but it went largely unreported and fizzled out of public memory.

But an inquest was held into his death on Tuesday and the shocking murder came flooding back into the public consciousness.

The brief inquest held at the County Coroner's Court reopened a dark chapter in the history of Dublin.

On the afternoon in question John's mother asked a teenage neighbour to look after him.

It was a beautiful sunny afternoon and the pair went into fields behind the house in Hollyville to look for rabbits.

At 4pm that day, John's family became concerned when he didn't return for tea and a massive search was initiated.

After a frantic search by neighbours failed to unearth any sign of the child, his father Terry, a Dublin businessman, decided to ring the gardai at 9pm.

Tracker dogs and special garda units were drafted in from across Dublin city to aid in the search.

For three hours they combed fields and trawled two ponds in the area.

Then, shortly before midnight, the grim discovery of John's body was made.

The 16-year-old who had been looking after the boy was taken into custody for questioning at Lucan Garda Station.

The then State Pathologist, Dr Maurice Hickey, found John had died from a fracture of the skull.

He also received damage to the brain from a severe blunt force injury to the back of the head.

Speaking outside the court on Tuesday, Det Sgt Noonan said the boy was struck on the back of the head with a skittle.

"It was a very sad case," he said.

Fr Richard Mulcahy, now deceased, was called to the scene by gardai and he explained in a statement what he witnessed.

"I saw the body of a young boy tied to the rafters. I identified the body as that of John Horgan," the priest said in the statement.

"Det Sgt (James) Noonan, who was in the attic at that time, pointed out to me a silver cup and I removed from this cup three hosts, which I retained. I later assisted the gardai in removing the body from the attic."

Now retired Garda Superintendent James Noonan recalled being involved in the investigation when he was attached to Ballyfermot Garda Station. He was present in the attic along with the priest.

"Fr Mulcahy later helped me remove the body of John Horgan from the attic," he told the brief inquest.

On the night of the murder the local curate visited the Horgan family and later travelled to Lucan Garda Station to speak to the murder suspect.



murder

Two articles from the Meath Chronicle in August 1973 reveal that a 16-year-old suspect was remanded in custody to appear at a District Court in Meath.

The Irish Independent dating from September 14, 1973 reported that a 16-year-old Palmerstown boy attended Dunshaughlin District Court, where he was kept in custody and returned for trial at the Central Criminal Court for the murder of John Horgan. The suspect was subsequently tried in an adult court and received a mandatory life sentence for murder.

He was later released and it was revealed at the inquest that he is now living abroad.

Detective Inspector Richard McDonnell, from Lucan Garda Station, contacted the Horgan family after he was requested in February of this year to prepare an inquest file for the issuing of the death certificate.

"I contacted the family of John Horgan, who indicated they did not wish to revisit a very traumatic period in their lives and reopen old wounds," the detective explained.

"However, the memory of their son is always with them."

Dr Geraghty revealed that John's killer was now living outside Ireland and said it would be inappropriate to call a full inquest without the consent of the family.

The untold details of the horrific murder of little John will shock the nation later this year, when a book entitled The Boy In The Attic, by David Malone, sheds further light on the grim tragedy.

"Ireland 1973, a very different world. But the tiny village of Palmerstown was about to lose its innocence forever," the author writes on his website.

"On a bright sunny June afternoon, a seven-year-old only child was left in the care of a teenage neighbour.

"No one knew, or would even have dreamed of suspecting, that the older boy was a Satanist.

"The two went out to the fields to look for rabbits. The seven-year-old was never seen alive again."

hnews@herald.ie