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The drunk who battered a gran to death with her own crucifix

ON PAPER she had it all.

A Celtic Tiger cub with a thriving pharmacy business in Dublin, a successful tax consultant husband, a beautiful young son, a home in Newry and a suite in the Berkeley Court Hotel, Dublin for during the week.

Karen Walsh was intelligent, with a degree in pharmacy from Sunderland University.

She was attractive, with long blonde hair. She looked after herself, dressed elegantly, wore hair extensions and had botox treatments.

But Karen Walsh was also a drunk. She had a habit of calling on her elderly neighbour late at night, and on more than one occasion had brought alcohol, something neither Mrs Rankin, a modest drinker, nor her family were happy with.

Walsh had been drinking when she turned up at Maire Rankin's door that Christmas Eve night in 2008. She had a litre bottle of vodka with her.

When it was examined at the crime scene the next day, there were just five millilitres of alcohol left in it. Mrs Rankin had no alcohol in her system. Walsh had drunk the whole bottle.

The prosecution claimed the 45-year-old Dublin pharmacist, who hails from Galway, killed the pensioner in a drunken rage because Mrs Rankin had chastised her about her drinking and told her to go home to her husband and young son.

We will never know for certain what happened in Maire Rankin's bedroom that fateful night, or what triggered Walsh's attack, but we do know that the pensioner's naked body was found lying on the floor by a relative early on Christmas morning. She had been beaten to death with a crucifix, had suffered a serious head injury, 15 broken ribs and bruising to her face and arms. She had also been sat upon and sexually assaulted with the crucifix after death.

Walsh always denied murdering Mrs Rankin. She told the jury "I couldn't have been nicer to her".

But the jury didn't believe her, and found her guilty of murder. Walsh had waited nearly three years to hear her fate. And it must have been three hard years, forced to live in Belfast away from her Dublin-based husband after a bail hearing heard claims she had enquired about plastic surgery and a forged passport.



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The problem, for Walsh, was that her story just didn't add up. She initially co-operated with police, giving them an account of her visit to Mrs Rankin's home that night. But her conflicting accounts of what time she had arrived and left made detectives suspicious.

Once charged with murder, Walsh refused to answer any further questions during 19 interviews. Walsh was first interviewed by police on St Stephen's Day, when she was still a witness. The picture she painted of family life was an unusual one. She stayed in bed on Christmas Eve until 12 noon and on Christmas Day until after 11am. She nearly didn't have any Santa presents for her son, only arriving at Smiths Toystore as it closed at 4pm on Christmas Eve and begging staff to let her in.

Walsh did her grocery shopping in Sainsbury's late on Christmas Eve, and joked with police the family was probably the last to leave the store. When the family came home from Sainsbury's, Walsh told police she took the Christmas tree and decorations out and tried to make the house "a bit Christmassy".

Her two-year-old son opened his presents around 10.30pm on Christmas Eve, and the court heard he often stayed up late with his parents, and would sleep late in the mornings. Indeed, he slept with his daddy on Christmas Eve, while Karen Walsh claimed she slept in the room next door. She said this was because she didn't want to wake up her son when she came home around 2am from her neighbour's house.

The truth is that she spent Christmas Eve drinking in Mrs Rankin's house, beat her to death in a drink-fuelled rage and came home after 7.30am on Christmas morning.

hnews@herald.ie