Main pic: Annie and Anne Gillespie enjoying a family wedding shortly before they were killed. Image: RTE.
Today marks the day 35 years ago when callous John Gallagher shot and killed his ex-girlfriend and her mother in the grounds of Sligo Hospital.
The then 22-year-old blasted Anne Gillespie (18) and her mother Annie (51) as they sat in the rear seat of a relative’s car after visiting the teenager’s sick grandmother on September 18, 1988.
Gallagher also pointed the gun at Anne’s uncle, Patrick Maguire, but he survived when the gun jammed.
The cold-blooded killings shocked the country at the time. The Gillespies, from Ballybofey, were hugely popular and known to be quiet, civil people.
Gallagher was tried for murder in 1989 but was found to be ‘guilty but insane’. The verdict stunned the Gillespie family who always believed he was sane when he carried out the killings.
After the case it emerged that he had tried to kill teenager Anne on at least three other occasions.
Twelve years later, in 2000, he escaped from custody in Dundrum Central Mental Hospital in Dublin and fled to the UK. He moved back to Strabane in 2003, just over the border from his family home in Lifford and a 20 minute drive from the Gillespie’s hometown of Ballybofey. Because he had not committed a crime in Northern Ireland, he could not be arrested.
In a dramatic move in June 2012, Gallagher handed himself to the authorities in the Republic and immediately began steps to have himself declared legally sane. He was returned to the Central Mental Hospital, however, he was set free six weeks later. A number of conditions were imposed on Gallagher in connection with his release. He was allowed to visit both his mother in Lifford and also his father’s grave.
However, he was banned from having any contact with members of the Gillespie family or members of his own estranged family.
The family of Anne and Annie Gillespie felt they never got justice and continue to live in fear of the Lifford man.
Following a sensational murder trial at the Four Courts, Gallagher was never convicted of murder but rather found ‘guilty but insane’ and committed to the Central Mental Hospital.
He remained at the south Dublin facility until 2000 when he fled to England while out on work release as a forklift driver.
Despite a garda manhunt, and an attempt to seal ports and airports, it was speculated that Gallagher sped north on a motorbike.
He became infamous after the brutal double killing.
Gallagher was eventually found in Oxford in July 2000 and was arrested outside a supermarket and held under the Mental Health Act.
But after a psychiatric assessment he was deemed sane and freed.
Because of a loophole in the law, and because he had committed no crime in the UK, police could not hold him.
He married Caroline Southern, from Rathdrum in Co Wicklow in the UK, and they had three children before returning to Strabane.
However, he was back in court again in 2013 when he was jailed for three months after harassing his sister, Helena Miller, by making a gun gesture. During a dramatic contest at Strabane Magistrates Court, Gallagher said he had ‘apologised deeply’ for shooting the Gillespies. He faced a charge of harassing Mrs Miller.