Mur­der most bru­tal

The killing of Charles Self in Dublin in 1982 re­mains un­solved.

The Irish Times - Weekend Review - - FRONT PAGE - Una Mul­lally

‘Can you see Crum­lin from Howth?” In 1981, Gay Byrne asked Thin Lizzy’s Phil Lynott that rather sar­cas­tic ques­tion about the rock star’s move to a posher part of Dublin.

On The Late Late Show, Lynott’s glar­ing cream suit was off­set by the most iconic Irish stu­dio set of the time, a back­drop of beige-brown car­pet cut in sharp an­gles. It was the work of Charles Self, a 33-year-old Scottish man em­ployed by RTÉ as a set de­signer. Self’s de­signs, in­clud­ing the set for Twink’s Christ­mas spe­cial in 1981, were ad­mired at RTÉ.

On Jan­uary 20th, 1982, he was in top form, as his cre­ativ­ity was be­ing re­warded with a pay rise and more sets to design. But that night, Charles Self was stabbed to death at his home in Monkstown, Co Dublin. No­body has ever been charged with his killing. Thirty- five years later, those who knew him still grap­ple with the cir­cum­stances of his mur­der and the con­tro­ver­sial in­ves­ti­ga­tion that fol­lowed.

Charles Self was an avid so­cialiser and a well-known fig­ure in Dublin’s gay world – at a time when ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity was still il­le­gal. Self’s nat­u­ral habi­tat was the Bai­ley pub on Duke Street off Grafton Street, a spot pop­u­lar with gay scen­esters at the time. He was prone to cash­ing cheques in the bar, mak­ing them out to Brown Thomas. When his bank in­quired about his ten­dency to cash a lot of cheques in pubs, he replied, “They keep bet­ter hours than you do.”

Charles Self wasn’t the kind of per­son to sit in at night. Pubs, re­cep­tions, openings, book launches – he was em­bed­ded in Dublin’s so­cial scene and knew many in the en­ter­tain­ment busi­ness through his work. He was in turn quite well known about town.

He was an avid and in­trepid trav­eller. A friend de­scribes how Charles iden­ti­fied a travel loop­hole whereby, if you booked the full re­turn fare back from a des­ti­na­tion with a par­tic­u­lar travel agency, you could stop off mul­ti­ple times. He used this to the op­ti­mum ef­fect when he trav­elled to Rus­sia and came back through both Prague and Paris. He had been to New York a cou­ple of times, Thai­land, and also loved Greece, es­pe­cially San­torini, a des­ti­na­tion he painted pic­tures of. He of­ten trav­elled alone.

Charles Self also loved his work – es­pe­cially his job on the Late Late Show, art and mu­sic. “Bub­bly, good fun,” is how his friend Bill Ma­her de­scribes him. In their spare time, “we were out a lot”.

The gay scene at the time fo­cused on a few spots in Dublin 2: The Bai­ley; The Hirschfield Cen­tre in Tem­ple Bar; Rice’s at the cor­ner of South King Street, a pub since de­mol­ished as part of the con­struc­tion of the St Stephen’s Green Shop­ping Cen­tre; Bart­ley Dunnes (“A breath of Paris, rem­i­nis­cent of les Bistros. Cos­mopoli­tan clien­tele. Left bank mood. Ren­dezvous of in­tel­li­gentsia, Bo­hemian, literati, the­atre per­son­al­i­ties, so­cialites, beat­niks . . .” ran a print ad for the pub in 1969), which was de­mol­ished in 1990 to make way for the Break for the Bor­der bar.

And then there were the cruis­ing spots, parks and pub­lic toi­lets. Burgh Quay was a no­table busy spot.

Jan­uary 1982 lives on in Irish me­te­o­rol­ogy record books un­der the cat­e­gory of “ex­cep­tional weather events”. Dublin was par­tic­u­larly badly af­fected. Twenty-six cen­time­tres of snow fell be­tween Jan­uary 8th and 13th at Dublin Air­port, and there were drifts of 1 ½ me­tres. The tem­per­a­ture fell be­low freez­ing for eight con­sec­u­tive days. Sol­diers were brought in to de-ice Grafton Street, and the Cana­dian govern­ment do­nated six snow­mo­biles.

In the depths of that ex­treme win­ter, few cars drove, and Brighton Av­enue in Monkstown, Co Dublin would have been even qui­eter than nor­mal. The bot­tom of the av­enue of­fers an ex­pan­sive view of the sea, but just be­fore you get to the coast road over­look­ing the train line ( the Dart was not yet com­plete), An­nes­ley Mews is in a small lane­way to the right.

Self lived here, in a house he shared with the RTÉ pre­sen­ter Vin­cent Han­ley, a friend who was away at the time of Self’s death, mak­ing a new life in London as a DJ.

On the af­ter­noon of Wed­nes­day, Jan­uary 20th, Charles Self was in the Bai­ley with Bill Ma­her. They stayed un­til 2.50pm, when Self went back to work in RTÉ, tak­ing the bus be­cause his car was bro­ken down. The last thing he said to Ma­her was a joke he cracked when an older man walked past them and said “hello” to the two men. Self poked fun at Ma­her, say­ing, “Hmm! I sup­pose you’ve had him as well!”

Later that day, Self was back in the city cen­tre again. He re­turned to the Bai­ley, then went on to Bart­ley Dunnes. From there, he went to Burgh Quay, the stretch of the Lif­fey south quays be­tween the Tara Street junc­tion and O’Con­nell Bridge.

From Burgh Quay, he took a taxi back to An­nes­ley Mews with an­other man whom the taxi driver de­scribed as hav­ing fair hair. Self ar­rived home be­fore 1am. His favourite drink was Black Bush whiskey, and, given the high spir­its friends had seen him in that day, he had prob­a­bly had a few.

Al­most ev­ery night when he came home, Self turned on the ra­dio, played mu­sic, or watched mu­sic videos, and of­ten opened a bot­tle of wine. He some­times fell asleep in the chair in the liv­in­groom.

But on the morn­ing of Jan­uary 21st, shortly be­fore 9am, his body was found at the end of the stairs.

The crime scene it­self was one of “ab­so­lute chaos” with records strewn across the place, and the mur­der had been vi­cious. Self had been stabbed 14 times. There was a slash wound to the throat, a piece of a torn lig­a­ture around his neck, with the rest tied to a chair.

Some of the stab wounds were “through-and-through”. The weapon – an eight-inch kitchen knife with a white han­dle – had been wielded with such fe­roc­ity it had gone right through his body.

The then state pathol­o­gist John Har­bi­son car­ried out Self’s post­mortem, con­clud­ing that he had died from stab wounds to the neck and back.

It’s hard to imag­ine that any­one in the house could have slept through the noise that must have ac­com­pa­nied such vi­o­lence – a neigh­bour in a sep­a­rate prop­erty de­scribed hear­ing scream­ing. But some­one did sleep through the night, or most of it. Berty Tyrer, an English­man who also worked in RTÉ as a de­signer, was stay­ing in the house at the time, in a room that had been oc­cu­pied by Vin­cent Han­ley, who was away.

Tyrer – who found Charles Self’s body on the morn­ing of Jan­uary 21st – was in his late 60s and may have been hard of hear­ing. He said he heard no com­mo­tion dur­ing Self’s vi­o­lent death, but he was wo­ken by a man who came into Tyrer’s bed­room around 2.30am, say­ing some­thing like “sorry, wrong room”.

Tyrer made a sketch of this man, a draw­ing that would be­come a con­tentious is­sue in the case, along with an iden­tikit pho­to­graph of a pos­si­ble sus­pect.

On the night of Jan­uary 25th, Self’s body was flown to Glas­gow, where the fu­neral took place. Ear­lier that day, a ser­vice took place at St An­drew’s Pres­by­te­rian Church in Black­rock, Co Dublin, with a packed con­gre­ga­tion in­clud­ing the then RTÉ di­rec­tor-gen­eral Ge­orge Waters.

A no­tice car­ried in The Irish Times from Self’s fam­ily in Scot­land read: “I wish to ex­press my sin­cere thanks to all his friends and col­leagues in Ire­land for the kind­ness shown to the fam­ily dur­ing a time of much dis­tress. In par­tic­u­lar I would like to pay tribute to the help and sup­port given to us by Raidió Teil­ifís Éire­ann and the spir­i­tual guid­ance of the church min­is­ters in at­ten­dance.”

Det Supt Hu­bert Reynolds and Det Supt Michael Sul­li­van led a team of 30 de­tec­tives in­ves­ti­gat­ing the killing. The ini­tial fo­cus of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion was on two rent boys as sus­pects.

As the in­ves­ti­ga­tion got un­der way, the pursuit of gay men as wit­nesses or sus­pects be­came one of the most con­tro­ver­sial as­pects of the case, af­fect­ing the lives of many peo­ple who had no con­nec­tion to the mur­der.

By Satur­day, March 20th, 1982, harassment was be­ing re­ported from mem­bers of the gay com­mu­nity to the Irish Coun­cil for Civil Lib­er­ties (ICCL). The Irish Times re­ported, “Ho­mo­sex­u­als com­plain that gar­daí have been de­mand­ing they agree to be fin­ger­printed, pho­tographed and give state­ments.” Many were not openly gay. Kader As­mal of the ICCL said at the time, “Some­thing rather odd is emerg­ing. It ap­pears to me that in cer­tain cases there is a de­sire to draw up a pro­file on gays in Dublin.”

Ea­mon Somers, then pres­i­dent of the Na­tional Gay Fed­er­a­tion (NFG), said peo­ple were wor­ried that in­for­ma­tion gath­ered by gar­daí could be re­leased to civil ser­vants screen­ing job ap­pli­cants.

On March 23rd, Peter Murtagh wrote an ar­ti­cle in The Irish Times head­lined “Gays al­lege threats and taunts by gar­daí”. The ar­ti­cle in­cluded an in­stance of a man be­ing ap­proached by de­tec­tives in the Phoenix Park for ques­tion­ing.

An­other young man spoke of gar­daí com­ing to his home four times, and be­ing pres­sured to come out to his fam­ily.

Ed­mund Lynch, who worked in RTÉ and knew Charles Self, has been con­duct­ing in­ter­views in re­cent years as part of his Irish LGBT His­tory Project. Some of those in­ter­views go over peo­ple’s mem­o­ries of the Self in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Ciaran McKin­ney told Lynch he “knew Charles vaguely, to say hello to”. Af­ter Self’s death, McKin­ney says gar­daí showed “no sen­si­tiv­ity, no sense of con­fi­den­tial­ity about peo­ple’s lives. A bunch of my friends were outed through that process. A num­ber of peo­ple left the coun­try be­cause of that ex­pe­ri­ence.”

In late March, a pub­lic meet­ing was held by the Coun­cil for Civil Lib­er­ties and the Pris­oner’s Rights Or­gan­i­sa­tion, a hu­man rights group that be­came in­volved be­cause of the Garda in­ves­ti­ga­tion, to dis­cuss the large num­ber of com­plaints. That meet­ing was fol­lowed up by a protest in early April out­side Pearse Street Garda sta­tion over harassment.

“If some peo­ple are hurt in re­la­tion to our in­quiries, then I’m sorry, but we must go on,” Det Supt Hu­bert Reynolds said.

There were two other high- pro­file killings of gay men in 1982.

On Septem­ber 8th, John Roche, a 29- year- old ho­tel porter who worked in the Mun­ster Ho­tel in Cork, was stabbed in the chest in a ho­mo­pho­bic killing.

On Septem­ber 9th, De­clan Flynn, a gay Irish man who worked for Aer Rianta, was at­tacked and killed in Dublin’s Fairview Park, a known gay meet­ing point where a num­ber of other ho­mo­pho­bic at­tacks had oc­curred be­fore Flynn’s death.

In March 1983, af­ter Flynn’s killers were given sus­pended sen­tences, protests took place in Dublin – a pub­lic ex­pres­sion of anger of­ten seen as the im­pe­tus for the Gay Pride move­ment in Ire­land.

While the protests are of­ten di­rectly linked to the le­nient sen­tences of Flynn’s killers, Self’s mur­der, and the fear and harassment gay men en­coun­tered dur­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, also con­trib­uted to this tip­ping point.

Alan Bai­ley, now re­tired, was the de­tec­tive sergeant in charge of the Garda Se­ri­ous Crime Re­view Team. In 2009, he pre­sented a pa­per to the FBI in Vir­ginia in the US about the Self case, and in par­tic­u­lar about what he be­lieves were el­e­ments of the crime scene that were staged.

Why is a crime scene staged, Bai­ley asks. “It’s staged to de­flect or im­pede the in­ves­ti­ga­tion or de­flect from some sus­pect or an­other.”

Self’s body was found at the bot­tom of the stairs in the mews house. It was close to the front door, mak­ing it im­pos­si­ble to open the door. The pre­sump­tion was the killer es­caped through a small kitchen win­dow. How­ever, there was a planter box on the win­dow sill, which in the process of some­one climb­ing out a win­dow would have been dis­turbed or knocked over.

“It was clear that it was placed on the ground,” Bai­ley says, “it wasn’t knocked over, there was no spillage.”

An­other “big anom­aly,” Bai­ley says, re­lates to pools of blood at the scene. “There was fur­ni­ture placed back over them. They weren’t hap­haz­ard. It’s im­pos­si­ble.”

“The big thing was with Charles Self was the ab­so­lute overkill. It would in­di­cate some­body who wasn’t just killing them to rob them.” The wounds that pen­e­trated the body were “no mean achieve­ment”, he says. The kitchen knife Bai­ley calls “a weapon of op­por­tu­nity”.

Bai­ley says gar­daí were wrong at the time to seek male pros­ti­tutes as sus­pects, and in­stead should have been calling for them as wit­nesses. “The pre­sump­tion was this rent boy – for want of a bet­ter word – had pan­icked, hadn’t been able to get out be­cause the po­si­tion of the body at the foot of the stairs, and came through the kitchen win­dow.” Bai­ley dis­agrees with this hy­poth­e­sis. “It was ob­vi­ously some­one else.”

Berty Tyrer died in De­cem­ber 1995 aged 80. The sketch he made af­ter the mur­der has been in the shad­ows of the case for many years. Fol­low­ing Self’s death, there were sev­eral calls from gay ac­tivists for gar­daí to re­lease the sketch and the iden­tikit photo they had. They were never re­leased pub­licly.

Bill Ma­her re­calls see­ing the sketch in a Garda sta­tion at the time, and re­mem­bers it as a black pen draw­ing on a sheet of pa­per. Ma­her has been told by po­lice many times in the in­ter­ven­ing years that they had no sketch.

But in Fe­bru­ary 2017, gar­daí told Ma­her they did in fact have the sketch, as well as the photo- fit, and were mak­ing fur­ther en­quiries.

Ma­her’s the­ory re­mains that Self met some­one while wait­ing for a taxi home, a per­son who would have been trav­el­ling in the same di­rec­tion and whom Charles asked in for a drink.

The per­son sketched by Berty Tyrer did not fit the de­scrip­tion of the “fair- haired man” de­scribed as hav­ing ac­com­pa­nied Self in the taxi home from town. The man Tyrer saw had dark curly hair and what Ma­her says Tyrer char­ac­terised as a “west Brit ac­cent”.

As 1982 rolled on, Self’s mur­der was over­shad­owed by the “grotesque, un­be­liev­able, bizarre and un­prece­dented” se­ries of in­ci­dents in­volv­ing Mal­colm Macarthur, who had mur­dered a 27- year- old nurse, Bri­die Gar­gan, in the Phoenix Park, and, three days later, a farmer, Dó­nal Dunne, in Eden­derry, Co Of­faly. Macarthur was sub­se­quently ar­rested in the home of the at­tor­ney gen­eral, Pa­trick Con­nolly, in Dalkey, Co Dublin.

Macarthur was known on the gay scene in Dublin, and also to Self. Some friends can’t shake what they say is a sim­i­lar­ity be­tween the de­scrip­tion of the per­son Tyrer drew and Macarthur’s like­ness.

In Oc­to­ber, Macarthur spoke to a tabloid news­pa­per. While he did ad­mit that he was a reg­u­lar drinker in Bart­ley Dunne’s, he claimed he had stopped so­cial­is­ing there around the time Self was killed.

Bill Ma­her says he was told Charles Self’s killer was in prison. “A reporter told me he was be­hind bars,” he says. “[ The reporter] said he was quot­ing a Garda source.”

But there are many the­o­ries, and there were other men seen that night.

In Bart­ley Dunnes, Self spoke to a man in his mid- to late 20s who was car­ry­ing a duf­fel bag. On Burgh Quay, he met two men in their late 20s, one who had dark hair and wore a leather jacket.

Then there was a man in or around his late 20s in Brighton Lane in Monkstown, op­po­site the An­nes­ley Mews lane. This man had short brown hair, and was wear­ing a tweed beige jacket and dark trousers. A neigh­bour said they saw a fairly tall man in dark clothes jump over a wall at the mews.

To­day, the lane­way where An­nes­ley Mews sits is one of those pleas­ant south Dublin nooks, hid­den away and peace­ful.

A wo­man who an­swers the door to a prop­erty at An­nes­ley Mews, which was added on in the mid-1990s, says she knows lit­tle of the events that oc­curred there in Jan­uary 35 years ago. “I only know what’s in the pa­pers,” she says.

For Bill Ma­her those events still feel like yes­ter­day. “The whole thing didn’t fit with me. Charles was in great form that day. He got pro­moted, he was get­ting a pay rise, they were go­ing to give him more work.

“He didn’t fre­quently bring guys back to the house. I lived in the house [ for six months], and I could count on one hand the amount of peo­ple he brought back for sex.”

And there’s an­other pe­cu­liar and un­ex­plained as­pect to the Charles Self story – one that has no ap­par­ent con­nec­tion with the grue­some mur­der but is yet an­other “loose end”. Al­most ex­actly 14 years later, the per­son who had hired Charles Self for RTÉ, a man named Alpho O’Reilly, left his home in Sandy­mount. Nei­ther he nor his car have ever been found.

The case may never be solved but it isn’t closed. A Garda spokesper­son con­firms to The Irish Times that Charles Self’s mur­der “re­mains un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion”.

The crime scene it­self was one of ‘ab­so­lute chaos’ with records strewn across the place, and the mur­der had been vi­cious. He had been stabbed 14 times McKin­ney says gar­daí showed ‘no sen­si­tiv­ity, no sense of con­fi­den­tial­ity about peo­ple’s lives. A bunch of my friends were outed through that process’

Charles Self: an avid so­cialiser and a well-known fig­ure in Dublin’s gay world – at a time when ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity was still il­le­gal. Far left – An­nes­ley Mews: The house where Charles Self died is on this lane, not vis­i­ble from the road. Left – Vin­cent Han­ley: shared the mews with Charles Self, but was pur­su­ing his broad­cast­ing ca­reer in London at the time of the mur­der.


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