The post mortem results are always one of the most eagerly awaited pieces of evidence in a murder trial. It’s where you finally get a picture of how the deceased actually died, what the cause of death was, whether all this ties in with the evidence already heard. In the case of Melissa Mahon, there wasn’t much to go on. All State Pathologist Marie Cassidy had to go on were a few bags of bones, fragmented, partially destroyed by the elements that had been on work on her body since it had found it’s way onto the shore of Lough Gill in County Sligo.
As Professor Cassidy pointed out, some of the bones were so badly weathered that she needed the help of an anthropologist to work out what they were. The tell tale signs that would have confirmed whether or not Melissa was strangled as two of the daughters of the accused have claimed, were absent, as the flesh was absent. It was impossible to tell whether her face had had the characteristic redness, whether there had been the petechial (or pinpoint) haemorrhages around the face and eyes that tend to be an indication of restricted blood flow. The tiny hyoid bone that sometimes shows up fractured in these cases was absent. It was impossible to discount or confirm whether Melissa had been strangled.
She could say that the accounts given by Samantha Conroy and her younger sister, that they had seen Melissa with a red face around the time of death and that her body was “half purple, half white” prior to dumping it would have been consistent with the account they had given. Although she did say that the time period during which Melissa’s post mortem lividity would have developed (the purple and white colouration) would normally have taken an hour or more, rather than the half hour that the youngest Conroy girl described.
Their father, Ronnie Dunbar, also known as Ronald McManus, denies murdering Melissa somewhere in Sligo on an unknown date between 14th and 30th September 2006. He also denies threatening to kill his daughter Samantha.
The girls had previously described dumping Melissa’s body into the River Bonet. Skeletal remains, along with a Beauty and the Beast nightdress and a sleeping bag tied up with a blue tie, where found scattered on the shores of Lough Gill some eighteen months after Melissa’s disappearance. Professor Cassidy told the court that the bones had spent much of their time on dry land, suffering the ravages of the wind and rain and the beating of the sun.
The sleeping bag and the nightdress, she said, were ripped and torn, consistent with the damage that would have been inflicted if some sharp toothed animal, foraging along the wooded shoreline had come across the bag and it’s grim contents and torn it’s way through the body within. The bones would then have been scattered across a wide expanse of shoreline.
The bones she examined were broken and damaged, as they would have been by this hungry creature, perhaps one of the foxes or badgers that live in the area. The edges of ribs cracked apart from the spine and the sternal and crunched at the end. Fragments of black cloth found in the area could have been all that was left of the black tracksuit bottoms Melissa was described as wearing when she died.
When the feeding had finished the bones were left to be finally picked clean by the elements. The sun that baked the bone, making it thin and brittle after it’s watery resting place, the damp that had encouraged the growth of grey mould in the bowl of the scalp.
There wasn’t much left of Melissa by the time the search teams found her. A few bones, some clumps of hair, a few scattered teeth. Her parents weren’t in court to hear what had become of their daughter’s body. They’ve absented themselves each time she’s been reduced to those pitiful bones. Who can blame them? Post mortem evidence is always shocking, any body left out in the elements will attract animals or insects who do what they are designed to do. I don’t write this to shock, simply to account for what was said. The body lay undiscovered for many months, almost long enough to disappear entirely, to be worn away and become a part of the land.
So far we have not heard any DNA evidence so a definite identification is still to come. We have heard that the teeth found scattered on the shore did not contradict the dental records procured from the UK but that’s as far as it goes. Even the sleeping bag and nightdress bare no obvious sign that they were wrapped around a dead body. It remains to be seen what, if anything, the DNA evidence will show.
I’ve noticed that some people have come looking for what happened with the witness who denied going out with Melissa that I tweeted about this morning. With the grim images left by the post mortem Danny Mills quite slipped my mind for all the rare burst of comedy he gave us this morning. It’s rare that a witness doesn’t allow a barrister to get a word in edgeways – barristers tend to be rather good at avoiding that kind of thing – but Mr Mills gave both sides a run for their money. He had only known Melissa for three days he said, never really talked to the girl, last time was when she was being bundled into a garda car. He had never gone out with her…he’d only met her three times, not even on consecutive days. He had never been with her in that way…there were only three times he saw her and the last one she left in a garda car. Danny Mills spoke nineteen to the dozen but was adament about what he had to say. If I haven’t mentioned it before it was that he’d only met Melissa three times and the last time she was taken away in a garda car. The diminutive absolutely-not-a-casanova was only on the witness stand for a couple of minutes but what a word filled couple of minutes they were. Mr Mills I am sorry for having forgotten you. I hope I have now corrected that.