30 years on, Cork's 'house of horrors' case still has power to shock

In his weekly column, former garda Trevor Laffan reflects on a number of missing men cases in Cork
30 years on, Cork's 'house of horrors' case still has power to shock

Fred Flannery was the main suspect for a string of unsolved murders in Cork in the 1990s. He died in 2002.

THIRTY years ago yesterday, on February 12, 1993, Frank McCarthy, aged 24, who lived with his parents in Lotamore, Mayfield. went missing.

Soon after, Cathal O’Brien also disappeared, along with his friend, Kevin Ball from Wales.

Then a fourth man, Denis ‘Patch’ O’Driscoll, vanished in December, 1994.

Gardaí discovered that three of the missing men had known each other at various times, and all had spent time in bedsits at a property in Wellington Terrace in Cork city.

The garda investigation led them to that property, which was later dubbed ‘the House of Horrors’, and attention focused on a local man, Fred Flannery, who had also lived in the property.

Back in the 1990s, Fred Flannery was well known to the gardaí and known to sleep rough in the woods around Mayfield and Glanmire.

By 1993 and 1994, the years of the disappearances, he was living in 9, Wellington Terrace, a house overlooking Kent Railway Station that had been converted into flats.

Patrick ‘Patch’ O’Driscoll, a friend of his, also stayed there from time to time. He was a 32-year-old from Cork city and got his nickname from an eye patch he wore.

Some years earlier, he was a passenger in a stolen car driven by Fred Flannery. The car crashed and ‘Patch’ lost an eye.

Late night parties in the property at Wellington Terrace were commonplace with alcohol, drugs and magic mushrooms allegedly consumed in large quantities. It was during one of these parties that events turned chaotic.

The story began in February, 1993, with the disappearance of Frank ‘Blackie’ McCarthy.

He was 24 years old and had just been released from prison after serving a nine-month sentence. He met a friend that afternoon for a few drinks and they arranged to meet again later in the evening. Frank McCarthy left his home to meet his friend, but never showed up.

He disappeared without a trace, but the finger of suspicion was pointed at Fred Flannery. Shortly before going to prison, McCarthy had had a disagreement with him.

A few months later, in the summer of 1993, a young man from Kilmore in Co. Wexford came to live in Cork.

Cathal O’Brien, a 23-year-old, had graduated from Waterford RTC and was doing some voluntary work with the Cork Simon Community in Lower John Street. He rented a flat in the same house as the Flannerys at 9, Wellington Terrace.

While working with Cork Simon, Cathal met Kevin Ball, a 42-year-old new age traveller from Wales. They became friendly and O’Brien invited him to move out of the shelter and share his flat in Wellington Terrace. Ball happily accepted the offer and moved in with him.

The following year, in April, 1994, the O’Brien family reported their son missing and it was then discovered that Ball had also disappeared.

Flannery claimed that Cathal O’Brien and Kevin Ball had gone travelling around England. At this stage, the case was being treated as a missing persons investigation and detailed descriptions were circulated to foreign police forces without success.

Things changed in January, 1995, when Patch O’Driscoll was reported missing by his brother.

Patch had previously told him of strange events taking place in 9, Wellington Terrace, and because of that, he feared for his brother’s life. He told his story to the gardaí in MacCurtain Street garda station and that initiated a full-scale investigation.

We’ll never know exactly what happened in that house, but it was alleged there was a party in April, 1994 with Flannery, Patch O’Driscoll, Kevin Ball, Cathal O’Brien, and possibly one other.

At some point, Kevin Ball is said to have questioned how Patch could still be friendly with the man responsible for him losing his eye. Flannery got annoyed at this and left the flat.

Ball was allegedly later beaten on the head with a hammer and died. Cathal O’Brien tried to stop this assault, but also lost his life.

The bodies of the two men were said to have been rolled in a carpet, removed from the house and buried at an unknown location.

In the Autumn of 1994, Patch O’Driscoll was very uneasy about the killings and having nightmares. in December of that year, he was also allegedly killed in Wellington Terrace.

It was later testified in court that Flannery had admitted killing Mr O’Driscoll at the flat by hitting him with a hammer and had cut up the body with a bowsaw and a Stanley knife.

No bodies were found, but Fred Flannery was charged with the murder of O’Driscoll. His trial in 1996 collapsed.

Part of O’Driscoll’s body was later discovered in woodlands on the outskirts of Cork city, identified by a false eye and a sock with a diamond pattern as described at the trial by Michael Flannery.

No trace has ever been found of the other men. Flannery took his own life in 2002.

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