Melissa Mahon’s bones were tossed about by the winter winds over long months before they were found scattered on a lake shore. It was almost 18 months after her disappearance from HSE care in September 2006 that gardai searching the shores of Lough Gill found the bone fragments and shanks of hair that were all that was left of the Sligo teen.
It was a biting February when the search team arrived at Lough Gill after information received from the daughters of the man now accused of Melissa’s murder. Ronnie Dunbar, known for the purposes of court as Ronald McManus, denies killing the 14-year-old and also denies threatening to kill his then 15-year-old daughter Samantha when she allegedly helped him to dispose of the body.
Members of the garda search team described the snow that hampered the search. The crime scene photos that form part of the evidence show a medley of greys and browns with the occasional patch of green along the wooded shoreline of the lough, the wild winter landscape where Melissa’s bones ended up. If Melissa had been dumped in the River Bonet…where Samantha and her younger sister say they helped their father dump the body, when the girls said the dumping had taken place, her body had been buffeted by the tidal waters for months until it was thrown ashore.
By the time the garda search team arrived all that was left were fragments of bone and hanks of hair, mere scraps of what had once been a human being. As the trial has progressed we’ve heard witness after witness catalogue the vertebrae and bone fragments that finally made their way to the State Pathologist.
Today we heard from a forensic odontologist, the tooth guy, who told us in painstaking detail how he had identified Melissa from a mandible (that’s a lower jawline to the anatomically confused) and a handful of teeth. The photographs showed the teeth yellow and stained from the peaty soil they had rested on, just as the Beauty in the Best night gown that had allegedly clothed her thin frame, is peppered with fragments of peat and bark.
The forensic tooth guy, Mr Paul Keogh, told the court that there had been a strong correlation between Melissa’s dental records, made up from childhood visits to her local dentist in the UK, and the bone and teeth he had to examine. He described the x-rays of her jaw then and now showing two wisdom teeth not yet erupted, a distinctive indicator that the jaw and the x-ray belonged to one and the same girl. He conceded that his science was not exact, he could not provide the statistical probability that someone would have two wisdom teeth just so – only 70% of the population grow them, he told the court, but beyond that. But he said that while his report may have simply said there were no contradictions between the dental notes and the post mortem examination, he was there to tell the court that he had no doubt whatsoever that the jawbone and teeth he had examined were Melissa Mahon’s.
The time in the water and the harsh conditions of at least one winters had worked their destructive force on the body of the slight teenager leaving not much left for forensic examination. It remains to be seen what story her bones will tell, there’s still a long way to go.
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