A man who was searching for his missing cat when he discovered a headless and dismembered body initially thought it was a mannequin, a murder trial in Cork has heard.
Ionut Cosmin Nicholescu (30), originally of Branistea, Damobovita County in Romania, is on trial at the Central Criminal Court, sitting in Cork, for the murder of 64-year-old father of three Francis ‘Frankie’ Dunne.
Mr Dunne was found dead in the back garden of Castlegreine House on Boreenmanna Road in Cork on December 28th, 2019. Mr Nicholescu, who worked as a chef in Cork, denies any involvement in the murder.
Joseph Pierce, who has lived off Boreenmanna Road for two decades, told the second day of the trial that he received a call at work from his partner on the afternoon of December 28th, telling him their cat was missing.
Mr Pierce said his partner was quite upset and he went looking for the cat around his property after he left work at 3pm that day.
He told the court he called to neighbouring houses and all of his “long-standing” neighbours obliged him and allowed him to search their gardens and sheds.
He went to a house which extended behind Castlegreine and his neighbour, Brendan Kerrigan, gave him permission to search hedges and bushes in his property.
Mr Pierce looked over the wall of Castlegreine House, which had not been occupied for a number of years since its elderly owner had moved in to a nursing home. The witness said he decided to have a quick sweep of the garden of Castlegreine to check for the cat.
Mr Kerrigan gave Mr Pierce a stepladder to help him access the back garden of Castlegreine, where he discovered the body.
Mr Pierce told the court he had been trying to search for the car “as quickly as I could” in the bushes of the property.
“I looked around and there was rubbish and cardboard. Therefore, definitely something there. I looked for the shape of a cat. I looked at the other side of the bush and shone a torch on my phone.
“The first thing I saw was a set of feet. I followed up along with my torch and as I scanned further up it was obviously the shape of a body.”
Mr Pierce said he was in disbelief at what he saw, adding: “I was trying to rationalise it. I thought it was maybe a mannequin or something like that.”
He told the court he was able to see the naked body was that of a man, and he decided to phone gardaí. “I walked out. I knew I shouldn’t be there. I went back over the wall to my neighbour with the stepladder and told him what I had found. We rang Anglesea Street Garda station,” he explained.
Mr Pierce’s neighbour, Brendan Kerrigan, confirmed he had allowed Mr Pierce to search for his cat around his property, and gave him a stepladder to get over the wall into the gardens of Castlegreine House.
When Mr Pierce returned, Mr Kerrigan said his neighbour told him he had seen something under the bush and they contacted gardaí.
Mr Kerrigan explained that Castlegreine had been empty for a few years. Asked if he had been aware that people sometimes squatted or drank on the property, he said he was but added it had “never infringed” on his privacy.
Garda Brian Barron said he and a colleague met Mr Pierce, who was “visibly shaken” and accompanied by Mr Kerrigan, at the front gates of Castlegreine after the pair raised the alarm.
“(Mr Pierce) was visibly shaken. He thought it (the body) might be a mannequin or a holy statue. He apologised and said he might be over reacting. There was a large bush which he (Pierce) pointed out.”
Garda Barron said that he was accompanied by Garda Michael Costello and they both went a separate way around the bush where Mr Pierce had indicated he discovered the body.
“I could see a body under the bush. It was a male with no clothes, except for socks. His head was gone. I could see the left arm was gone. I could not see the right arm.
“Garda Costello left with the two men. I waited to preserve the scene and took notes in my own notebook until I got a Scenes of Crime book,” Garda Barron said.
At 4.20pm on December 28th, Garda Barron started a crime scene log. Various scenes of crimes officers soon arrived at the scene.
A local doctor, Dr Medhboob Kukaswadia, was called to the scene and pronounced Mr Dunne dead at 4.45pm. The body of the deceased was later taken to the morgue at Cork University Hospital for a post-mortem examination.
Meanwhile, Detective Garda Padraig Harrington said he spoke to a man from Clanmornin house, a nearby dry house for people who suffer from alcohol problems, adding Mr Dunne had resided onsite for a few months previously.
The man told him that two residents were missing from Clanmornin House, one of whom matched a description of Mr Dunne.
Det Garda Harrington said, with the permission of Clanmornin House, he went to Mr Dunne’s room and removed a few items, including a flip phone and a PPS card.
Det Garda Harrington gave evidence that he was informed by staff member, Don Bulman, that Mr Dunne suffered from alcohol addiction and sometimes left the house to go drinking. The court heard Mr Dunne had lived at the residence since July of that year and that his stay was going well.
The court also heard from solicitor Patrick Bradley, who said that in 2017 he was asked by gardaí to review the file of an elderly client of his who owned Castlegreine House.
The elderly woman had been in hospital for three to five weeks in 2017, and upon her discharge she was not well enough to return home. Mr Bradley confirmed Castlegreine was empty from that point.
He told the court that in March 2018 he instructed a local builder to board up the house after he received a call from neighbours and a distant relative of the elderly woman who informed him that people were going in and out of the house.
The trial also heard evidence from gardaí that a money order made out to another man was found in Castlegreine House, on which the sender’s name was Ionut Cosmin Nicholescu.
Jurors were told that when gardaí entered Castlegreine House, they noted one room in the premises showed signs of use. Gardaí found clothing and money and a mixture of blankets and duvet covers which were blocking the window.
Defence Counsel Philipp Rahn SC, put it to a garda witness that items in the names of other persons were also found in Castlegreine House, which the witness confirmed.
The trial also heard that a dated and stamped supermarket receipt was found in the room, along with two money grams.
When investigators returned to the scene on December 30th, they also discovered a brown paper bag stained with blood, broken glass bottles, glass covered in blood, and a woolly hat which had blood on the inside.
A swab of blood was also taken from an area of grass where gardaí said the body may have been dismembered.
The trial continues before Mr Justice Paul McDermott and a jury of eight women and four men.