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It was a quiet morning in Naul, County Dublin on the 4th of October 2004. From the outside, the home of the O’Reilly family, a 3-bedroom bungalow called Lambay View, looked welcoming and cosy as usual. However, inside unimaginable horror waited to be discovered.
30-year-old Rachel O’Reilly did not show up to collect her son from preschool, the teacher called Rachel’s husband Joe at work and informed him about the situation. A frantic Joe called his mother-in-law, Rose, and asked her to go to the house to check on Rachel.
Rose felt chills as soon as she walked through the front door. The silence was deafening. The house looked like it had been ransacked: it was messy with broken glass and furniture had been knocked over. Anxious, Rose called for Rachel, but there was no answer. She reached the main bedroom and saw her daughter’s bludgeoned body on the floor. It was clear that Rachel was no longer alive.
Within the hour gardaí arrived. The first assumption was that it had been a burglary gone wrong, but as the investigation progressed, investigators uncovered sordid secrets of lust, greed and ambition, with all evidence pointing to one man: Rachel’s husband, the seemingly amicable Joe O’Reilly.
Rachel Callaly was born in Dublin on the 10th of October 1973, to an unmarried teenager mom, who gave her up for adoption. Rachel had the good fortune of being taken in by two loving parents, Jim and Rose Callaly. They were a happy family with two boys, living a wholesome middle-class life in Ireland’s capital when they adopted Rachel. The experience was so wonderful, the Callaly’s went on to adopt two more children. Declan, Paul and Rachel were joined by Tony and Anne.
Rachel was sporty and fun, always adventurous and kept Rose and Jim on their toes, even from a young age. She loved spending time with her siblings and never wanted for friends. When Rachel was 14, the family lived in Australia for a year, but they missed Ireland too much and returned.
At 17, Rachel took a parttime job at a department store, Arnotts. This is where she met the tall-dark-and-handsome 19-year-old, Joe O’Reilly. Joe also came from a middle-class Dublin family and was one of four children. Born in April 1972, the second eldest, Joe was the natural leader of his siblings. His youngest sister had down syndrome and was born blind, and the family rallied together to love and assist her as best they could. Sadly, his parents’ marriage did not stand the test of time, and when Joe was in his teens his dad left the family and moved to England.
Then Joe met the bright and bubbly Rachel at work. He immediately noticed the beautiful tall blonde with the welcoming smile. He was also tall and used that as a point of connection to chat to her. Soon they discovered they had a lot more than their height in common: they were well-liked and ambitious and when Joe heard Rachel played softball, he signed up too. It seemed like the perfect match.
They dated for a couple of years before Joe popped the question in 1994. It was very romantic as they were in Paris, and he took her to the top of the Eiffel tower. She said yes with no reservations and the couple spent the two years that followed planning their wedding and their life together.
Rachel and Joe married in April 1997 and travelled to Kenya for their honeymoon. When they returned, both focussed on their work, hoping to save money so they could start a family and buy a bigger home. Joe was a team leader at a software company and Rachel worked at a solicitor’s office. Although they worked hard, they also played hard. The couple had many friends and also made a point of spending time with each other’s families.
Everyone was overjoyed when the O’Reilly’s welcomed their first son, Luke in March 2000. And the next year Adam was born. Their family was complete and Rachel could not be happier.
They lived in Dublin, close to work for both of them, but felt a home in Naul, on the northern outskirts of the city would provide a more wholesome environment for their kids to grow up in. Naul is only 20 miles north of Dublin but has the feeling of a country village. It is a place where big families live, and grown kids come home for the holidays. Neighbours know each other, socialise together, look out for one another... For Rachel, it was the perfect place to bring up her kids – quiet and safe.
Rachel’s family and friends were a bit concerned about the move at first, worried that it might be too quiet for her. But she seemed happy and said that it was exactly what she wanted for her family.
For the most part, Naul is a safe place. But in 2004, there was a spike in home invasions, mostly burglaries when no one was home. Local residents were somewhat concerned, but never feared for their personal safety.
The O’Reilly family settled into Naul nicely. Rachel worked as a sales agent – she was an Avon-lady, and also sold Tupperware, which meant she worked from home, making her own hours. It also meant she met a lot of people, hosting parties and barbecues to sell her products.
People who met Rachel immediately saw that she was a caring, devoted mother whose life revolved around her boys. Joe was proud to be a father and doted on his sons. By all accounts, the O’Reilly’s was a happy and stable family who only wanted the best for their kids. But in actual fact, Joe was not around all that much…
Joe O’Reilly was wildly ambitious and his gregarious personality served him well on his path up the ladder of success. Although he lacked in qualification, he quickly made a name for himself in his advertising career. Soon after their youngest son was born, he landed a managerial position at outdoor advertising company, Viacom. Joe travelled a lot for work, but Rachel was capable and independent, and held the fort whenever he went away.
A close friend of Rachel’s knew someone who worked at Viacom and tactfully asked about Joe’s overnight business trips. The co-worker said that Joe never travelled for work. This was concerning – what was he doing when he didn’t come home? If Rachel suspected anything, she never told anyone – she valued her privacy and did not want to discuss her marriage. Close friends noticed the marriage wasn’t all sunshine and roses, but Rachel never went into any detail.
Rumours about an affair were floating around, but Rachel dismissed it. However, the cracks in their marriage became apparent as both of them confided in friends that they did not have an affectionate relationship. They never had sex anymore and it bothered Rachel. When she heard the affair rumours, she laughed it off and said that Joe wasn’t interested in sex, so it didn’t make sense to her that he would look for it outside of the marriage.
Over time, Joe had also become visibly irritated by Rachel and even once called her a dragon in front of their softball team. He also missed her 30th birthday because he chose to go on a softball trip to Florida. And when they were supposed to go out on a date night to make up for it, he cancelled last minute. Rachel began to wonder if the rumours had any truth to them, and confronted Joe on many occasions. It’s fair to assume that she knew there was someone else, although perhaps she didn’t know the extent of it.
She told a close friend that she had given Joe an ultimatum: he was not to spend nights away from home and he had to commit more of his time to the family. On Sunday night, October 3rd Rachel and Joe had a vicious argument. It started when Rachel heard one of her sons talking about ‘daddy’s friend Nikki’. Rachel was furious that her kids knew about Joe’s mistress. The argument went unresolved and Joe slept in the spare room that night.
The next morning Joe left for the gym at 5:30am, and then went to work. Just after 1pm a phone call came from Adam’s school, saying that Rachel had not picked up their son at 12:30 as usual. Joe called Rachel’s cell phone, but there was no answer. He then called family and friends, asking if anyone had seen Rachel, or knew where she could be.
Rachel’s mother Rose lived only 20-minutes away and said she would go and check on her. When Rose entered her daughter’s house, she immediately sensed that something was wrong. As she walked along the hallway towards the last room – the main bedroom – she dreaded every unanswered call for Rachel. Then she found her bloodied body – it was too late, Rachel was gone.
Joe arrived with Adam in the car and Rose tried to stop him from going inside. She wanted to spare him the shock of seeing Rachel in the state she was in. But there was no holding back and Joe rushed to the bedroom where he saw his wife’s body.
Gardaí arrived soon after and set to work straight away. Detective Inspector Pat Marry recalled the scene:
“It’s a sight I will never forget, my God, she was pulverised. Her hair was matted in blood, over her right ear there was, you could see down to her skull, it was about 5in long. You could see there was severe force used to inflict that, so the poor woman had no chance whatsoever, absolutely none. It was savage, cold, just unbelievable.”
The rest of the house was in disarray with broken glass and turned-over furniture. At first glance it looked like someone had broken in. Did Rachel perhaps interrupt the crime and was made to pay with her life?
When Rachel’s body was found, she had her house keys in her hand, suggesting she was attacked as soon as she entered the house after dropping the boys at school. What was curious is the fact that Rachel had a large amount of cash in her handbag, yet the intruder did not take it. Investigators suspected that the scene was staged to look like a burglary-gone-wrong, but at this point it was only a hunch.
The autopsy concluded that Rachel was the victim of a violent attack and her cause of death was blunt force trauma. She had suffered multiple blows to the head, and her body showed signs of a fierce struggle. There were many defensive wounds on her hands and arms and it was clear that she desperately fought for her life.
Joe informed investigators that a dumbbell was missing from the house, and they suspected that this could have been the murder weapon. In the days that followed, police searched the area surrounding the house and the wooded areas of Naul, and recovered some stolen items from the O’Reilly home, such as a camcorder and jewellery. However, the dumbbell was not found. Everyone in Naul was requested to look out for the dumbbell and anything else that seemed out of place.
The brutal murder shocked everyone who lived in the neighbourhood and it left many residents feeling uneasy. The close-knit community was shaken by the violence that had taken place in their midst, in broad daylight. After committing such a brutal murder, the killer would have been covered in blood and certainly spotted by neighbours, yet no one saw anything suspicious. It was very unsettling indeed. And because of the gruesome nature of the crime and what the subsequent investigation revealed, lasting impact was left on the neighbourhood and its residents.
Investigators had their job cut out for them. Gardaí interviewed neighbours, friends and family, trying to get a picture of the O’Reilly family, and hoping to better understand who would want to harm a young mother of two.
At Rachel’s funeral, the family all wrote letters for Rachel and placed it inside her coffin. Joe waited till everyone was done before he left his letter, and the family and friends politely withdrew, giving him a moment in case he had some private last words for his departed wife. When he joined the mourners again, he simply said:
“You can put the lid down now.”
He was referring to Rachel’s coffin. Rose and Jim thought that it was a strange thing to say, and felt that Joe seemed cold, heartless even. But then again, people handle shock and trauma in different ways, and they did not want to judge him.
But Joe’s behaviour following his wife’s death continued getting more and more bizarre. Firstly, he asked Rose and Jim to come over and said that being in the house made him feel Rachel’s presence and it comforted him. He thought it could have the same effect on them. However, when they arrived, he seemed to be on a mission of sorts. He marched them to the crime scene, re-enacting the murder, showing how the killer must have attacked Rachel, pointing out the blood spatter on the walls. He even went so far as saying that the killer returned when he heard a dying Rachel “gurgling” to “finish her off”.
Her parents were appalled and confused – Jim had to leave the house as he had to vomit. Was Joe enjoying watching them suffer? What was he playing at? And it wasn’t an isolated incident… When people came around to pay their respects, or if journalists came to interview him, he went through the same routine. He did not seem like a grieving husband at all. On the contrary, he almost seemed to enjoy the attention.
But acting out after one’s wife was brutally murdered is no crime. Naturally, being Rachel’s spouse of 13 years, Joe O’Reilly was one of the first people questioned in the investigation. He confirmed that he was at work at the time of the murder. He left home at 5:30am, joined some friends at the gym, showered and then went to the office in Dublin city. At 8am he went to a bus depot in Broadstone with a colleague to oversee a visual advertising campaign. A colleague confirmed that he was there. Joe then returned to the office just after mid-day. He also assured investigators that his marriage to Rachel was good and that they did not have any problems.
However, looking deeper into Joe, Gardaí discovered that he had been leading a double life and had been involved in multiple affairs, which were considered to be possible motives for the murder. He had become very close to a certain female colleague in particular, advertising executive Nikki Pelley. He was forced to admit that he had been seeing Nikki but claimed that it was nothing more than an office fling.
This was a gross understatement, as his relationship with Nikki was far more serious than he had let on. They had been having a full-blown, passionate affair for six months. He spent two nights a week at Nikki’s, and when Rachel asked about it, he would say he stayed at the office because he was working late and didn’t want to disrupt her and the kids’ sleep by coming home late.
Despite downplaying his relationship with Nikki at first, information emerged that Joe was actually planning on leaving Rachel for Nikki. And as a part of this, he had been blowing off steam to his sister about Rachel’s parenting style. He did not agree with the way she was raising their sons. But in the grander scheme of things, it seemed that he only did this to lay the groundwork, so he could obtain custody of the kids if they were to split up.
Police went through Joe’s emails and realised the extent to which Joe hated his wife. He used profanity when writing about her to his mistress and his sister. He spelled out his view on their relationship with an equation, saying ‘me PLUS Rachel PLUS marriage EQUALS over’. He admitted that he was over-critical of her but said that’s because she repulsed him.
It was around this time that an anonymous tipster informed social services that Rachel had been rough with one of her children. An investigation was launched and with absolutely no evidence to support the claims, the case was dismissed. Joe was furious and blew off steam to his sister in an email, saying that this proved to him that the kids would go to Rachel in a custody battle. His reaction to this event – that must have been unimaginably traumatic for Rachel – strongly suggested that HE was the one who had called social services in the first place.
On one occasion after Rachel’s murder, Joe insisted her parents listen to Rachel’s voicemail of the day she was killed. Before they could decide whether they were up for it or not, he played it to them, his own voice blaring, sounding frantic. It was like he was trying to establish an alibi for himself. As if he was trying to convince them that he was not at home that morning and that he was deeply concerned for Rachel’s safety.
[sound clip of phone calls ‘Dangerous & devious’ 19” mark]
Rose later claimed that when he played that, she heard Rachel’s voice in her mind saying over and over again:
“Mum, he done it. Mum, he done it. Mum, he done it…”
She believed that Rachel communicated to her in that moment, and from then on there was no doubt as to her son-in-law’s guilt.
But they could not understand why. Of course, domestic abuse comes in many forms, and although it seemed that Joe never physically harmed Rachel, his control and emotional abuse of her was constant and relentless. But Rachel never shared this with anyone, she suffered alone, desperately hoping to keep her family together.
Joe arranged an interview on RTE’s The Late-Night Show, to appeal to witnesses to come forward. He convinced Rose to join him, and already suspecting that HE was her daughter’s killer, Rose was furious. However, she would do anything to bring Rachel’s murderer to justice, so if there was only half a chance that she was wrong… She agreed, but in the video of the interview, one can see her barely able to hide her suspicion about her son-in-law. As for Joe… He stunned the audience by openly theorising what could have happened to Rachel, saying:
“My view as well would be, and again, its’ just my view, it’s not a police theory – it’s just my own personal belief… It’s that she knew the person, because why else would you kill her. If it’s a violent robbery, why go to the extreme of murdering the person, unless they can identify you?”
Later in the investigation, it came out that after this public appeal to bring his wife’s killer to justice, Joe went to his mistress’ house and spent the night.
In 2005, Gardaí arrested Joe O’Reilly and he was charged with his wife’s murder. He denied any involvement and immediately, opinions about his guilt were divided.
Nikki Pelley was also arrested and charged with withholding information about Rachel’s murder. On the day of the murder, there were no less than eight calls between Joe and Nikki. In custody Nikki changed her story and admitted that Joe had told her he would kill Rachel if he knew he could get away with it. But according to Nikki, she did not think he was serious at the time.
Derek Quearney, Joe’s colleague who had provided an alibi was charged too, for giving false information. Like Nikki, he too changed his story. Investigators believed that this colleague was truthful and did not intent to provide a false alibi.
Still Gardaí did not feel the case against Joe was quite strong enough. Rachel’s dad then told investigators about the strange moment Joe had at Rachel’s funeral, and suggested they recovered Joe’s letter to Rachel from her coffin. An exhumation order was granted and investigators found the content of Joe’s letter curious. He claimed that it was the hardest letter he’d ever written and asked her to forgive him for reasons only he and she knew. It read:
"Rachel, forgive. Two words, one sentence, but I will say them forever."
This fuelled suspicions but could not be provided as the smoking gun so to speak. Gardaí knew there were inconsistencies in Joe’s version of the story, and constructed a timeline of events, leading up to the murder. After going to gym and arriving at work, Joe emailed a co-worker, saying that he would be out of cell phone reception range for most of the morning and that he would meet him for lunch at 2pm.
CCTV footage at Viacom head office showed Joe O’Reilly leaving at 8:07am. Then, CCTV footage at Murphy’s Quarry – a half a mile from the O’Reilly family home – saw Rachel drive passed at 09:03, then again 9:41 on her way home after dropping off the boys at school. It also, ominously recorded a car, resembling Joe’s Fiat Marea passing by at 9:25.
One of the key pieces of evidence against Joe was a phone call he made to Rachel's phone just minutes before her death. The phone call lasted just 30 seconds, but the police were able to retrieve the call record and analyse the data. He also took a phone call from a friend at 9:52, that pinged off the mast at Murphy’s Quarry again. Joe was in the area of the O'Reilly home at the time of the murder, contradicting his earlier alibi, claiming that he was at work all day.
He sent Rachel a text, knowing she was no longer alive, a callous move, hoping to place himself above suspicion:
"You and the boys sleep ok? Wish Jacqui a happy birthday for me please. Xxx".
This message also pinged off the quarry mast, which means he could still have been home with his deceased wife, trying to give himself an alibi.
At 9:59 CCTV footage caught Joe passing the quarry, in the opposite direction, away from his house, heading towards the city, back to work.
Joe O’Reilly’s trial started in June 2007. The trial was held in Dublin and lasted for three weeks. Joe pleaded not guilty. The prosecution alleged that Joe went to the office on the morning of the murder, and arranged to meet his colleague, Derek, at the bus depot. Derek said he’d meet him at the bus depot later on, seeing as he had some work to do at the office first.
However, Joe did not go straight to the depot, instead he dashed home. Once there, he went inside and waited for Rachel to come home. The bedroom is the farthest room into the house, and the theory was that Joe called for her to come to him. When she entered the bedroom, he attacked. She tried to defend herself but did not stand a chance.
Meanwhile, Derek left the office at 8:45am. When he arrived at the bus depot, he could not find Joe, and called his cell phone. He spoke to Joe, who said he was way over on the other side, and said he’d join him as soon as he was finished with his task. Derek didn’t actually see Joe, but he had no reason to suspect that Joe was NOT on the premises. Sometime later, he did bump into Joe in the yard, and they both made their way back to the office in their own cars.
Looking at the timeline, it would have been possible for Joe to have gone home, commit the heinous murder, then take a shower, washing the blood off. He then put a load of washing on, with his bloodied clothes and towel. This theory emerged because, other than the crime scene, the only other location in the house with blood evidence was the utility room, on the washing machine.
Then he drove back to work, disposing of some items, to tie in with the burglary story. Then he went to the bus depot, made sure to bump into the unsuspecting Derek. He sent a series of text messages throughout the morning, starting out nicely, asking how she was and if the boys slept okay. Then he ramped it up when he does not get a reply, acting concerned. He also made a call and left a voicemail. This pinged off a cell phone mast near the family home. He tried to cover his tracks and ironically provided evidence against himself and his version of the story.
A co-worker also recalled Joe coming into the office at mid-day, looking unwell, perhaps like he had been crying or something. The colleague asked if he was okay, and Joe said ‘Yes, why’. The colleague said because he didn’t look okay to which Joe exclaimed ‘Oh, God,’ before leaving the conversation and going into his office.
He waited for their youngest son, Adam’s pre-school to call to inform him that Rachel had not showed up. He proceeded to call family and friends, asking if anyone had seen Rachel, or knew where she was. He did not rush home, many colleagues noted that he was hanging around work, like he was wasting time. Eventually he drove to Adam’s school to pick him up. A friend of Rachel’s picked Luke up from his school, as per their usual carpool arrangement.
Rose was already at Lambay View when he arrived. She tried to stop him from going into the house as she did not want him or the boys to see the gruesome scene inside, but Joe pushed passed her and made his way to the bedroom where Rachel’s body lay. From that first moment, seeing Joe next to her daughter’s body, Rose felt that something wasn’t quite right. The first thing he said was:
“Jesus Rachel, what did you do?”
There was no love, no empathy, nothing one would expect from a man who just discovered his wife’s murdered body.
In his defence, Joe claimed that he had no memory of what had happened on the day of the murder and that he had been in a state of shock ever since learning about his wife’s gruesome killing. However, the jury was not convinced by his argument, and evidence contradicted his stance.
Emotionally abusive emails from Joe to Rachel also showed the dark side of their marriage. It was all read out in court. Her family and friends were heartbroken to learn that she must have been very lonely and scared.
In July 2007, Joe O'Reilly was found guilty of the murder of his wife, Rachel. He was sentenced to life in prison, which in Ireland is 15 years. In his sentencing statement the judge stated that the evidence against Joe was overwhelming and that he had shown no remorse for his crime.
The murder of Rachel O'Reilly was a shocking and senseless act of violence. The police investigation was thorough and the evidence against Joe O'Reilly was compelling.
Sadly the case was surrounded by controversy. One of the key points of contention was the police's handling of the investigation, with many people questioning the reliability of the evidence presented at trial. Many people felt that the prosecution's case was built on circumstantial evidence, and that the lack of concrete proof made it difficult to definitively prove Joe O'Reilly's guilt. Another point of controversy was the involvement of the Irish media in the case. They were quick to jump on the story and sensationalised the events, which many felt influenced the public's perception of the case and affected the outcome of the trial.
The controversy surrounding the case was further fuelled by Joe O'Reilly's repeated appeals against his sentence. He has always maintained his innocence, and his appeals have brought the case back into the public eye and kept the controversy alive. The appeal went all the way up to the Supreme Court, but in the end, O’Reilly’s conviction was upheld, and despite his sentence coming to completion, he remains in prison to this day.
For the most part, however, the general conclusion is that Joe thought he could get away with murder, that he was smarter than the authorities, but found out the hard way that he wasn’t.
DI Pat Marry recalled the moment when he arrested Joe in his mother’s kitchen in October 2006:
“I put my hand on his shoulder and said, ‘Joe, I’m arresting you for the murder of Rachel O’Reilly’. He turned and faced me, the blood drained from his face and he went white as a sheet. He was not expecting it…. He had a grandiose personality, as most psychopathic people do. They have a confidence about them that they will beat the system.”
The loss of Rachel continues to be deeply felt by her friends and family, who remember her as a kind and loving person who was taken from them far too soon.
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