The deaths of a Donegal woman, her two young daughters and her husband were most likely the result of a combination of depression and ‘misguided altruism’, experts suggested in a documentary televised this week.
Ciara O’Brien Dunne (26), a native of Burt, was found strangled at her home in Monageer, Co. Wexford on Monday, April 24, 2007. Her two daughters Leanne and Shania had been suffocated and her husband Adrian had hanged himself.
A local undertaker had contacted gardai the previous week after the Dunnes made detailed funeral arrangements for their family, including picking out child-sized white coffins and stipulating that the girls were to wear Liverpool jerseys and Dora the Explorer jeans.
‘Murder in Mind - The Death of a Family’ was broadcast on TV3 on Tuesday night. In the programme, two psychologists examined what happened and made “educated assumptions” as to the reasons.
Dr Mike Berry said there was ample evidence to suggest that Adrian Dunne was “a control freak” who had increasingly isolated Ciara from her family.
“They were not equal partners”, Dr Berry commented.
The family had moved seven times since leaving Donegal, he noted.
After the move to Wexford, Ciara’s family had unsuccessfully gone to great lengths to try and stay in contact with her.
Ciara’s mother had spoken to a public health nurse and to gardai about her worries for the family but had not filed a formal complaint.
Dr Berry said that Adrian Dunne was also probably suffering from depression, following the death of his father a year before and the suicide of his brother just weeks earlier. At his brother’s funeral, Adrian told another brother, Sebastian, that he “would not have the bottle to do what James did”.
In addition, he suffered from congenital cataracts, as did the two young girls and he was “deeply distressed” about how being legally blind would affect the girls as they grew up.
The family were also under considerable financial strain, owing more than €30,000 and this could have been a factor.
Finally, the fact that a priest called to the house on Friday evening expressing concern may have “spooked” him into thinking he was going to lose control of his family.
Dr Berry said there was evidence that there may have been a suicide pact between the couple, because Ciara had attended the meeting with the undertaker and had told a shop assistant they were looking for Liverpool memorabilia to “put in the girls’ coffins”.
However, the fact that Ciara had brusing under her scalp, a black eye and had been strangled with a ligature indicated that she had struggled at the end.
“If there had really been a suicide pact,” Dr Berry surmised, “the manner of death would not have been violent: they would all have taken tablets or something like that”.
Read more in Thursday’s Donegal Democrat.