It was a cold night in February, ten years ago. A young Carlow businesswoman in her 20s locked up her shop and walked towards the secluded car park where she parked every day. It was her usual routine and Larry Murphy knew that. It was just after 8pm. She had about €700 cash in shop takings in her handbag. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed a man who appeared to be searching for something on the ground. She didn't pay much attention and opened her car door, anxious to get home. Immediately, the man jumped on her and struck her in the face, shouting "give me the money".
The woman was knocked backwards into the car. Murphy struck her again in the face, fracturing her nose. He forced her onto the ground on the passenger's side as he made his presence felt. He ordered her to take off her bra. In a terrified daze, she did what he asked. He used it to tie her hands behind her back and told her to take her shoes off, removing them himself when she was unable to. At this stage, he had her keys and he drove her car to a nearby isolated laneway where he had left his Fiat Punto. He forced her out of the car and into his own, again bundling her into the passenger's footwell. Although he wasn't a particularly big man, he was strong and she could not escape. He drove about 12km to a spot between Moone and Beconstown. There, he stripped her and raped her. Afterwards, he put back on his own clothes and calmly told her to do likewise. He used her bra again to tie her hands. He tried to calm the terrified, traumatised and injured woman by talking to her. He mentioned that he was a married man, even telling her the names of his two kids. His wife was heavily pregnant with their third child, a son. Murphy promised the woman that he was bringing her back to Carlow to set her free.
But he had no intention of letting this woman live. He just wanted to placate her. He forced her into the boot of his car and drove another 25km to Kilranelagh, Co Wicklow, where there was a remote wood. It was less than two miles away from where he lived with his family in Baltinglass.
As the woman lay bound in the boot of his car, the tortuous journey would have been made all the more unbearable as realisation eventually sunk in: he wasn't taking her back to Carlow as promised because the distance to Kilranelagh was twice as far. As she lay in the darkened boot pondering the possibilities of her fate, Murphy had a clear plan. He had decided that this woman's suffering was not over.
He stopped the car and pulled her out of the boot. He dragged her down a lane through the forest that leads up to the heart of the Wicklow mountains. Again, he stripped her naked and raped her another three times. Finally satisfied, he placed a plastic bag over her head and he began to strangle her. With her hands still tied behind her back, she was helpless. But Murphy's attempts to murder his victim were interrupted. Two local men who were out hunting deer drove down the laneway and caught the horrific scene in the headlights of their Land Rover. Ken Jones and Trevor Moody recognised Larry Murphy instantly.
Thinking on his feet, Murphy immediately let go of the woman, ran towards his Fiat and drove towards home. The two hunters got out of their car and ran to help the woman. In her distress, she ran deeper into the woods.
Still naked, she got caught in the barbed wire before the two men finally calmed her down and coaxed her back out. They covered her with a coat and brought her to Baltinglass garda station. From there, she was taken to Carlow hospital.
Murphy went home, where his family was sleeping. He got into bed beside his pregnant wife. He may well have known that the game was up. Informed by the hunters that it was unquestionably Murphy who they saw in the woods, garda squad cars arrived and discreetly sat outside his house not long after he arrived home. It was early in the morning by the time a warrant could be obtained for his arrest.
In custody, he was a picture of calm. He gave nothing away and was entirely unperturbed by the previous night's events. Murphy's composure disturbed gardaí, but the evidence against him was insurmountable. He was charged and sent to Cloverhill prison.
At first, his wife Margaret visited him. He assured her he was innocent and that he would be pleading not guilty. But in the end, he chose to be pragmatic. He knew he could never beat the charge so he pleaded guilty, knowing it would mean a lighter sentence. His wife has not visited him in prison since he admitted to his crime. Larry Murphy has never met his son, who his wife gave birth to a few months after her husband's arrest.
Murphy pleaded guilty to abduction as well as rape charges during his brief court appearance. Unfazed and seemingly unaffected, he did not react in any way when judge Paul Carney sentenced him to 14 years, taking into account his guilty plea. The woman he raped and tried to kill was present in court. Her attacker did not make eye-contact with her or anyone else. Judge Carney asked the woman if she would give evidence but she was unable to. "His demeanour in court defines everything we know about Larry Murphy," says a source. "A cold fish who seems incapable of emotion."
The method of the Carlow woman's rape, kidnap and attempted murder suggested that Murphy was a seasoned predator. In the decade he has spent in prison, he has never shown any remorse for the crime. He is a man with an appetite to kill who has refused various attempts to undergo rehabilitation for sex offenders. He has never explained his actions. No-one – not the country's most senior gardaí or his family – seems to have any real understanding of what goes on inside the mind of Larry Murphy.
He has had few visits during his imprisonment, which is due to come to an end in the second week in August. Like all prisoners, he is entitled to statutory remission. The last person to go and see Murphy was his brother Tom, who visited him five months ago in February in Arbour Hill. His most consistent visitors have been members of An Garda Síochána.
In the 18 years before Murphy's arrest, nine women disappeared in the Leinster area and are believed murdered. Since his arrest, none have disappeared. Operation Trace was set up by former Garda Commissioner Pat Byrne in 1998 to investigate the disappearance of six young women who all vanished from the Leinster area between 1993 and 1998. Its objective, aside from solving the cases, was to try and establish if a serial killer was responsible for some or all of the suspected murders.
Detectives from Operation Trace have interviewed Larry Murphy on at least three occasions about the other women but he has consistently denied any involvement. There is circumstantial evidence linking him to three of the cases: Deirdre Jacob, Jo Jo Dullard and Annie McCarrick. He remains a suspect. Gardaí are convinced he is Ireland's first and only known serial killer. He has been effectively ruled out of involvement in the cases of Ciara Breen, Fiona Pender and Fiona Sinnott. Almost three years ago, detectives invited two FBI agents to Dublin to scrutinise the files. The FBI concluded that the modus operandi and profile of the unknown suspect fitted Larry Murphy in the three cases in which gardaí had already identified him as a suspect.
Operation Trace concluded that there was commonality in the cases of Annie McCarrick, Jo Jo Dullard and Deirdre Jacob.
A detailed background investigation of Larry Murphy since his arrest and conviction by detectives has revealed a confident, calculating attacker. His psychological profile fits the bill of a possible serial killer: a loner who has shown a propensity to attack women in the past.
His instructions to his victim to take off her bra and shoes and decision to use the family car suggest he had experience in this type of crime. That he used a plastic bag to try and smother and strangle her, not a basic murder weapon, indicates he was confident in his actions.
The rapist's background has also given credence to the garda theory that he is a possible serial killer. The former carpenter had a passion for hunting, a hobby through which he became familiar with the hinterland around Baltinglass and beyond to the Wicklow mountains. He always hunted alone and his knowledge of secluded areas in the Wicklow mountains was second to none.
"Do we think he was responsible for other murders of women who disappeared around the Wicklow mountains area? Yes, we most certainly do," said a garda source. "But without their bodies, or a confession or witnesses, there is little we can do. It's hugely problematic when there is no crime scene."
It has been a disappointment for gardaí that Operation Trace has not solved the cases of the missing women to date. Retired assistant commissioner Tony Hickey, who led the operation on the ground, says Murphy has always been a person of fascination to the media. "There has always been so much speculation about him," he said. "But the fact remains that there is no definitive evidence to link him to anything other than the crime he was convicted of."