RAPIST Larry Murphy is the prime suspect in the case of missing Deirdre Jacob, sources have confirmed.
Gardaí yesterday upgraded the disappearance of the young woman to murder following a key breakthrough in the 20-year-old mystery.
Officers received vital new “credible and corroborated” information last month when a person made a statement about the mystery disappearance to gardaí in Co Kildare.
The information is deemed so significant that a murder investigation is under way, despite the fact that Deirdre’s body has not yet been located.
The family of Deirdre Jacob, of Roseberry, Newbridge, Co Kildare, had clung on to hopes that their daughter, who was 18 when she went missing on the afternoon of July 28, 1998, might turn up alive.
Senior officers say they are now looking at a number of “persons of interest” and new lines of inquiry have been opened up. But informed sources say convicted rapist Murphy is the chief suspect in the case.
“Larry Murphy is believed to be based in the UK at the moment – if he was to set foot in Ireland, he would be arrested on sight in relation to this investigation,” a senior source said last night.
“However, there is nowhere near enough evidence yet to issue a European Arrest Warrant for his extradition and a team of eight gardaí are now working full time on this case.”
Gardaí are expected to call again to witnesses who were interviewed previously, and seek others they believe have information but had not come forward in the past.
Officers will also re-examine CCTV footage at an Irish Permanent building society premises, which showed Deirdre walking up the main street in Newbridge that afternoon.
Gardaí are widening their inquiries and these are likely to take them outside the county, and possibly overseas, as they pursue the new lines that have been opened up.
It is understood that gardaí may now conduct searches for Deirdre’s remains in the near future.
The murder investigation is being led by Chief Supt Brian Sutton, of Naas, and Supt Martin Walker, of Kildare station, where an incident room has been set up.
Anybody with information about the case is being asked to contact Kildare Garda station (045 521222), or phone the confidential line, 1800 666111.
Chief Supt Sutton told Independent.ie yesterday he believed there were people who had information about Deirdre’s disappearance at the time but chose not to come forward.
He said he was hopeful that they might “revisit their thoughts” in response to the latest appeal on the 20th anniversary of her disappearance.
Chief Supt Sutton added “Deirdre was a young woman, starting off her life. She had completed her first year at St Mary’s University at Twickenham in London where she was training to become a primary school teacher.”
While exact details of the new information cannot be revealed for operational reasons, Chief Supt Sutton said it was of such significance the investigation had been upgraded to murder.
“The information is substantial and a murder investigation has been launched,” he said.
“We deal with evidence, not rumour or speculation, and this new development is significant.”
Deirdre Jacob’s parents Bernadette and Michael said they had hoped that there would have been a better outcome.
“No one wants to hear their child has been murdered and it is very difficult to take it in,” said Bernadette.
“It is a shock when you hear those cold words,” said Michael.
“It’s a real heart-wrencher.”
Her parents said Deirdre was a happy-go-lucky girl with a great circle of friends.
Michael appealed for anyone with any extra information to come forward and continue to help gardaí.
He said the breakthrough should send a message of hope to all the other families of those who have disappeared.
Members of the Garda serious crime review team, also known as the cold case unit, are assisting in the investigation.
Murphy (52), from Baltinglass, Co Wicklow, pleaded guilty in to kidnapping, raping and attempting to murder a woman in the Wicklow mountains in February 2000.
He bundled her into the boot of his car and drove her to a secluded location before raping her, and then drove her to a forest where he raped her again and put a bag over her head and started to strangle her.
Two men, who recognised Murphy, came to the woman’s aid and she was rescued.
He was arrested the following day.
While in prison for this crime, Murphy was reported to have admitted to a fellow inmate that he had killed Deirdre.
He was released in 2010 after serving 10 years in Arbour Hill prison.