Family of woman brutally murdered by boyfriend reveal heartbreak and call for life to mean life

Family of woman brutally murdered by boyfriend reveal heartbreak and call for life to mean life

By Olivia Kelleher

The family of a woman who was brutally murdered by her boyfriend are calling for an overhaul of the criminal justice system after they had to endure three murder trials before they saw the killer jailed for life.

Mother of three, play school teacher and youth leader Olivia Dunlea (36) who lived in Passage West, Co Cork was stabbed in the neck in her home by Darren Murphy (41) on February 17, 2013.

As she lay dying in her bed with multiple stab injuries he set fire to her quilt before going downstairs and lighting a fire in the middle of the table. The blaze was an attempt to conceal his crime.


Mr Murphy was jailed for life at the Central Criminal Court in Cork last week after the jury found him guilty of murder. The two previous murder trials in the case had resulted in a hung jury and a conviction which was overturned on a legal issue.

Speaking at the family home in Victoria Avenue in the city, Ann Dunlea, mother of the deceased, recalled that an undertaker had to inform them that they couldn’t dress their loved one for her funeral or even say their last goodbyes. Tragically, Olivia had to be identified from her dental records.

Sisters of murdered Olivia Dunlea, Anne and Amanda with her mother Ann (centre). Picture: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

Mr Murphy had burned her home around her. Clothes had to be bought for the children of Olivia Dunlea because they literally didn’t have a shirt on their backs after the fire.

Some of their pets died in the blaze. The family managed to retrieve a few photographs and personal items from the loft of the house in Pembroke Crescent but they have very little in the way of possessions relating to their loved one.


Ann Dunlea, who has been the backbone of her family even amid her immense sorrow, says that Darren Murphy should never walk the streets of Ireland again.

She insists the family will never understand his “web of lies.” Nor can they comprehend how he would arrive at the scene of the fire pretending to be a grieving boyfriend in what the prosecution deemed to be an “Oscar winning performance.”

Darren Murphy went to the scene of the crime in physical disarray with his top on back to front which in the view of the prosecution was a deliberate act to make it look like he had only just heard of the fire.

Ann Dunlea says the “keys should be thrown away” in the case.


“He shouldn’t be left outside the gates. He is in a hotel (in Cork Prison). The night of the fire he was screaming “Where is she (Olivia)?” He was ringing her. He was in an ‘awful state’ over her."

Olivia Dunlea's killer, Darren Murphy

"He was able to look down (from his house) at the house on fire. If he had called an ambulance even. He should never see daylight again. Life has to mean life. He can't be out in a few years. He had three trials."

Ann said Mr Murphy insulted the memory of their daughter by suggesting to gardai that he only set fire to the house to prevent Olivia’s kids from returning from their sleepover with their aunt to find their mother dead.

Ms Dunlea said the “lies in court drove her mad.”

“There wasn’t a day in court that you wouldn’t want to get up and say ‘That is my child.’ We were demented (by all the trials).

"Everything (in the first two trials) was in Dublin. We had to provide sitters for the kids. Weeks and weeks. It was all about him (Darren Murphy). We were the victims. Not him.”

Ms Dunlea said if her daughter had been sick or crashed her car they would have had to try and accept her death.

“You couldn’t accept the way she died. It was evil. Olivia was so kind. She had half of Passage West in the house for birthdays. It was like the animal roadshow. She loved her pets. She loved her kids. She was so loving.”

Anne Dunlea, sister of the deceased, says Darren Murphy got a prison term whilst they “got the life sentence.”

She gave birth to her daughter Charlotte just days before she lost Olivia. Anne didn’t drive at the time and Olivia had changed her car to accommodate the new arrival. Her big sister she says was a "helper" in life.

“I have four children and she was getting a seven seater car to help me. She was full of excitement about Charlotte being born. Charlotte’s birthday is the 12th and Olivia’s anniversary is the 17th. Olivia threw me a baby shower the month before she died and I am glad she got to see people that night.”

She laughed as she recalled the time Olivia delivered kittens without breaking a sweat. Or the occasion when she was giving birth and Olivia got to the hospital before the ambulance. Anne lived in the same estate as Olivia and moved house because she couldn’t bear to remain there after the murder.

“I never went back. I only spent one night in that house after and that was the night it happened. Olivia has never been to my new house or seen the kids grow up.”

Murder victim Olivia Dunlea. Picture: From Provision

Anne and her sibling Amanda fondly recalled their younger days with their sociable and loving sister Olivia who adored Christmas.. She always got her decorations out at the earliest possible opportunity.

Olivia was the eldest of the trio and she was the “funny” one who loved George Michael and doing their make up for teenage discos. Olivia was the type of big sister who would bring you in to town just to buy a “huge bag of crisps” in Marks and Spencer.

Anne said during the trial process it was the “Darren Murphy show” and her sister became a footnote in her own life.

“If this was America he would have been sentenced to five hundred years.”

The siblings say Olivia was the “voice of reason” in the family. The eldest daughter was the easy going one who couldn’t be excited. But if need be she was there for everyone.

The Dunlea family emphasise that Olivia’s kids Aaron (17) , Megan (15) and Daragh (14) are her greatest legacy. Aaron made his Confirmation two weeks after he lost his mum with his grandmother Ann admitting that she cried her way through the ceremony.

Olivia’s aunt, Harriet Smith, who supported the family through the trials, said that her beloved niece was “very soft. “

“She had a heart of gold. She would help anyone."

Harriet said courts should not be able to use terms like “model prisoner.”

“What does that mean? It is a disgrace. That means nothing. It is torture. He (Darren) didn’t go through torture. The court went through all of Olivia’s personal life. You feel so helpless."

She says they understand that a defence barrister has a job to do and that Mr Murphy’s counsel in the recent case did everything he could not to hurt the family in the course of his work.

Ann Dunlea says it is hard to face the morning when it comes around. She often lies in bed at night replaying the nightmare of the loss of her daughter in her head. It is especially painful in the still and quietness of the early hours when she doesn’t have the distraction of her grandchildren filling the house up with warmth and love.

“When morning comes you put on your other face. I used to be a home help. I loved it. I couldn’t do it now. We are happy with the outcome but it doesn’t bring Olivia back. In court it was all about him (Darren Murphy).

The Dunlea family would like to thank gardai and officials from the DPP’s office for their courtesy during the three cases. They are particularly grateful for the professionalism of Senior Counsel, Tom Creed, who was the voice of the Prosecution in the three trials.

Mr Murphy (41) of Dan Desmond Drive, Passage West, Co Cork had pleaded not guilty to murder but conceded that he had committed manslaughter. The DPP declined to accept his plea.

Olivia Dunlea was discovered lying face down on her bed having incurred six stab wounds prior to the blaze. Two lockers on either side of Miss Dunlea's bed were burned and the ceiling had collapsed. The ceiling joints in her bedroom were charred and the ensuite was badly burned.

The trial was told that Mr Murphy reacted so strongly to the break up of an earlier relationship that he slashed his wrists and required admission to a psychiatric unit. Witnesses in the trial had indicated that he had wanted to control his girlfriend.

The pathologist in the case, Professor Marie Cassidy, said that she was of the view that Olivia was still alive when the fire started. The postmortem revealed that Olivia had six stab wounds, two behind the right ear and four to the front of the neck. One of the wounds behind her ear penetrated in to her spinal canal, causing bleeding inside her skull which would have caused paralysis.

Professor Cassidy said that Olivia could have died from the stab wounds alone but 24% carbon monoxide suggests she was breathing in some of the fumes.

Neighbours had raised the alarm when they spotted the fire in the early hours of the morning of February 17th, 2013. Mr Murphy arrived at the scene and was seen crying and trying to enter the property. He was stopped by members of the fire brigade.

The pair had earlier been socialising with friends in the nearby Rochestown Inn. A taxi driver had noted that Olivia was in good form on the way back but Darren Murphy was "frosty" and he sensed there was tension in the air.

Ann Dunlea says that Darren maintained in court that Olivia’s last words were about her kids. They would like to believe his statement to gardai but she says “How can you trust the words of a liar?”

Ann said the grim reality is that she did not get to see her child before she was laid to rest.

Olivia's coffin is removed

“We want to talk because the dead can’t talk for themselves. We never saw her alive again. She was the best mother and Aunty. She saw the good in everyone.

"I wouldn’t wish what happened to us on anyone nor even my worst enemy and I never want him (Darren) back out on the streets.

"Olivia’s kids are so good. They are strong. I love having the grandchildren around. It makes me get up in the morning. The kids are my reason to get out of bed. All of my grandchildren are. The seven grandchildren keep me going.”

* Read more on this story in tomorrow's Irish Examiner