Monday, June 6, 2016

The Pact by Lily Verlaine

Below is one of the most shocking stories I’ve ever heard and believe me I don’t do shocking easily!

In the autumn of 2002, C4 ( a UK TV Station) aired a programme that I can only describe as one of the most disturbing television documentaries ever aired, I‘d never heard of the story up to that point, but it’s haunted me ever since. The director a lady by the name of Liz Dobson said she had been compelled to make the documentary.

I decided to try and find out more, but it wasn’t easy, I didn’t have access to the internet back then, it was only recently, that I investigated further, and decided this story more than any other truly deserves a place in my blog

The Story

In July 2000 in Leixlip Co Kildare in Southern Ireland a landlord, Trevor Burns made a gruesome discovery. Whilst trying to gain access to one of his properties he was forced to break down the door. He was overpowered straight away by the smell, a strong smell of antiseptic, masked something rotten, the sickening stench of putrefying flesh, inside lay four women who had starved themselves to death.

The four had not been seen outdoors for four months, the bodies of 83-year-old Frances Mulrooney and her three nieces, Josephine, 46, and twins Catherine and Ruth, aged 51, were all found downstairs of the property. The house had been secured with the doors and windows either locked or sealed and a fridge was pushed up against the front door.

When deputy State pathologist Dr Marie Cassidy entered the scene, she found no sign of disturbance and the house was clean, smelling strongly of disinfectant. The house had been stiflingly hot when first entered as the heating had been at its highest setting, Dr Cassidy said,

“The curtains were drawn. There was no evidence of food preparation or cooking and no food was found, neither were any drugs discovered”.

All four women were in varying stages of decomposition. 3 bodies were found in the front room on makeshift beds comprising of laid on mattresses and sleeping bags. The fourth was found where she had collapsed on a pile of rubbish bags in the kitchen. There were various saucepans and cups of water around the ground floor of the house. The women had sealed themselves into the house.

After the discovery of the bodies the Detective Sergeant and pathologists had a hard time finding out what had caused the deaths. Police said that while the heating was turned up and some doors and the chimney had been blocked, the ventilation system was clear. At first they thought it was poison, but the post mortem showed that they had died of starvation, but Frances Mulrooney may have died from pneumonia brought on by food deprivation. Aside from the water, the other noticeable thing about the house was the catholic pictures, statuary, rosaries etc that were all over the house. This isn’t particularly unusual for a house in what is a predominantly catholic area but it did suggest that the four women were devout.

Interviews with neighbours showed them to be extremely reclusive. They always stayed indoors with the curtains drawn and only really ventured out of their house for food. This behaviour had been going on for years until the end of March 2000 when they made one last trip for supplies.
After that it appears that they sealed themselves into the house and just stopped eating. They seemed to have planned to starve themselves, but surely they can’t have known how slow and excruciating this means of suicide would be. The average healthy person in their 20s can take 60 days to starve to death, fewer if they don’t drink water. After the body has raided its fat reserves, it begins to consume itself, devouring organs and nerves.

Living on water alone they all survived for more than 30 days and then began to die one at a time over the next two weeks. It is dreadful to think about what their last days must have been like, terrible pain and hunger and then sharing a room with your loved ones after they had died, just ignoring their festering dead bodies lying close by on the floor. Each day becoming less recognisable as the loved ones you knew, each day the overwhelming stench of purification becoming more unbearable. Despite the fact that the others were dying, the women continued their fast until they died too.

In the weeks before their fast, they set about destroying personal papers, letters and documents, anything that gave them identity, before they set about erasing themselves. Despite this two letters were discovered which were written by Ruth Mulrooney, dated June 12, which were found with a written request that they should be sent on. The letters were addressed to two friends that she had not spoken to in more than ten years, asking the friends “not to grieve for me”. She wrote of “going into a spiritual world”. In the letters she described shedding their cumbersome, bulky bodies and leaving earth to reach eternal paradise.

This reveals that the women starved themselves to death to repay a karmic debt as part of a new age philosophy which has its roots in Hindu worship, it almost sounded like the beliefs of a cult member, despite all four being devout Catholics. Ruth wrote,

“We cast off these dense physical bodies … which to me are like great overcoats … which our soul inhabits and when worn out we cast them off and we ascend into the higher realms in my opinion, our true home. This is, after all, what our Saviour Jesus, the Christ came to teach us. There can never be real justice here and looking for justice will only be futile and heartbreaking. I believe we all of us, every single soul has a Karmic debt to pay off (me very much included) an individual cross to carry to learn through this intense suffering (not ‘suffering for suffering’s sake’).”

One other letter was found which had been deliberately shredded and hidden under a mattress. It was also written by Ruth, and was written to her sister Josephine. In which she wrote that they had not eaten for 36 days and that their stomachs were devouring themselves, she appealed for “some medical intervention”. The note said none of them could have thought “our deaths would be so slow and while the idea of ascending into heaven together is a good one, we did not envisage this”. She seemed to have written it over several days. She describes excruciating pain and torment, and voices her doubts that there must be more humane ways to achieve eternal life than the method that they had chosen. She seemed to be having doubts, because she wrote, “We must do something to get ourselves out of this painful hell”.

One of the two letters was addressed to a friend of Ruth’s, he told the coroner’s court that he had met Ruth in the early seventies when she placed an advertisement in a daily paper looking for people to form a vegetarian society. He described her as a very intelligent person, well read and one of the most gentle people he had ever met, he said,

“Her whole demeanour was one of gentleness”.

He said that Ruth was a vegetarian and never ate meat or fish, no flesh foods. They had discussions about the benefits of fasting but he never knew her to go on a long fast. They would talk on occasion about the spirit life and she considered that an extension of our normal lives but “not like going over into it deliberately, like killing herself”.

It seemed that Frances Mulrooney and her three nieces had for a long time had a troubled existence, they lived apart, from any other family members a closed exclusive nucleus. Frances Mulrooney had been a surrogate mother to Catherine, Ruth and Josephine from birth. In all there was a family of five girls in the Feeney household and Frances Mulrooney was their mother’s sister. Frances was en route to England to study nursing when she came to stay overnight with the family at their home over their hardware shop in Dolpin’s Barn in Dublin. But her sister was heavily pregnant with the twins and it was a difficult pregnancy so she decided to stay.

After the twins were born, she decided to wait until they were hardy and then she never left. The twins were named Catherine and Breege but Breege decided to change her name to Ruth. Josephine was born in 1953 and Auntie looked after her too as their mother worked alongside her husband in the shop.

“They were like a separate family really, Auntie and the three girls. But I suppose the thing was that she was domineering too like my father,” Frances Gallagher, the eldest of the five sisters, said. After school, the three girls did secretarial courses and found jobs but they never settled. “They never left the nest. Jo was very bright. She was in the top five in her secretarial class and she joined the civil service. But the money wasn’t that good and so she left.”

The family business thrived in the sixties and seventies. However, the eighties hit the Feeneys hard, not only economically but socially. Gradually more and more shops in the area were boarded up as inner city poverty and the scourge of drug abuse began to take its toll. Auntie and the three sisters moved to Tritonville Road in Sandymount. The girls changed their name by deed poll to Mulrooney. They separated themselves from those around them. Frances recalled that,

“They only spoke to one or two people. They were reserved, too much so. We would visit them every Sunday. But they were happy in their own way“.

The world of Frances Mulrooney and the three sisters was made whole by their retriever cross called Goldie and their half dozen cats. In 1998, the four women finally lost their battle to live out their lives at their home in Sandymount. In August 1998, the four women and their animals moved to live with their sister, Tess, while they sought to replace their home in Sandymount. In October, their beloved 13-year-old retriever, Goldie, died and then just before Christmas that year, the women moved to Leixlip.

The isolation of Rinawade drew the women into a virtual cocoon. Nothing mattered except that they were together. And in the 14 months that followed, a pact to die together was agreed and executed. The Mulrooneys stopped eating in the middle of May. Frances died a month later, followed by Ruth-Bridget, then Josephine, then Catherine. Catherine’s body was found in the kitchen on a pile of bin bags. Either she had moved from the living room because the stench of rotting flesh was so over bearing she could stand it no more, or else she was trying to escape the house and the horror, nobody will ever know.

The Documentary.

The documentary is chilling, it shows the house itself, with photographs showing the interior, made more heart stopping by any minute imaging you may see the bodies of the sisters themselves. Most disturbing of all, and there was a lot of competition for that particular accolade, was the reading of Ruth‘s letter to Josephine over a course of days beginning on the 36th day of their fast. It charted deaths in gruesome detail. That it was read by their cousin, Franchine, an actress in Galway made it all the more unsettling. The link is not mentioned in the programme itself, and the name is merely flagged in the credits at the end.

The documentary concluded, that Catherine was the last sister to die. Her body was found in the kitchen, collapsed onto black dustbin bags that held the scraps of their lives, papers and documents the women had shredded and pulped. Investigating garda Det Sgt Maurice Heffernan suggests she may have been trying to escape.

“She made her way out of the living room into the kitchen where she collapsed and died,” he told the documentary. “I believe she may well have been going to get the key which was actually in a canister in a cupboard in the kitchen. I believe she was looking to get out of the house.”

The documentary was far more frightening to me than any horror film, I’ve ever seen. It was the stuff of nightmares, and it felt almost suffocating. I can only imagine what misery must be contained within the four walls of that house. So much emotion and human suffered soaked into the bricks and mortar themselves. I have Irish Catholic roots, which is another reason it so deeply affected me, but there is an even more terrifying thought, a family currently lives in the property.

The estate at Leixlip Co Kildare in Southern Ireland.

In 2014 a theatrical group entitled Dead Centre, staged a production at the Edinburgh Fringe Theatre based on the four women’s story entitled, ‘Lippy’, the above photo is from that production.

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