Philip Cairns disappeared while walking to school 34 years ago, recently his family are once again appealing for information that will lead to the solving of one of Irelands most well known mysteries
Philip Cairns disappeared in 1986 while walking back to school in South Dublin, his case remains one of the most high profile mysteries and criminal cases in Ireland. The case has often been spoken of as being similar to the disappearance of Madeleine McCann and Ben Needham. His family are once again seeking information from the Irish public that may finally resolve this case for them.
Philip was just 13 in 1986, 1 of 6 children in his family, on October 23rd he had walked home as he often did from his school in Rathfarnham in Dublin for lunch around 12:45pm to his home on nearby Ballyroan Road. He left his home to return to Colaiste Eanna Secondary School around 1:30pm, this was the last time he was seen.
The Irish Police or ‘Gardaí’ were notified quickly about the missing boy and a vast search began in the surrounding area. Several hundred members of the force searched rivers, lakes and mountains around Dublin without success and local searches along the route Philip had been known to walk to school proved fruitless.
The day after his disappearance the Gardaí were informed that a rumour had been going around the school that Philip was lured into a van by a bad man with sweets but no evidence of this could be found. The authorities later interviewed many of the school children during the Mid-Term break that began the following week.
Unusual for most high profile Irish Police investigations the Gardaí made use of many psychics and clairvoyants. Common in the United States but almost unheard of in Ireland before this case, Philip’s photo was circulated by milk companies. None of this lead to any useful leads in the case.
The School Bag
The most important discovery in the investigation came just six days into the investigation when two school girls passing an alleyway near Philips house found his school bag lying there.
The laneway had already been searched repeatedly by Gardaí and local volunteers so the authorities believed it had been placed there by Philip’s abductor likely just before it was discovered after the searches had been completed. This for the first time proved a likelihood that foul play was involved in his disappearance.
Forensic studies were carried out on the bag at the time but found nothing of use to the investigation. Philip’s belongings were found inside including his pens, pencils, school books and notebooks. Unusually Philip’s geography book and both of his religion books were missing from the bag, the significance of this if any has never been determined.
The bag was sealed once the forensic investigation was completed and has remained locked in a Garda safe ever since.
Gardaí recieved hundreds of reports of sightings of Philip from around the world including the U.S., UK and Australia. All of these were investigated and proved not to be the missing boy.
Philip’s Parents regularly appeared in the years since on Irish National Television appealing for information in the case.
The Gardaí have carried out many searches of property across Ireland in the years since, often without informing the media until the searches are already finished and rarely speaking of what if anything was found in these searches.
A special mass was held on the 20th anniversary of Philip’s disappearance. The following year in 2007 a reconstruction was carried out of the disappearance for the Irish Crimecall television show, Crimestoppers also announced they were offering €10,000 for information in the case. The Gardaí referred to the response at the time as ‘tremendous’.
Many theories have been advanced by the media over the years, most have been discounted by investigating authorities as being without merit or evidence.
Early in the investigation many believed that Philip had been knocked down by a vehicle while walking back to school and the driver had chosen not to come forward and removed Philip from the area.
Supporting this has been the fact no similar crimes or disappearances occurred at the time and the placement of Philip’s school bag near his home may have been done out of guilt to return it to the family.
The Gardaí have never supported the accident theory.
Foul Play has always been the likely scenario supported by authorities, whether the intention had been to kill Philip or not the Gardaí believe he is dead.
Over the years since his disappearance many have come forward claiming relatives or people known to them may have been responsible. These included a local woman who told Gardaí that her partner at the time, alleged to be a Paedophile had abducted and killed Philip. No evidence was found to support these claims and many have been publicly declared false allegations.
In 2009 an elderly woman living in Dublin told the Gardaí that her boyfriend at the time Philip disappeared had killed him and buried him at two locations in South Dublin. These locations, a wooded area near a golf course next to the M50 motorway and another area 50 metres away from it were searched meticulously with the help of geo physicists and specialised ground penetrating scanners that were brought in after all vegetation was cleared away, nothing was found.
The unnamed man the woman identified as being responsible is now a pensioner living in Rathfarnham and Gardaí have said no charges can be brought against him without evidence.
Known as ‘Captain Eamonn’, Eamoon Cooke is a former Pirate Radio host, career criminal and convicted Paedophile. He assumed control of the decade-old Pirate radio station ‘Radio Dublin’ in 1977 having previously worked there as an engineer.
He continued to run the station until 2003 despite multiple raids by the authorities. He possesses multiple criminal convictions including a rumoured conviction as a teenager for bombing a monument in Glasnevin Cemetery.
In 1957 he pleaded guilty to having opened fire with a handgun at responding Gardaí during the robbery of a Petrol Station near Bray. In 1978 he was convicted for breaches of the wire telegraphy act and fined £35.
In 1986 Cooke was convicted of arson and assault in relation to a fire bombing he and four others perpetrated in 1984. For this he recieved a 4 year suspended sentence.
In 2001 he was sentenced to 6 months for dangerous driving in relation to a car chase he became involved in while driving in the Dublin mountains. He also recieved a 21 day sentence for contempt of court.
In 2003 he was brought to trial for the first time in relation to his paedophile activities when he was charged with rape and sexual assault of 4 under age girls. He was convicted but this was quashed in 2006 on a technicality and he was released.
In 2007 Cooke was brought to trial again on sexual crimes dating back to the 1970’s, several of the previous girls who he had reportedly assaulted stood witness in the court. Gardaí testified to several cases of witness intimidation and arson carried out by Cooke against his accusers and he was found guilty and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Eamonn Cooke was considered a suspect in the disappearance of Philip Cairns when a woman who had known him at the time came forward in 2016. This woman alleged that Cooke had murdered Philip at the Radio Dublin studio on the day of his disappearance having lured the boy there. The Gardaí considered the information credible and interviewed Cooke who was at the time stating in a hospice due to declining health.
Gardaí later stated that Cooke had confirmed many of the details that the woman had alleged but stopped short of admitting the crime or telling them where Philips remains were. He was suffering with dementia at the time and many dont believe his statements were credible.
Eamonn Cooke died in June 2016 and has never been publicly named as the perpetrator in the disappearance of Philip Cairns while he does remain a suspect. He was considered unlikely to have been involved when his DNA didnt match DNA taken from the school bag.
Various other theories have been put forward by the Media, Authors and Crime Journalists. These range from Satanists, Paedophile Rings, Global Human Traffickers and connections to other unsolved Irish deaths and disappearances.
Philip’s father died in 2014 and in recent years Philip’s older sisters have become the family spokespeople in the case. On September 13th 2020 his Sister issued a fresh appeal for information and spoke of distressing phone calls the family continue to receive in the case. It was also announced that a new documentary had been made by the Irish Broadcaster RTE to reexamine the Garda investigation and the evidence in the case.
The case at the time shook Irish culture to its core, the disappearance which occurred in a busy area in broad daylight prompted a shift in the way Irish people went about their daily lives and lead to widespread fear at the time of further abductions though this didnt happen.
The Gardaí still want to identify two people seen in the laneway just prior to Philip’s School bag being recovered.
What is your opinion of this case? Do you believe the perpetrator will ever be caught or that theories around the case are close to the truth?