THE ANGRY mob outside the hostel in Coolock were united in misplaced anger and fear. "Get him out," they chanted. But Larry Murphy wasn't there, nor had he ever been. Gardaí were called to control and calm the crowd of about 60 people. Eventually, the mob was placated and the possibility of violence was narrowly averted. Overnight, Larry Murphy had become the most feared man in Ireland. The scene outside Priorswood House in Coolock, a halfway house for ex-prisoners, was a truly extraordinary ending to a truly astonishing day.
Larry Murphy mania began early on Thursday morning. Reporters and photographers began to assemble at 5am in the hopes of catching a glimpse of Ireland's most infamous rapist. Journalists had been hanging around outside the prison on and off all week because of the slim chance that Murphy could slip out early. Despite the early hour, the press corps were in high spirits. No-one had even glimpsed the 45-year-old carpenter in the 10-and-a-half years since he was convicted of the horrific rape and attempted murder of a Carlow businesswoman.
The release of Larry Murphy from prison was always going to be a big story, the main reason being that he is the suspect in the disappearance of three other women in Leinster. Also, the brutality of his crime suggested to gardaí that it wasn't the first time he had carried out an attack of this nature. As Ireland's only suspected serial killer, the Baltinglass native is a legitimate object of fascination to the media and the general public.
The fact that he steadfastly refused to have any rehabilitative therapy for sex offenders while in jail is of major concern. It suggests this man has no remorse and does not want to address whatever psychological problems drove him to carry out such a violent crime. People are afraid he might do it again.
But fear over Larry Murphy's release took on a life of its own last week and it is still not clear how this story will end. Many gardaí privately believe Murphy will be driven to suicide by the relentlessness of the media coverage.
Adding to the excitement among journalists outside Arbour Hill on Thursday was that no-one knew how he would exit the prison. Would the prison service smuggle him out in a van? Would the gardaí whisk him away in an unmarked car? Journalists began making bets about what time he would emerge.
At about 9.30am, news trickled out that Murphy would make his first public appearance in a decade at around 10.15am. A taxi had been booked to pick him up. He was not going to be hidden by the prison service, gardaí or anyone else. He would walk out the door of Arbour Hill prison and face the music outside. Many ex-cons are greeted warmly by family and friends. Murphy had a large group of media instead. The gardaí had sensibly erected a barrier to keep the press back.
As the door opened, the heave to get a glimpse of him was immediate. Larry Murphy was everything we expected and more. Wearing an Adidas cap and black sunglasses, he strode out confidently. What seemed to be the beginning of a smirk was visible at the corners of his mouth. But didn't he have plenty to smile about? He was a free man. Murphy strode purposefully towards the waiting taxi. He looked fit and healthy in a black hoodie with gold NY lettering, runners and jeans.
"Do you think he's going to New York and he's sending us a message?," one hack speculated moments later. "No, sex offenders aren't allowed into America," another replied.
Murphy had put on some weight, but his physique appeared well-toned from exercise. Out of boredom, many inmates work out regularly. Since Murphy didn't feel it necessary to try rehabilitation, he spent his days working in the carpentry workshop and exercising.
He had been told there was a crowd waiting for him. He had had ten years to look forward to his freedom and must have imagined every day what the moment would feel like when he walked out the prison gates. If he was perturbed by the scrum, he didn't show it. But he didn't hang around either. He ignored the questions shouted by the media and jumped into the waiting taxi.
A handful of angry spectators were also present. They shouted "rapist", "beast" and "you f**king bastard" as he was spirited away. One woman said she'd come because she just wanted to see what Murphy looked like ten years on.
The media were relatively happy. Everyone got their photograph. A few words from the now mythical man would have been great, of course. But journalists knew this was unlikely. Larry Murphy has never explained to anyone, not his family or gardaí, why he did what he did to that young woman that winter's night in February 2000. Never has so much been written about a man whom journalists know so very little about. Aside from his well-documented crime, we know nothing about what makes Larry Murphy tick. This makes him all the more fascinating.
The taxi quickly drove away from the prison. Imagine the conversation between the driver and the Wicklow native. That driver had a story to tell that every journalist in the country was dying to hear. He broke his silence in The Star yesterday but did not go into detail about the journey.
Murphy surely expected to be followed and the media did not disappoint. Three photojournalists on high-powered motorbikes were in immediate pursuit as the taxi made off towards Phoenix Park. Gardaí in unmarked cars and motorbikes also followed, as did many more photographers and reporters in cars. Adding to the drama was the garda helicopter circling overhead. Murphy might be free, but he would not be allowed to enjoy his freedom. The chase was on.
Murphy's next move, though, surprised everyone. He did not seem to be a man with a plan – strange, considering he had had nothing but time to prepare his release. After driving around aimlessly for a while, he asked the driver to take him to Coolock garda station. He wasn't happy.
Inside the station, he complained that journalists and photographers were following him. His complaint was noted but as it was a civil matter there was nothing gardaí could do. Murphy wasn't in any rush to leave the garda station, possibly discussing with officers what his next move would be or getting security advice.
"Who is Larry Murphy's only friend?" asked a senior garda source. "The gardaí, that's who."
He eventually emerged and got back into the taxi. The chase was on again. Many people expected him to go straight to Dublin airport and get the first plane out. Journalists armed with their passports were on standby at the airport ready to fly out to wherever he went, fingers crossed that he'd choose somewhere exotic and sunny. But it wasn't to be.
"He has a driver's licence and a passport. If I was Larry Murphy the first thing I would have done is get out of town. But he didn't," added the garda source. "If he does intend to leave the country, he has to give us an exact address. He can't just tell us he's going to Spain. So it's possible that's delaying him. He would have to make arrangements to book in somewhere or we won't let him go. We then pass on that address to the authorities in whatever European country he could head to. Don't think he wouldn't be closely watched abroad. If a sex offender of his calibre from Spain came to Ireland, best believe he would be watched closely. The only difference would be the media attention would be far less, which is why leaving might be an attractive idea for Murphy."
Despite Murphy's protest to the gardaí, the photographers on motorbikes were not to be deterred. The excitement was palpable. The radio bulletins kept everyone informed. Larry-watching had suddenly become a sport. Where would he go next?
"Come on, why don't you just tell us where he's going?," one photographer asked a garda. "Where's the fun in that?," came the quick-fire response.
The taxi began to make its way into the city centre, still hotly pursued. Then somehow, inexplicably, Murphy did the unimaginable: he managed to get away – not from the gardaí, but from his much more bothersome pursuers, the press. He alighted from the taxi at about 1pm near Grafton Street and headed towards St Stephen's Green. At the time of writing, the gardaí knew exactly where Larry Murphy was staying. It would take more than 24 hours for the media to catch up with him again.
This was the most high-profile release of a prisoner since Wayne O'Donoghue got out after three years for killing Cork schoolboy Robert Holohan. In many ways, interest in Murphy could last a lot longer than interest in O'Donoghue. The main reason for this is that Larry Murphy, unlike Wayne O'Donoghue, is at high risk of reoffending.
The media frenzy over Larry Murphy is unprecedented. The only other prisoner who might receive such attention if he were let out is Malcolm MacArthur. The infamous Gubu murderer has been in jail for 27 years and there is no sign of his being released.
The media had prepared well in advance for Larry Murphy's reintroduction to society. In the months before his release, stories about the rapist began to appear. The Sunday Tribune, along with every other national newspaper, has written extensively about him. The story has also been well covered on TV and radio.
Some media outlets are more obsessed with Larry Murphy than others, with entire teams of reporters working solely on the story. Before his release, every possible angle was covered. And since he got out of Arbour Hill, Murphy has become a national obsession. But is the media coverage documenting the public mood or creating it?
O'Leary Analytics, which monitors and analyses online media in Ireland, has researched the press handling of the Larry Murphy story.
"Some coverage has been criticised as hysterical, sensational and promoting panic. Journalists and editors have claimed that they are merely responding to and reflecting the interest and attitude of the public to Murphy's release but our research proves this to be untrue," media analyst Stephen O'Leary told the Sunday Tribune.
"By comparing the references to Larry Murphy in the news media with those in social media, including Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and blogs, it is clear the traditional media is driving the public interest in the case rather than reacting to it. Before the press reporting of Murphy's imminent release on Wednesday, there had been fewer than 20 references to him in social media during August. In the 24 hours after the story hit the headlines, Larry Murphy was mentioned in social media more than 250 times. This demonstrates that there was a massive increase in the public's interest in the case after the media began to report it, rather than the press having responded to massive public concern," he said.
It was undoubtedly the story of the week, rendering the Ivor Callely expenses scandal virtually unimportant in comparison.
"Certain elements of the media have protested that they simply reflected the public's interest in the frenzy surrounding Larry Murphy's release. But our research shows the media created that interest, fed it and exploited it," added O'Leary. "Before the press began stoking it up, there was almost no awareness that Larry Murphy was going to be released. There was, therefore, no fear, no panic, no interest among the public at large. Editors cannot argue that some of the more excessive coverage simply reflects the attitude of readers, listeners or viewers. The truth is journalists have created the interest which they now claim to have an obligation to serve."
It seemed as if some newspapers were covering nothing but the Larry Murphy story last week. Criticism of some of the coverage began in earnest on Friday.
The Irish Daily Star covered the story extensively. Thursday's front page headline read: 'DANGER. Rape beast Murphy due out today – and every woman should memorise this evil face'. On Friday, the Star printed a poster for its readers of Larry Murphy, presumably so people could cut it out and hang it up on their wall, something usually reserved for celebrity idols. Star editor Ger Colleran has been happy to justify his paper's stance.
"The reason we printed the poster is because Larry Murphy is a clear and present danger. He was about to murder that woman and disappear her until he was caught by chance. It was a random assault. It could be someone's wife or daughter," he told the Sunday Tribune. "By printing the poster, we were making the point that this person is still a danger and people should remember his face."
Colleran said his paper's extensive coverage of the story wasn't a cynical attempt to increase circulation but a genuine reaction to public hysteria.
Several tabloid newspapers also published a hotline number for their readers to ring if they spot Larry Murphy, who by now must be the most recognisable man in Ireland. Another newspaper was giving away a free Larry Murphy book this weekend.
The Sun raised some eyebrows when it put up posters of Larry Murphy all over Wicklow, warning people to 'keep away' from the dangerous rapist. The paper's editor, Mick McNiffe, defended the move on Today FM's The Last Word programme on Thursday. McNiffe told presenter Anton Savage that it was not his newspaper's intention to encourage vigilantism or to put Larry Murphy or anyone else in danger. Almost the opposite was true, he said, since his newspaper was advising people to keep away from the rapist rather than attack him.
There are countless reasons why Larry Murphy's release from prison is a valid story that has generated so much publicity. Aside from the violence of his abduction, rape and attempted murder of the Carlow woman, and the fact that he's a suspected serial killer, other factors have also been at play. His brother Tom has spoken to several newspapers, RTE and TV3 about how he wants nothing to do with his brother and he will not be welcome in his home. This has helped keep the story alive.
It has also sparked important debate about whether remission should be available to all inmates and about electronic tagging. In some countries, one of the conditions of the release of a rapist from prison is that they must have had therapy. But, in the main, a lot of the coverage has focused on the fear.
"People know a story like this will sell. A lot of the stories in the papers are focusing on the fear element in all of this. It's hard to know where this story can go next, aside from if he leaves the country," said O'Leary of O'Leary Analytics. "I cannot imagine that this level of publicity can be maintained."
Brian Trench, head of the School of Communications at DCU, believes the Larry Murphy story fascinates the media because it has so many elements to it.
"A lot of the coverage is focused on anger, anxiety, fear and terror. This is not a tabloid versus broadsheet issue. It's being covered widely by the press. There is certainly an appetite for this kind of stuff. It ensures an audience and readership," he said.
"The tabloid press have been more preoccupied with this story. While there are important issues, like monitoring of sex offenders and rehabilitation being raised, it seems to me that a lot of the information about the story is coming from unattributed sources and some unverifiable statements are being made. It is all 'garda sources' and 'prison sources'. There has certainly been an unhelpful level of speculation around Larry Murphy."
Naturally, the media have focused on the shocking details of Murphy's attack on the Carlow woman. But Trench said constantly repeating the facts of her abduction and rape adds to the fear that is being created about Larry Murphy.
"It's hard to see what public purpose is being served. There is a self-fulfilling prophecy when newspapers keep saying, 'public fear is rising over the release of Larry Murphy'. It is telling people they need to be afraid. There has been a lot of drama built up around this."
Trench believes people have an appetite for stories that generate fear.
"Perversely, we like to feel anxious. This story is playing out its natural cycle. While we almost enjoy the fear, at the same time we are hoping that by the weekend there will be some kind of conclusion to it," he said. "Some of the things that have been printed have been proven not to be true. Larry Murphy is an exceptional type of case; there are not very many like him. It is too simple to just describe him as 'evil incarnate' and not explore why. We know so little about what makes sex offenders tick."
In the summertime, particularly August, there is a dearth of newsworthy stories to focus on, since the Dáil and the courts are not in session. During this 'silly season', stories that wouldn't usually be printed suddenly appear for want of other news. The massive media coverage of Larry Murphy is partly because of this, according to Trench.
The impact of all this publicity on Larry Murphy's victim must be immense. While the Carlow woman has moved on from the horror inflicted on her that night in 2000, all her feelings about the incident have been dragged up again. She has consistently refused to talk to the press in the past ten years about her abduction and rape.
Other victims of the Larry Murphy fallout include his family. His estranged wife and two sons are no doubt feeling emotional about his release. So much so, in fact, that they left their home for a few days recently to get away from the constant stream of journalists calling to the door.
"It would certainly make our job easier if this wasn't such a big story," said a garda. "He is being absolutely hounded by the press, hunted like an animal. That's a bad situation for Larry Murphy. The last thing we need is a high-risk sex offender being really stressed out. That brings with it its own dangers."
When Larry Murphy was spotted on Friday evening at Heuston station and then later at Kevin Street garda station, the public, and the media seemed to breathe a collective sigh of relief. Simply knowing where he was had acquired major significance. But it remains to be seen whether Murphy can again give the media the slip. The danger with this is that hounding someone as potentially dangerous as Murphy can force them underground.
"No-one has to worry. He might be able to give the press the slip but he cannot give the gardaí the slip; the general public can be assured of that," added the garda source. "But how long can he put up with this? Larry Murphy must be feeling so much pressure right now. He must be at boiling point."