It was Sunday, the 8th of February, 1998. The song Doctor Jones by Aqua was at the top of the singles charts and the movie Titanic was smashing Box Office records. The Winter Olympics had started in Japan and news about a devastating earthquake in Afghanistan was receiving worldwide media attention.
Locally, The Wexford People paper was reporting on the concerns of Wexford-based poultry farmers, who were worried about the spread of the Newcastle virus – a contagious disease that had already wiped out over one million birds in Northern Ireland.
In the small village of Broadway, County Wexford, mother-of-one Fiona Sinnott was sitting with her friends in a local pub called Butlers. According to the book Missing, Presumed by retired detective sergeant Alan Bailey, the 19-year-old spent the evening chatting and joking with her friends about a night-out they had enjoyed the previous Friday.
Fiona’s ex-partner, Sean Carroll, was also at the pub. However, he was sitting at the bar alone, smoking and having a pint.
At some point in the evening, Fiona called her brother and asked him to join her and her friends at Butlers. However, he declined her invitation because he had just returned home from work.
When the night came to a close, Fiona said goodbye to her friends and left to take the short walk back to the house that she had been renting by herself in Ballyhitt. At 12.10AM, she left the bar clutching two packets of peanuts in her hand. Carroll, who was the father of their 11-month-old daughter, decided to accompany her home.
This was the last time that Fiona was seen in public.
Little did her friends know that they would never see her again.
It wasn’t until the 18th of February, 1998, that Fiona was reported missing. You see, Fiona was a very independent young woman. In the past, she had previously left home to visit Cork for a couple of days. You also have to take into account the fact that she lived 16KM away from her family home and that mobile phones were uncommon at the time.
Before the rise of the handheld device, communication occurred through landline phones, written correspondence and face-to-face conversations. Because of this, it was common for family members not to have contact with one another for a number of days.
Every Friday, Fiona would get a bus into Wexford town so that she could meet up with her family for coffee. When she failed to show up for the second week in a row, her family began to worry.
As the days went by, it began to dawn on everyone that something was wrong.
On the 18th of February, Fiona’s father sounded the alarm when he contacted the Kilmore Garda Station to inform them that his daughter had not been seen in public since the 8th. In response, a full-scale missing persons investigation was launched.
In his book Missing, Presumed, Bailey tells us how Gardai contacted Fiona’s ex-boyfriend after she had been reported missing. Because Fiona Sinnott and Sean Carroll had left Butlers pub during the same time-frame, it was obvious that he would become one of the first people to be contacted by Gardai.
During his conversation with investigators, Carroll told them that he had walked Fiona back to her house in Ballyhitt and that he had spent the night sleeping on her couch. Fiona, who had been complaining about pains in her arm and upper body, had gone straight to bed.
The next morning, Carroll said that he walked into Fiona’s bedroom and saw that she was awake. According to Carroll, Fiona had told him that she was still in pain and that she intended on hitching a lift to her GP later that day. Because Fiona said that she had no money, Carroll told Gardai that he had given her £3. He then left the house and took a lift from his mother, who was waiting in a car outside. Carroll and his mother then drove back to their family home, which was where Fiona’s daughter Emma had been staying at the time.
This was the last date that anyone would report seeing Fiona alive.
During the investigation into Fiona Sinnott’s disappearance, it was discovered that she did not see a doctor that day. There were no record of her having attended her GP in Broadway. The investigation also failed to find any evidence that she had been thumbing for a lift.
A theory that she had left the country with a Welsh trucker was ruled out. Two nights before Fiona disappeared, she had spent the night with a trucker in his cab. Although the idea of a large truck driving down the narrow roads of Ballyhitt was met with skepticism, Gardai still had to pursue it. After Gardai made contact the trucker in question, he agreed to return to Ireland so that he could be interviewed. His alibi checked out, as he was able to prove to investigators that he had been driving on the continent when Fiona went missing.
During a technical examination of Fiona’s house, Gardai noticed that it had been stripped bare of a number of her personal belongings. It was ‘spotlessly clean’, which was considered to be ‘unusual’ for Fiona.
According to retired detective sergeant Alan Bailey, who served as National Coordinator for the specialist Garda task force Operation TRACE, there was a ‘complete absence of clothing and other personal items indicating that a teenage girl and her eleven-month-old daughter were actually living there.’
Later, one local would recall how he had seen over a dozen black refuse bags lined up outside of the property.
As news of Fiona’s disappearance continued to spread, a local farmer approached Gardai with news that he had discovered a number of black bags in the corner of one of his fields. Inside these bags, he had found a number of items and documents that had Fiona’s name written on them.
Unfortunately, the farmer had set fire to these bags as he thought that it was just another case of illegal dumping. The correspondence that he discovered had George’s Street written on them, which was where Fiona had previously rented an apartment with her ex-boyfriend. This address did not correspond with the address that was being listed in the missing person’s appeals.
It was at this point in the investigation that Gardai began to suspect that somebody was trying to mislead them into thinking that Fiona had run away.
At the time of her disappearance, Fiona’s daughter Emma was about to celebrate her first birthday. According to her friends and family, Fiona was looking forward to this, as well as her sister’s upcoming 21st birthday. She even had plans to go to Waterford so that she could buy her sister a birthday present.
All of this lends credence to the widely-held belief that Fiona did not decide to run away.
Since day one, detectives have been convinced that Fiona’s body is buried somewhere in the south of County Wexford. Fiona’s family are also of the same opinion:
I believe she’s not far. She’s closer than what we might think. You could be driving by her on the road all the time.
In June of 1998, the nearby lake in Lady’s Island was drained, with Gardaí keeping a 24-hour floodlit watch. The operation lasted a month and the entire lake was searched. However, no trace of Fiona was found.
Searches at other lakes and suggested burial sites also failed to turn up anything.
In 2001, a man that was suspected of having been involved in the disposal of Fiona’s body died from a suspected drug overdose. According to Bailey’s book, Missing, Presumed., the man in question had been finding it increasingly difficult to live with the guilt of having been involved. However, he could not provide the An Garda Síochána with an anonymous tip-off because only three people knew about the exact location of her whereabouts. Telling somebody, he said, would be tantamount to signing his own death warrant.
On the 16th of September, 2005, Gardai announced that they were now treating the case as a murder investigation. Earlier that day, at around 7AM, the prime suspect in the murder of Fiona Sinnott was arrested at his home and detained under Section 4 of the Criminal Justice Act.
In the days leading up to his arrest, five other people had been detained by Gardai on suspicion of withholding information.
Over the course of three days, six people in total were arrested: The prime suspect, the suspect’s mother, his sister, his sister’s boyfriend, his ex-girlfriend and a male friend.
After questioning, they were released and files outlining their suspected involvement in Fiona’s disappearance were submitted to the Director of Public Prosecutions.
In the end, no charges were filed.
These arrests came on the back of ‘vital information’ that Gardai received from a woman that was known to the suspect.
During the investigation, one person came forward to say that they had heard a woman screaming in the Millpond Cross area on the night that Fiona had left Butlers pub. Another motorist stated they had seen a couple who appeared to be arguing with one another at the entrance of a quarry.
These reports have never been proven. Nor have they ever been successfully linked to Fiona’s disappearance.
There is a firmly-held belief that a number of people in the Wexford area know what happened to Fiona. According to Bailey, there have been persistent rumours that local youths were involved in the cover-up of her murder.
Reports have also suggested that people have maintained their silence because they fear the suspect in question.
Information and updates about the ongoing investigation into Fiona’s disappearance:
Fiona’s case is often mentioned whenever the topic of “Ireland’s vanishing triangle” is brought up. The term itself refers to the disappearances of a number of women during the 1990s; all of which occurred in the same geographical region in Ireland.
These include Fiona Sinnott, Fiona Pender, Annie McCarrick, Eva Brennan, Imelda Keenan, JoJo Dollard, Ciara Breen and Deirdre Jacob.
It has been theorized that a serial killer may have been involved in some of the disappearances. However, the suspect in Fiona’s case is a man that was well-known to her.
In Bailey’s book, he recalls how Operation TRACE made a number of recommendations to Wexford Gardai. These recommendations outlined what actions that should be taken against those involved in Fiona’s case.
In the mid-2000s, it came to light that these recommendations were never implemented.
After her disappearance, it came to light that Fiona had suffered a number of brutal assaults at the hands of an ex-boyfriend. On more than one occasion, she was hospitalised as a result of these attacks. However, Fiona discharged herself and did not press charges.
The first time that she was brought to Wexford General Hospital, it was because she had suffered bruising to her face. On another occasion, she had bite marks on her legs and had been beaten around the head and back.
In 1996, Gardai were called to a house close to Rosslare Harbour. When they arrived on the scene, Gardai found Fiona being comforted on the street by another woman. Inside the house, they came across the man who had allegedly threatened her with a knife. He had been drinking and was asleep on the couch. Fiona collected her belongings and left. No charges were pressed.
Gardai also heard details of another brutal assault, which Fiona had told a number of people about. According to Gardai, it was a “very serious attack” that would have seen the perpetrator facing up to life imprisonment.
The Sinnott family have been unsuccessful in their attempts to make contact with Fiona’s daughter. Emma, who is now in her twenties, remained in the care of her father’s family after Fiona disappeared.
Somebody knows something.
In an interview with the Irish Examiner, Fiona’s family expressed their belief that two people besides the main suspect had information about her whereabouts. However, these people are believed to be fearful of him.
They also expressed their belief that Fiona’s body is somewhere in County Wexford.
The weather that night.
Small details like the weather may seem insignificant. However, the rain, wind and temperature can all play a huge part in the decisions we make. There is also the small and hopeful chance that these kind of details will jog someone’s memory of that Sunday.
On Sunday, the 8th of February, 1998, BBC weatherman John Kettley started his forecast by pointing out how exceptionally mild it was going to be:
We really are going to see a taste of Spring throughout the British Isles, with temperatures way above where they ought to be for this time of the year.
That February had started off cold. However, by Sunday the 8th, the weather had started to change for the better. According to historical data from the Wexford Wildlife Reserve, Saturday the 7th had seen minimum temperatures of 2.8C. By Monday the 9th, those minimum temperatures had risen to 9.6C.
As Kettley pointed out in his forecast, there were strong southwesterly winds gusting up from the Atlantic that week. These winds would have been stronger than usual and there is a chance that they may have influenced what route Fiona decided to take home. If Fiona took the southerly route home, she would have been walking against these strong winds. However, if she took the northerly route, as her family believe she did, then the wind would have been behind her for most of the journey.
Fiona’s father passes away.
Sadly, Fiona’s father Pat passed away in 2004, having never discovered what had happened to his daughter. His family say that he died of a broken heart. Before his death, he used to wait at the front gate in the hope that she would one day return home. On his death bed, he told his sons:
Don’t stop searching for her. Find her.
In January of 2006, The Sunday Mirror reported that Fiona’s family were spat at by a man during a search for her body. The man in question also laughed at her grieving relatives as they awaited the results of the dig. The operation had been carried out at a field in Killinick.
In July of 2006, Gardai carried out a search of a lane outside of St David’s Church in Mulrankin. The search, which failed to find anything, came about after the site was identified by a clairvoyant. The clairvoyant had stated that Fiona was bludgeoned to death and that her body was buried under a septic tank.
A human skull was found in Katt’s Strand in 2007. However, investigators soon learned that the skull belonged to an older and smaller woman.
Stolen memorial plaque.
On the 12th of September, 2008, a memorial plaque for Fiona was stolen from a cemetery in Our Lady’s Island in County Wexford. The marble plaque, which had been cemented into the wall, was removed the night before it was due to be unveiled. In his book, retired detective sergeant Alan Bailey says that it was ‘almost certainly the case’ that the suspect in Fiona’s disappearance was somehow involved with the removal of the plaque.
In April of 2015, what was believed to be human hair was discovered at a dig site in County Wexford. DNA testing would later disprove this. In August of 2015, Fiona’s family revealed that they had identified two sites in the South East and that they were waiting on the go-ahead from Operation Trace to search them. These digs have been carried out with the help of Joe Blake from Trace Missing Persons Ireland, who uses specially-trained cadaver dogs to search for forensic evidence and human remains.
Gardaí renew their appeal.
In April of 2017, Gardaí renewed their appeal for help locating Fiona. A fresh appeal was made on RTE’s television show Crimecall. It was also revealed that Gardaí were due to carry out a fresh forensic examination of Fiona’s home in Ballyhitt. According to Dr Dorothy Ramsbottom, recent advances in technology allow investigators to locate and generate DNA profiles from stains.
Fiona’s sister passes away.
In June of 2017, Fiona’s sister Caroline Sinnott passed away after a short illness. She was 47 years of age. Caroline never gave up looking for her younger sister and she had frequently appealed to the public for new information.
Chief suspect complicates future extradition bids.
In December of 2017, The Irish Sun reported that the chief suspect in Fiona’s murder had ‘fled’ to another country in an attempt to complicate any future extradition bids. The newspaper reported that the suspect had been previously living in the UK and in Spain and that he had recently moved to another country. The newspaper did not name the country that he had moved to.
In July of 2018, it was announced that TV3 would be airing a documentary about the missing Wexford woman. The documentary, which is called Getting Away with Murder, is expected to air in Autumn, 2018.
If you have information about the disappearance of Fiona Sinnott, please contact any Garda Station or phone the Garda Confidential Phoneline on 1800 666111.
References: Bailey, Alan (2014-12-01). Missing, Presumed. Liberties Press.