Annie McCarrick had her entire life ahead of her when she emigrated from New York to Dublin in 1993. She was studying her Irish heritage, and learning to become a teacher. She made friends, was fully immersed in the culture, and taking advantage of her time there. Then, one day she simply vanished. In the years that followed, seven more women would mysteriously disappear in close proximity to one another. The area became known as “The Vanishing Triangle”—a place where the women went, and would never return.
The Vanishing Triangle is an 80-mile radius around Dublin, Ireland where multiple young women have gone missing. McCarrick was running errands in Dublin on March 26, 1996, and was reportedly spotted outside a popular pub that night. Witnesses stated seeing her with an unidentified young man, and then she was never seen again.
It wasn’t like McCarrick to just disappear without letting anyone know. Her mother was set to visit in the days to come, and she missed a planned dinner with friends. They notified McCarrick’s parents, who immediately hopped on a plane set for Ireland. Once there, they embarked on a never-ending search for their missing daughter.
The American student’s sudden vanishing led to one of the largest searches in Ireland’s history. There were no clues, no legitimate suspects, and absolutely no trace of McCarrick. She was gone, and her disappearance was just the beginning.
Just 12 weeks later, 40-year-old Eva Brennan disappeared too. She vanished in Dublin, like McCarrick, and had gone missing shortly after leaving her parent’s home. Then in 1994, 22-year-old Imelda Keenan vanished. After that, 21-year-old Josephine “JoJo” Dollard went missing in 1995.
Dollard was hitchhiking in a town called Moone, southwest of Dublin. She stopped to use a payphone and called a friend. The call abruptly ended when Dollard explained to her friend she had to go, because a car was coming. Whoever picked her up on that fateful day, never let her go.
The mysterious vanishings continued into 1996, when 25-year-old Fiona Pender disappeared. Another girl vanished in 1997, just north of Moone in a town called Dundalk. Ciara Breen was just 17-years-old when she went missing from her home in the early morning of February 13th.
Breen’s mother, Bernadette, described the last time she saw her daughter alive, “I got up at 2am to go to the toilet and I looked in (her bedroom) and she wasn’t there. She didn’t take any money or clothes with her. It is as if she went to meet somebody and did not get back.”
Breen would never return home again, and a year later 18-year-old Deirdre Jacob failed to make it back to her home too. Jacob was seen by neighbors standing at the gates of her family home on July 28, 1998. Within moments Jacob was nowhere to be seen. She never made it inside her house, and no one saw her leave the area. That same year, 19-year-old Fiona Sinnott went missing after leaving a pub.
As the number of missing young women began to accumulate, the public started to panic. In just six years, eight young women were gone, without a trace. The women all shared similar physical characteristics, were between the ages of 17-40, and each disappeared within miles of the other. Were their disappearances connected? Some started to speculate that a serial killer was responsible.
Brian McCarthy, a private investigator hired by the McCarrick family, detailed the missing women, “You have the same profile, young, attractive females, who have all disappeared inside a very close geographical triangle. The common denominator is there’s no evidence left behind, there’s no evidence at all. No shoe, no belt, no purse, no watch, nothing.”
Along with private investigators, a special task force called Operation Trace was formed in 1998 to find the women. The force reviewed six cases they declared to be connected—Annie McCarrick, JoJo Dollard, Fiona Pender, Ciara Breen, Deirdre Jacob, and Fiona Sinnott– speaking with possible witnesses and investigating possible suspects.
Among the suspects is convicted rapist Larry Murphy. In 2000, Murphy abducted a woman he was stalking, threw her in his trunk, and brought her to the mountains. While they were there, he raped her multiple times and then attempted to suffocate her to death. Luckily, two individuals came upon the scene and chased Murphy away. He was subsequently arrested and sentenced to 15 years in prison. He served just 10.
While Murphy was in jail, the disappearances ceased. Looking into the criminal’s history, it was discovered he lived and worked close to where Dollard and Jacob vanished at the time, and he allegedly matches the description of the man last seen with McCarrick the night she vanished.
Despite being a suspect in the disappearances, police have never been able to charge Murphy with the crimes. There has never been enough evidence to arrest him, and no crime scenes to gather evidence.
Due to the lack of physical evidence the case has stalled throughout the years. Families are still filled with sorrow and heartache as they long for any new information on their missing daughters.
McCarrick’s mother, Nancy, doesn’t have much hope in bringing her daughter home. She has stated, “…it’s been a long time, such a very long time. I’m pretty sure you know that I’ll never see her again.”
As the families’ hope continued to dwindle, former national coordinator of the Operation Trace task force, Detective Sergeant Alan Bailey, offered up a possible explanation that was darker than anyone could have imagined.
In his book, Missing, Presumed, Bailey suggests the possibility of a police mishandling of the case. According to his sources, a member of the IRA met Annie McCarrick at the bar the night she disappeared, and divulged secret information to her. He murdered her to keep her quiet, and buried her body in the mountains. Bailey’s source claims they told the police at the time of the disappearance; however, no one ever looked into the IRA member as a suspect.
With a possible IRA connection added to an already murky list of suspects, the case of Ireland’s Vanishing Triangle is a riddle that has become seemingly unsolvable. The complexity of the crimes combined with the lack of evidence has not brought police much closer to bringing the women home. For now, the missing women’s names remain a haunting reminder of Ireland’s painful past.