Suspect in case of missing Fiona is arrested abroad
Gardai investigating the disappearance of pregnant Offaly hairdresser Fiona Pender are liasing with police abroad after a suspect was arrested.
The 25-year-old disappeared from her flat on Church Street in Tullamore on August 22, 1996.
There has been no trace of her since and it is feared she was murdered and buried in a shallow grave.
Now 18 years later, a suspect in the case is in custody abroad and gardai have been notified.
Officers in Tullamore have never given up on solving the Pender case, and have been carrying out a probe to try to bring charges in their investigation.
They have been compiling information on their main suspect and the latest developments are giving gardai extra hope that the net is tightening around the man they believe killed Fiona.
The Pender family is being kept up to date with developments.
In August this year, Fiona's mother Josephine (65) said she fears she will die before the remains of her daughter and unborn grandchild are located.
"I would have hoped to have found Fiona before I die but I have been very ill this year," she said.
In recent months Mrs Pender has been in and out of hospital.
"I've been very sick for the last few months, the doctors are putting it down to stress," she explained. "It's hard to keep going as the years go on."
While she has given up hope of finding them alive, Mrs Pender wants her daughter and grandchild to have a proper Christian burial.
"I would appeal to people who know out there, just please tell me where she is," she said.
Following a lengthy campaign, including a petition containing almost 13,000 signatures, a 4.5km looped walk along the Grand Canal was named Fiona's Way last May.
"It's something to remember her," said Mrs Pender.
Fiona was last seen by her partner John Thompson at the flat they shared on Church Street. He told gardai she was still asleep when he went to work on the family farm on the morning of August 23.
When one of Fiona's friends called to the flat later that day, she got no reply. The curtains were drawn and she presumed Fiona might be in bed.
On August 24, when there was still no sign of Fiona, her family rang Mr Thompson who said he hadn't seen her either. That evening, Josephine reported Fiona missing to gardai.
In the following weeks and months, searches took place across boglands, woods and rivers. Four miles of the Royal Canal was drained to no avail.
A year later, five people were arrested and questioned about the disappearance but were later released without charge.
Gardai and Fiona's family never wavered from the belief she was killed by someone she knew, and that others in the community helped conceal the terrible act.
Nothing tangible emerged until the discovery of a crude make-shift cross in May 2008, which suggested that Fiona Pender was buried on Slieve Bloom.
Written on it in marker were the words: "Fiona Pender. Buried here, August 22nd, 1996". But two searches of a two-acre site yielded nothing.