Corstorphine Hill murder: Son convicted

James Dunleavy. Picture: Police Scotland
James Dunleavy. Picture: Police Scotland
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ANGUISHED relatives watched yesterday as a jury convicted a son of beheading and dismembering his mother and burying her in a shallow grave on Corstorphine Hill in Edinburgh.

An eight-day trial heard harrowing evidence suggesting that Philomena Dunleavy, 66, may still have been alive, but unconscious, when her killer began to hack off her legs with a knife and a saw.

Mrs Dunleavy arriving at Cairnryan Port

Mrs Dunleavy arriving at Cairnryan Port

But the horror of her final moments at the hands of her son James Dunleavy, 40, will probably never be known.

Mother-of-five Mrs Dunleavy had left her Dublin home in early April last year and arrived in Scotland on 24 April to visit her eldest son James – also known as Seamus.

Prosecutors alleged that days later she was killed in labourer James Dunleavy’s flat in Balgreen Road, Edinburgh.

Medics could not tell how she died, and injuries to her head, smashed ribs and damage to small bones in her neck – often linked to strangulation – could have been sustained after her death.

The body of Philomena Dunleavy was found on Corstorphine Hill. Picture: Contributed

The body of Philomena Dunleavy was found on Corstorphine Hill. Picture: Contributed

Advocate depute Alex Prentice QC, prosecuting, warned the jury that “loose ends” and unanswered questions would remain.

It was more than a month before Mrs Dunleavy’s remains were unearthed, just a few minutes walk away from her son’s address. A large suitcase was missing from the flat, and a spade with a broken shaft was found in the back green.

Dunleavy, 40, denied murder and attempting to defeat the ends of justice by burying her to try to cover up the crime.

A jury at the High Court in Edinburgh convicted him, by majority, of a reduced charge of culpable homicide. They also found him guilty of the attempted cover-up.

Mrs Dunleavy’s 68-year-old husband, also James, kept a dignified silence as the eight women and seven man reported their decision. So did brother Austin, 27, who is close to completing a football scholarship, studying history in the USA.

Seamus Dunleavy, sitting in the dock, stared straight ahead, betraying no emotion.

The Dunleavy family are no strangers to tragedy. Terence Dunleavy, 27, a brother of the accused, was gunned down during a drug feud in Dublin in April 2005. Another sister had also died.

His mother’s visit to Edinburgh last year meant she had missed the family’s annual commemoration of Terence’s death.

The trial heard that after Mrs Dunleavy’s body was found the family refused to help police investigating her death.

No witnesses saw Mrs Dunleavy’s final journey in a suitcase. No witnesses saw the undignified shallow grave being dug on Corstorphine Hill.

Mrs Dunleavy’s body remained there until ski instructor Aaron McLean-Foreman, 24, stopped to sunbathe while pushing his bike along a narrow path on a warm June afternoon.

He was confronted by the decomposed face of Mrs Dunleavy staring up from the dirt, his gaze drawn by her gleaming teeth.

The trial heard that Mrs Dunleavy, who suffered from a number of medical problems and had been badly affected by a stroke, had a habit of wandering without telling anyone where she was going.

By early July, her family in Dublin were begining to wonder where she was. Dunleavy had phoned home on 2 May to say she was on her way, but his mother had, apparently, never arrived.

A call was made to police in Edinburgh, followed by a call on 3 July from Dunleavy himself. Police visited him the following day. Four days later he was charged with her murder.

Two months after his arrest Dunleavy’s legal team arranged for his transfer from prison to the State Hospital, Carstairs.

Three psychiatrists told the trial that Dunleavy clearly had a problem – although it was too early to say exactly what it was.

Judge Lord Jones ordered Dunleavy to remain in the State Hospital, Carstairs, while

psychiatrists continue to assess his condition. He is due back in court in April for the judge to decide the next move.

How the latest technology was used to catch the killer

A HIGH profile murder inquiry was launched after the dismembered body of a woman was discovered in a wooded area of Corstorphine Hill in Edinburgh, on 6 June 2013, by a cyclist.

Just weeks later Police Scotland released a facial reconstruction of the woman whose body was found in a shallow grave, in a bid to find out who she was.

They said her body had been cut up before being transported to the reserve where it was dumped.

Experts from Dundee University constructed a virtual image of the victim and circulated it to police forces across Europe.

The image was created by cranial identification experts who used CT scans to build an image of the victim using similar techniques to those used to help produce a 3D image of King Richard III after his skull was found buried under a Leicestershire car park.

Police also revealed they thought the woman was western European and that she had expensive cosmetic veneers on her teeth.

In an attempt to identify the body, they issued a further description, saying she was white, probably aged 40 to 50 and about 5ft 2in tall.

She was wearing four distinctive rings including an Irish Claddagh ring, said to be popular among Irish Catholics, which was facing towards the body, which traditionally means the wearer has a partner.

Police also circulated photographs of the rings alongside the facial reconstruction image and within days the investigation team received more than 30 calls from members of the public as far away as Israel.

The force had a dedicated team of 50 working on the case at one stage.

In a further bid to solve the mystery, detectives released details of extensive dental surgery – £15,000 of work carried out over up to 15 visits – in dentists’ trade magazines in the hope someone would make a connection.

Finally, about a month after the woman’s body was discovered, police got the breakthrough they had been waiting for. A member of the murdered woman’s family

in Ireland recognised her from the facial reconstruction images and got in touch.


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