Wednesday 23 January 2019

Story of greed, lies and lust that made the 'black widow' a household name

A botched robbery, a murdered publican and his wife tied up on the floor. It looked like an open and shut case, but in the days that followed, Catherine Nevin's 'perfect murder' unravelled. Ken Foy looks back at how the lies of the Black Widow were finally exposed

Catherine Nevin, who carried a red rose at the funeral of her husband
Catherine Nevin, who carried a red rose at the funeral of her husband

Tom Nevin's life came to a violent end in the early hours of March 19, 1996. He was 55 years of age.

The date of the murder was hugely significant - just after a busy Bank Holiday St Patrick's Day weekend, there would have been lots of cash in Jack White's pub. It seemed like the perfect night to stage a botched robbery, or at least that is what Catherine Nevin, who died earlier this week, might have thought.

Gardai received a call - via a panic alarm downstairs in the pub - to go to Jack White's at 4.35am and arrived at the pub 10 minutes later.

Detectives Martin MacAndrew and Paul Comiskey arrived at the scene, where they discovered the door open and Catherine lying "slumped on the floor" behind the door, and her wrists tied very tightly behind her back.


Catherine Nevin was found guilty in 2000 of murdering her husband, Tom, at the pub they owned
Catherine Nevin was found guilty in 2000 of murdering her husband, Tom, at the pub they owned

The 'Black Widow' was dressed in just a purple silky shirt and white panties. She was gagged with a stocking and her own panties.

Her first words to the officers were: "He came into the bedroom. He had a knife. He had a knife and a hood over his head."

Within seconds, gardai discovered the lifeless body of her husband Tom on the kitchen floor - he had been killed with a single shot from a nine-pellet shotgun fired from close range in the kitchen.

Meanwhile, officers found all the windows and doors secure apart from the front entrance.

They discovered Catherine's jewellery box on the hall floor along with items of jewellery scattered around it.

When gardai attempted to lift a shocked and pale looking Catherine, she winced, as though with pain.

As she lay on the couch she whispered: "Where's Tom?"

She later told officers: "I was awakened by someone pressing my face into the pillow. There was a light coming from the hall as the bedroom light was off.

"It was a man shouting, 'f**king jewellery, f**king kill ya'. He had a knife in his left hand. Everything in the room was coming down around."

Catherine said she was then tied up by her attacker. She managed to get to a panic button and then gardai arrived.

Tom was slumped on the kitchen floor in a small pool of blood.

In their first review of the case, officers wondered why she had used a panic button to contact them rather than her mobile phone, which was discovered in her bedroom.

They also considered why Catherine had not gone into the kitchen to check on the welfare of her husband before they arrived.

Some IR£13,000 was taken from the pub that night and the Nevins' car was later found abandoned in Dublin - over an hour's drive up the road.

In a later interview with officers, Catherine described the raiders as "the animals that killed Tom", but her behaviour at this early stage of the investigation was starting to raise alarm bells.

At one stage, Nevin refused to give a full statement to gardai, saying she did not trust the local station or Superintendent Pat Flynn. However, she later gave a formal statement to the investigation team on the advice of her solicitor in which she described her husband as an alcoholic.

Catherine was also "disruptive and agitated" when a garda fingerprints expert examined her home for prints, two days after Tom was murdered.

Almost exactly four years later at the Central Criminal Court, Nevin told a jury that when she saw her husband's body in Wicklow hospital the night after his murder, she wished she was dead as well.

She said there was "no way" she had arranged the killing, and said she was "absolutely terrified" after being tied up by the armed raiders who shot her husband. She could not remember how she got downstairs from the bedroom where they left her bound and gagged.

This backed up what she had told an increasingly sceptical garda investigation team in the days after the murder.

However, a few loose ends at the scene of the murder ensured that detectives became very dubious of Nevin's story and led to the downfall of the 'Black Widow'.

Firstly, gardai found no signs of forced entry and no evidence of serious ransacking consistent with a frenzied raid.

Secondly, only Catherine's fingerprints were found on the jewellery box and no jewellery was taken.

Days after the incident, Catherine told one of her sisters-in-law that her ankles had been tied together and then pulled up towards her back and bound to her wrists with her own nylons. But no such ties were ever found.

On the day of Tom Nevin's funeral, Catherine told Assistant Garda Commissioner Jim McHugh that the smell of the incense at the ceremony reminded her of the gunsmoke she had smelled in the kitchen on the morning of the murder.

But officers realised instantly that it would have been impossible for her to smell the discharge of the shotgun unless she had been in the kitchen shortly after Tom was killed.

This conflicted with her statement that she did not go into the kitchen after the raid.

Also on the day of the funeral, Nevin - who carried a red rose in an act of melodrama as her husband was being buried - wanted to take guests back to see the bloodstains in the kitchen where Tom was shot.


These factors, as well as crucial statements from staff members and people who knew Catherine and Tom very well, meant gardai felt they had enough evidence to arrest her in June 1996, just three months after she had organised her husband's murder.

But while being questioned for 48 hours, the 'Black Widow' refused to answer any of the questions put to her by the investigation team.

Thirteen months after Tom was murdered, she was arrested again as she collected rent from a property she owned at Ballybough in north inner city Dublin.

She was then charged with the crime, as well as soliciting three other people to kill her husband on dates between 1989 and 1990.

The three other people were John Jones, Gerry Heapes and William McClean, whose highly controversial evidence would be crucial in securing a murder conviction against Catherine in April 2000.

After her brief appearance before Dublin District Court on April 14, 1997, the 'Black Widow' got her first taste of jail when she was remanded in custody for a week. It would not be her last.

A month before she was charged with murder, Nevin had told the High Court: "I was guilty of nothing to do with my husband's murder. I had nothing whatever to do with it."

She made the indignant comments at a hearing where she was fighting her mother-in-law Nora Nevin for control of her late husband's estate.

Nevin was released on bail and it would be almost three years before her murder trial kicked off at Dublin's Central Criminal Court before the now-deceased judge Miss Justice Mella Carroll.

From the start, the case attracted the sort of media attention which made it legendary and it was engulfed in high drama from the word go.

In January 2000, after nine days of dramatic evidence, the trial collapsed when it emerged that the jury's deliberations could be overheard in the public gallery.

A retrial was ordered and a new jury was sworn in but was then discharged on the day the trial was due to start on February 8, 2000, when one member of the jury said she had a condition which prevented her from serving.

It was third time lucky for the trial which finally started for real in late February 2000 - a huge media circus surrounded the case and it gripped the nation for weeks.

Why wouldn't it? Allegations of affairs with a senior garda and respected judge, shadowy crime figures, the savage murder of an innocent publican and right in the middle of it all, the 'Black Widow' who seemed to revel in the blanket publicity.

It was ultimately a tale of greed and lust, lies and power - a story that made Nevin a household name across Ireland.

The trial judge was so concerned about publicity that she banned newspapers from commenting on or publishing photos of Nevin during the trial.

Ms Justice Carroll was outraged about "colour pieces" in newspapers that commented on Nevin's clothing, hairstyle, fingernails and choice of reading material.

This included poetry by Kipling and Yeats, as well as Seamus Heaney's Booker Prize-winning translation of Beowulf.

After almost a month of dramatic evidence, the trial almost collapsed again when Nevin was taken ill before she had finished giving evidence to the court.

The trial was held up for a number of days while she received treatment at St James's Hospital for a mystery sickness. Many people believed it was one last ploy to try and get sympathy from the jury - a tactic that didn't work.

On Tuesday, April 11, 2000, when the jury came back after the longest deliberation in the history of the State, it found her guilty of all the charges.

Nevin stood and looked calmly at the judge as she handed down the mandatory life sentence.

Ms Justice Mella Carroll told Nevin she had her husband assassinated and then had tried to have his character assassinated.

This is an extract taken from the book CSI Ireland, written by Ken Foy

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