The Dwyers were a fairly typical elderly Irish couple who lived at No 4 Chapel Lane, Chapel Hill in the small town of Fermoy, County Cork, with a population of about 5800. They disappeared without trace in 1991.
Conor Dwyer used to be a hackney driver inhis youth but was now a popular handyman as well as a part time chauffeur to millionaire German businessman Fritz Wolf who had a holiday home in nearby Castlelyons. This was Conor’s dream job as it fed his lifelong passion for flashy cars which he enjoyed from a young age.
Sheila was described as well dressed and always friendly, and they were generally a quiet couple who kept to themselves.
They attended a funeral mass at St Patrick’s Church on Tuesday 30 April 1991. A local girl named Catherine Fenton said hello to them as they walked up the church steps. This is the last known time that anyone spoke to them or saw them.
We don’t even know exactly on which day or at what time Conor (62) and Sheila (60) disappeared into the unknown. It could have been anytime between 30 April and 19 May, but more likely towards the beginning of May.
On 18 May Sheila’s sister Maisie, concerned as she hadn’t heard from her in almost three weeks, which was out of character as the sisters were very close, knocked on the door but there was no answer. Fearing some illness or trouble may have befallen them she called the gardai who forced their way in.
So what did the gardai find in the Dwyer home? Nothing was missing except their white Toyota Cressida and a few items of clothing – presumably what they were wearing. The couple’s reading glasses lay peacefully on the sofa and their bank cards and other personal stuff was intact. The bed was neatly made and there was no sign of any struggle or hurried departure.
A biscuit tin holding a thousand pounds in cash was the only unusual feature found. Clearly there had been no robbery.
Their two sons Conor and Gerry were living in England at the time. We need to remember that this was just a few years before cell phones and email came into general use, so it was fairly common for a week or two to pass before hearing from close family members, and there were no social media where friends or neighbours could check at a glance what you’ve been up to.
Conor Jr spoke to his parents over the phone on St Patrick’s Day (17 March) and they seemed fine. They were considered “well liked” in the small town. Yet for three weeks none of their so-called friends or neighbours noticed whether or not they were OK. A classic example of “out of sight, out of mind.”
Did Conor and Sheila go for a short drive during which he lost control of the car, landing in the Blackwater River? Unless he had a sudden heart attack or stroke it’s unlikely that a sober driver good enough to chauffeur a millionaire would simply lose control and plunge pell-mell into a river they had crossed every day for years.
Was any foul play involved? It seems very unlikely, despite certain theories put forward. There was no motive, no robbery, nothing to indicate the quiet, likeable couple had any enemies.
No one including themselves ever touched their bank accounts again.
Conor’s employer Mr Wolf was abroad at the time and doesn’t come into the picture. He certainly had no motive to make his chauffeur disappear…
Did they disappear for reasons of their own to start a new life elsewhere? There are always unsubstantiated rumours when something like this happens, claiming financial straits, becoming innocently involved in the drug trade or other unlikely scenarios.
Neighbour John Murphy described them as a nice quiet couple who enjoyed life and not at all the sort of people who would get involved in dicey activity.
“They were quiet, kept to themselves. They went off on their holidays and did their own thing and they were good, church-going people,” he said. “They often went away for a week or two but would come back again.”
Local businessman Neil O’Donnell said: “She was a reserved lady and was always perfectly dressed and made up,” and described Conor as very outgoing and likeable.
Billy Fennessey, a 54 year old publican and undertaker from a nearby village, disappeared together with his car on 30 March 1990: about a year before the Dwyers. When the Dwyers disappeared as well, links between the two incidents were naturally investigated.
The Fennessey mystery was eventually solved in 2013 when his Daihatsu Charade, with his body inside, was found in the River Blackwater.
No trace of the Dwyer’s Cressida has ever been found to this day, on land, in water or anywhere else.
If it left Irish shores, no car matching the description appears on any ferry records and you can’t load a car on a small boat.
Sightings: Real or Imagined?
One Fermoy lady says she saw them in their car in Fermoy while she was sitting at the hairdresser, waiting for traffic lights to change. Or maybe the air from the drier was set too hot and she imagined it?
Mary O’Dowd claims she saw them during a trip to the pilgrimage town of Lourdes in June 1991. She says she was waiting at the airport with her son when they saw an elderly couple behaving rather suspiciously. Apparently the guy went to get a newspaper from the newsstand but never took his eyes from his wife for a moment. This lady also claimed that the clothes they were wearing matched the clothes missing from the Dwyer home. She stated they were definitely Irish like herself and she had no doubt they were the missing couple. Despite official investigations her story has never been proved or verified in any way.
She only came forward after watching a show about the disappearance two years later. She hadn’t heard about the case up to this point. Thus she may have unwittingly fitted the facts to suit what she saw at Lourdes airport. It’s very difficult to recall what someone was wearing after two years. Memory can play tricks on one.
Other “sightings” were reported from Waterford, Dublin and the Isle of Man.
The last time anyone claimed to have seen them was in Munich, Germany but once again this led nowhere.
In 2000 detectives followed up a lead which took them to Aherla lime quarry in central Cork but found nothing.
A baffled Cork detective remarked: “Every lead was followed up. Every place where a car could have gone into the water, a ditch or a cliff was checked but there was nothing. They and their car had vanished into thin air.”
There are major differences between this case and that of the Andrews couple:
In their case they had to pass over a bridge no more than a kilometre or two upstream of Lake Michigan. Edward Andrews wasn’t feeling well and had been drinking on an almost empty stomach. Their car scraped the entrance gate to the parking garage and was later observed driving on the wrong side of Michigan Avenue. I’m 95% sure they are somewhere at the bottom of that huge dark lake.
“I couldn’t really see Conor doing anything silly, he was too fond of life. He was a man who was never in bad form,” said John Murphy, their neighbour.
Speaking on an RTV programme in 2008 the Dwyers’ son Conor said:
“I didn’t know anyone who disliked them and I can’t see them having any enemies,” he said.
He added: “They were local, friendly, respected people. The not knowing keeps you awake at night. I wonder what the hell was going through their minds, there’s a void of information. It’s very bizarre and inexplicable – it’s a living nightmare.”
It certainly can’t be pleasant when your life turns upside down because your parents vanished without trace. There are no bodies and no way to find out if they’re alive. They don’t seem like the type of couple who would deliberately cause their sons and other family members such anguish. If they wanted to start a new life, why would they have left all that money in the biscuit tin, and their reading glasses on the sofa?
They certainly wouldn’t have gone on holiday, even a sort of secret second honeymoon, without taking more of their stuff along.
Another detective stated that this is one of the strangest cases he’s ever come across.
“I know it sounds daft, “ he said, “but it’s as if a spaceship landed and took them away.
During investigation it was discovered that Conor disappeared for several years during the 1980s and returned without explaining where he’d been.
This could indicate a possible paranormal link and calls to mind similar but very rare cases of people who vanished under most mysterious circumstances.
What was he up to? Drug-running or dancing with the leprechauns? Did they say “we’d love to meet your wife one day”?
It looks as if this case will join the 1901 disappearance of the Flannan Island lighthouse keepers as an unsolved mystery.