The Missing Postman of Stradbally is found - Irish Nation Shocked
The missing postman of Stradbally is popular name for the mysterious disappearance of beloved Irish mailman, Larry Griffin. He disappeared without trace from a village in the south-east of Ireland on Christmas Day, 1929. The story garnered international attention and compelled the entire nation of Ireland to mobilize in an all out search for the missing Mr. Griffin. The disappearance would lead to 8 people, including a pub owner, his wife and two children, a schoolmaster and two police officers, to be charged with murder.
This was one of our most challenging investigations.
The case produced a widespread panic in the young nation of Ireland and is considered one of the greatest Irish mysteries of ALL TIME.
Author, Fachtna Ó Drisceoil, wrote extensively about Larry’s mysterious vanishing act, and in his book, "The Missing Postman". He goes so far as to say “The Griffon family were the victims of the most shocking conspiracy and cover-up the young Irish state had known".
The Story Begins
Our postman and the background -
According to those who new him, postman Larry Griffin was known as the epitome of manliness and chivalry by all lucky enough to make his acquaintance. A tall, dark Irishman with sharp features and a gift for gab, Larry was born in Waterford, Ireland in 1880. He proudly joined the military when he was 19 and served as a bombardier in the Artillery Regiment of the British Army from 1899 until 1907. After serving bravely in India he returned home and soon met the love of his life, Mary Fitzgerald, widely known as the loveliest lady in the county. The couple soon married and popped out some children. Things were going well for Larry. But the honeymoon would soon be over. In 1914 WW1 took the world by a storm of steel and Larry heard the call of king and country. Despite his wife’s please for him to stay Larry knew he had no choice but to unsheathe his sword and valiantly defend his native land, way of life and of course, the cause of freedom.
A seasoned soldier and determined leader of men, Larry fought the Germans ferociously. Charging machine gun nests and sticking bayonets through enemy hearts was what Larry did for breakfast. He had become a seasoned killer and fearless under fire. He even had a mistress. Her name - Death.
On on one battle in 1916, Larry heroically charged the German lines and despite fighting savagely, he lost one of his ears, had his right armed shot to pieces and several of his teeth were knocked out. His fighting days where done but as a result of his battlefield heroics, he was awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal in 1918.
After being discharged from the Army, Larry decided to lay down his rifle and settle down with his young family in the quaint town of Kilmacthomas. He soon got a job as a postman in the village of Stradbally which was just three miles away from his home. Larry soon became one of the most highly esteemed and well known staples of the community.
Build up to Incident
or 13 years Larry perfected the art of postmanship. He delivered the mail on time and with a smile on his partially toothless face. The village folk knew Larry. They loved him. He was considered a friend by all and desired by many local woman. Until… mystery struck.
On Christmas Day, 1929 Larry attended Mass. All of the village folk were there. After the ceremony, Larry headed out to deliver presents that had recently arrived in his office. Christmas in Ireland at the time depended on the postman to deliver gifts, and Larry’s duties where just beginning. At about noon he set out on his Post Office issue bicycle to deliver the mail. It seemed to be just another joy filled Christmas, made possible in part, by Larry’s incredible skill at delivering mail on time. Hundreds of villagers anxiously awaited Larry to deliver their gifts. He was their Santa. There was at the time, a tradition in Ireland of offering alcohol, money and hospitality to the postman on Christmas Day - Larry was invited to dinner in two of the households he stopped by, and was given drinks in many of the others. It would have been considered rude to refuse any drink offered to him, so Larry by necessity, drank a lot on his route. When he had finished his deliveries, he stopped back at the Post Office as normal. At 7pm, it started snowing. His extremely attractive wife, Mary, waited for him to return home but he did not appear. Naturally, she guessed that he might have had too much to drink and hoped that he had decided to sleep at a friend's house, rather than risk the ride home.
Larry did not return home the next morning.
At 7:30am the next day, a local man, walking along the road between the towns of Stradbally and Larry’s hometown of Kilmacthomas, came across a postman’s bicycle lying on the road three feet from the curb. It was pointing toward Kilmacthomas. It
appeared to have been carefully laid down. There was no sign of Larry.
The local man, knowing that the bike likely belonged to Larry, began asking if anyone had seen him once he made it to town. After confirming nobody, even Larry’s wife, had any idea where he was, the Irish police, known as the Gardai were called.
An ensuing manhunt began
After the Gardai were informed, a search party was quickly assembled. The massive search party included Gardai officers from multiple towns, over one hundred civilians as well as the postmen from Kilmacthomas, started searching. Upon inspecting the bike, the postmen noticed that the empty mailbag, the bag waterproof cover, the postman overalls and a cape were carefully strapped to the carrier on the bike, and commented that a postman would never strap his cape in this way, because it would crack when folded up. They searched the countryside between Kilmacthomas and Stradbally, particularly the marshlands on both sides of the road where the bike had been found. It was initially assumed that Larry had wandered off the road and fallen into one the many deep holes in the bog, but in spite of extensive searches, they did not find him.
Despite seemingly intensive efforts, the Gardai officers assigned to the case where making surprisingly little progress. Some might say, suspiciously little. This prompted the top Irish brass to assign one of the Irelands greatest investigators to the case.
On the 27th of December, legendary detective, Chief Superintendent Harry O'Mara was given the authority to use all means necessary to find out what had happened to Larry.
O’Mara was a tall, straight laced, no bullshit supercop known for his stirling record of almost always catching his man. He was not about to have his reputation tarnished by leaving any stone unturned in one of Ireland’s biggest missing persons cases. O’Mara meant to solve this mystery by any means necessary.
First, he went to Stradbally and questioned the local Garda officers - One of the cops, officer Frawley, lived in an apartment just above the Post Office where Larry worked. Suspicious. All of the officers in Stradbally denied seeing Larry leave the village, and also all, and to O’Mara’s surprise, all of the officers claimed that Larry was sober, despite having had to drink an excessive amount the night of the his disappearance. Other people in the village, however, offered contradicted to police reports say that Larry had in fact been "a bit jolly" and "intoxicated".
Superintendent O'Mara soon established that Larry had not called in to collect the mail at places between Stradbally and the point where his bicycle had been found, even though these were part of his normal round. Another local man reported that he had been on the way from Stradbally to Kilmacthomas on the same road where Larry’s bike had been found at around 4am on the night of the disappearance and had not seen the bicycle there at that time.
O'Mara now suspected foul play.
Just then, a new witness came forward with a shocking revelation -
On January 6th, Father O'Shea, a highly regarded priest from Stradbally approached O'Mara and told him that he had explosive information. He claimed that the Gardai in Stradbally were concealing what had happened, and that O’Mara should immediately question a sixteen-year-old boy named John Power. The priest would not say what the boy would tell him or how he knew the police had more info but O’Mara’s instincts told him to listen to the priest.
The next day, O'Mara interviewed John Power with Gardai officers from outside of Stradbally. John told them that he had been standing outside the window of Whelan's pub on the day of the disappearnance. Whelan’s, a popular spot to get a drink in Stradbally, was situated just across the street from the post office. John then told O’Mara that he had seen Larry and and a cop named Dullea outside of the post office at 6:30pm. Dullea was pushing Larry’s bicycle. Larry appeared drunk and was, according to John, puking all over the sidewalk. John also said that he remained outside Whelan's for an hour and did not see either Larry or the Officer Dullea again for the rest of the night. Clearly, the Gardai of Stradbally had not told O’Mara the whole story.
A new Suspect emerges
Officer Dullea was immediately called in for an interrogation. Under the intense questioning by O’Mara, Officer Dullea admitted to meeting Larry outside the post office, and to walking with him for fifty yards along the Kilmacthomas road. Despite all of the evidence he claimed that Larry was not drunk. When O’Mara asked why he had not reported this before, he said he did not think "it was of any importance". He claimed that after leaving Larry, he returned to Whelans Pub to meet up with Cissie Whelan, daughter of the Whelans, daughter of the pub owner. Dullia said that they walked to Stradbally Cove, returning from there at 10pm. This was contradicted by the evidence given to O’Mara by John Power, the kid who said he had seen Larry with Officer Dullea.
O’Mara then interviewed the head Gardai in Stradbally, Sergeant Cullinane. Sergeant Cullinane was a man who claimed he had no tolerance for law breakers. Especially illegal drinking on Christmas. Since 1927, pubs in Ireland were not allowed to serve alcohol on either Christmas Day or Good Friday. Sergeant Cullinane said that he had raided Whelans pub twice on Christmas for for suspected illegal drinking. Once at 6pm and again at 6:35pm. He said that he had not seen Larry or any Gardai Officers.
O'Mara thought that Officer Dullea may have been trying to cover up illegal drinking. He was not sure if Sergeant Cullinane was in on the cover up. It would have been extremely damaging to the reputation of the Stradbally police for a Gardia to have been found to be drinking illegally.
The Case continues
As January progressed a stream of information emerged about events on Christmas Day from new witnesses and more detailed statements from previous witnesses. The story that now emerged was that shortly after 6pm, a clearly hammered Larry Griffin had gone to officer Frawley's apartment ( the cop that lived above the post office).
Larry was allegedly accompanied by Officer Dullea to Frawleys apartment after leaving Whelan’s Pub, and the three continued to drink. After drinking for a while Officers Dullea and Frawley decided that Larry was too drunk to make his way home. Officer Frawley went into Whelans to see if they would let him stay for the night, but realising that he had been followed in by Sergeant Cullinane (who was hot on the hunt for illegal drinkers) he left. Garda Dullea then led Larry round the corner, and the two of them went in to Whelans by the back gate. Neither of them was seen to leave again.
Conflicting evidence was given by the Gardai about whether or not they had been given gifts of alcohol by various pub owners in the area, and also about whether or not they had been drinking. It was common practice for pub owners to give gifts to the Gardai, though this was just bribery to help avoid being raided. O’Mara soon found that entries in the Gardai barracks diary had been altered, and that they had not recorded many of the patrols the night of Larry’s disappearance. The Stradbally Gardai were changing their stories, contradicting each other, and eventually, they began accusing one another lof lying.
O'Mara was now convinced that the Gardai were involved in the disappearance of Larry Griffin. He also sure that Officer Dullea was " influencing the people to make false statements and are visiting those from whom statements have been made to ascertain what they have said". O’Mara saw to it that the entire police force of Stradbally was transferred out of the city and to various stations all over Ireland, and a warrant was obtained to allow their mail to be intercepted as O'Mara believed that they stay in cahoots.
The Plot Thickens
Growing frustrated, O’Mara began to track down everyone who had been at Whelan’s pub the night of the disappearance. His search led him to a 55 year laborer named Jim Fitzgerald. Jim was intensely interested interrogated and eventually told a wild story. He said that on Christmas Day, he had gone into Whelans by the back gate with a friend named Tommy Corbett and two other people at 6:30pm. They went into the kitchen and were served drinks by the owners wife, Cissie Whelan. As everyone was singing in the bar, Jim claimed he went outside into the yard for some fresh air. He said he then looked through the window into the bar, and saw Officer Dullea with another cop, as well as Cissie Whelan and several other people. He then made his way back into the bar and he saw a man going towards the bathroom who had a postman's hat on, and he was fairly sure that it was Larry Griffin. He also said that he was in the bar himself.
He said the postman was clearly hammered drunk and when he got out of the bathroom the postman (Larry) was falling everywhere, and at one point money fell out of his pocket. The money, Jim said, was quickly pocketed by another bar patron, a man named Ned Morrissey.
The Postman then stood up and again fell on his face and hands. He tried to stand up a third time, Jim continued, but he then fell against the stove, hitting his head. The postman’s forehead struck the stove and he started to bleed. Jim said it was gruesome, with his forehead was split across the centre. After striking the stove he dropped to the ground. The postman never spoke after falling. Ned Morrissey, the man who stolen to postman’s dropped cash, turned him over on his back and he said get up but the man thought to be Larry made no answer. The pub owner, Pat Whelan said he was dead and he rushed from behind the bar. Jim said that nobody tried to help or said anything about going for the priest or doctor. Larry then woke up and confronted Ned about money he had stolen. Ned claimed he hadn’t stolen the money despite having bought numerous drinks with it. Larry continued to press Ned, so Ned grabbed him, beat Larry senseless and then put his leg in front of him and threw him over it.
Jim said Larry had hit his head again and was in really bad shape. People in the pub began to panic and Ned Morrissey said that they would take Larry away and no-one would know about it. Jim said that the two Cops, the whole Whelan family, Ned Morrissey, and three other put the body in a car and drove away, and that Officer Dullea took away Larry's bicycle saying he would leave it on the road somewhere. He did not know where they put the body but thought that they planned to drop it down a mine shaft.
Jim’s story was supported by some witnesses but deeply denied by others. All were, however, in agreement about the fight between Larry and Ned that took place. Many of the witnesses were, however, changing their stories as time went on. Jim Fitzgerald then asked to placed in protective custody.
On the morning of the January 24th, police arrested Ned Morrissey and Thomas Cashin (owner of the car that Larry’s body had allegedly been placed in the trunk of) They were charged with the murder of Larry Griffin, disposing of a body with intent to obstruct a coroner's inquest, and of taking away a postbag and postman's cap, property of the postmaster general.
Two days later, on January 26th, Three more people in the pub the night of the dissaperence, Patrick Whelan, George Cummins and Patrick Cunningham were arrested and charged with murder. Next to be arrested were three of the Whelan family members.
Soon after, Officer Dullea and his fellow officer, Officer Murphy were arrested and charged.
On the 7th February, a preliminary hearing was held at Waterford courthouse.
Jim Fitzgerald was called to give evidence, but now told a very different story to what he had said in to O’Mara in his statement of the 23rd January. He said that he, Tommy Corbett and two other men were outside Whelans and had drink handed out to them there, that he then went on to a different, pub, O' Reillys, and after that to play cards. He said he then went back and stood outside Whelans for a while and then went home. When the prosecuting lawyer challenged him about the difference between his statement and what he was saying now, he said that he "may have told some lies in it". When questioned further he said he could not say which part was true and which was lies. The judge also questioned him but got no further answers. The prosecutors case heavily relied on Jim’s statement and was now in deep trouble.
The prosecution could not hold the suspects in custody much longer and was becoming desperate. Lawyers continued to interview suspects and witnesses from Stradbally but no one was giving believable stories and everyone gave conflicting evidence.
By March 1st, no new evidence had been produced, but the prosecution insisted that they were close to finding Larry's body. The judge told the prosecution that they could keep the defendants in custody for one more week.
On March 7, the prosecuting counsel had not found any new evidence charges were withdrawn. The defendants were released. There was an outburst of cheering from their friends and supporters who had gathered outside the courthouse..
That was the last time anyone appeared in court charged with criminal offences with respect to the disappearance of Larry Griffin.
What happened to the people involved
The Griffin family
Mary Griffin's distress at the loss of her husband was compounded by the failure to find out what had happened to him, and to be unable to bury him. In addition, the household lost its income, though a fund was set up which raised over £200 for the family. There was a huge response to the appeal, especially from post office staff all over Ireland, but very few contributions from Stradbally itself. Her son, Jack set up a garage in Kilmacthomas in 1932, her daughter Bridie married and returned to Ireland to live in Mayo. Tragically, her daughter Alice died of pneumonia in 1933. Mary died in 1958, and is buried in the family plot. Larry is commemorated on the headstone. The surviving family members still hope that Larry's body will be found so that he can finally be buried with his wife.
Jim Fitzgerald returned to Stradbally in a Garda car after his appearance in court on the 7th February.
Superintendent Hunt, another Garda who had been brought into the investigation, reported that he had interviewed Jim after the collapse of the prosecution case, and said that Jim was terrified, that he had been threatened repeatedly and could not obtain any work. Hunt organised for him to be employed by a farmer in Galway. Jim left Stradbally in March 1930. Hunt interviewed Jim Fitzgerald again in Galway. He now said that he had been in Whelans between 7:30 and 8pm on Christmas night. He said that he saw Garda Dullea and Larry Griffin there at about 8pm. He left Whelans shortly afterward, met up with Tommy Corbett, and Patrick Cunningham who was one of the people charged with the murder of Larry Griffin. They moved on to O'Reilly's pub, and after that to "The Hall" where the row between Tommy Corbett and another man happened. After that he went home with Tommy Corbett, while Patrick Cunningham went off in a different direction. Jim Fitzgerald now told Hunt that he had got the story about Larry's death from Tommy Corbett who had heard it from Patrick Cunningham, his employer. Cunningham had gone on to Whelans on Christmas night and witnessed the events there. :178–181
A home for the elderly poor in Waterford has records showing that Jim Fitzgerald entered the home in 1945. It gives details of his parents, his place of birth and death and his pension book number. In the Observation section, it says "no friends". He died there in 1961. :273–4
Tommy Corbett (Driver)
He and his family remained in the cottage where JIm Fitzgerald had taken them in. Tommy spent some time working in England. He bought the cottage in 1965, and died in 1968. :275
At the time of Larry's disappearance, the Whelans were in rent arrears with their landlord, and had been successfully sued by one of their suppliers for non-payment for goods supplied. . They were able to keep the business afloat with the money they made from the various libel actions that they won and also with a loan from Thomas Cashin.
Patrick died in 1946, and his wife Bridget in 1961. His son, James inherited the pub, and when he died in 1997, his son took it over and still runs it. Nora died in 1987, and Cissie in 2004.