Sentenced to Death: Saved from the Gallows


Colm Wallace has written a book “Sentenced to Death: Saved from the Gallows” about thirty Irish men and women who had the death penalty imposed on them between 1922 and 1985.

Here’s his guest blog post on one of the cases:

By February William O’Shea had been married to his wife Maureen for three years, although he was aged just 24 and she was 21. At this point the couple were blessed with a baby girl, the young family living together in a nice cottage in Ballyhane, outside Cappoquin. Instead of being at the start of a happy matrimony and enjoying parenthood however, O’Shea seemed to resent his wife. She, in turn, was afraid of him.

William O’Shea may not have been a devoted husband but he did earn a living by working for Waterford County Council doing odd jobs and was also considered good at trapping rabbits. It was early 1943 that he had begun to spend a lot of time with a 17-year old local youth by the name of Thomas White, despite the significant age gap. White, who it would be later ascertained was mentally subnormal, frequented the O’Shea household and Maureen did not approve of the amount of time he and her husband spent together.

On 22 February, Thomas White came to the O’Shea household to enquire about a pair of shoes. William was absent from the house so White conversed with his wife, before leaving several minutes later. The young mother then went to bed with her young infant and was on the verge of sleep when she smelled the unmistakable odour of smoke. The thatch of the cottage had suddenly gone up in flames and the occupants made a hasty exit.

Maureen and the child were fortunate to escape with their lives. The young bride’s family did not, however, believe that the fire was a terrible accident. Maureen had already begun to think that O’Shea and White had ideas about killing her and had informed her family of her suspicions. Maureen’s stepfather even accosted William O’Shea, insisting that the fire had not been accidental. O’Shea did not respond but his wife tellingly remarked “Oh well, they want to get rid of me, and the baby, and I suppose they will get me yet.”

William O’Shea and his wife were forced to live in O’Shea’s mother’s house after the fire had made their cottage uninhabitable. On 15 March, three weeks after the blaze, O’Shea returned home from work at 6pm as was his normal routine.

After dinner, he uncharacteristically invited his wife on an evening stroll. She agreed and the pair left the house. As they were walking arm-in-arm in Knockyoolahan, a townland close to their home, a shot rang out without warning.

Maureen slumped to the ground. The gun, a firearms expert would later testify, was only a couple of inches behind the unfortunate woman when the shot had been fired. Instead of staying with his dying wife, William O’Shea left her lying on the road and ran to his mother’s house. He was in the house for several minutes without mentioning the horrific incident that had just occurred.

Finally when his mother inquired as to Maureen’s whereabouts he told her that his wife had been shot. When asked why by his panicked mother he hadn’t stayed by her side, O’Shea replied “I couldn’t bear it.”

 By the time she was discovered it was too late, the Maureen O’Shea having died from the shotgun wound. When the deceased woman’s family were informed about the tragedy they were far from being sympathetic, the stepfather openly voicing his suspicions. He said accusingly to O’Shea “You were after spilling blood tonight, my boy,” O’Shea reacted by jumping from his chair and saying “Do you think I shot her?” He made no denial of the charge, however. The Gardaí were quick to act on the suspicion. Later that night, they went to the house were Thomas White was staying and discovered a shotgun under the bed.

On 16th March O’Shea was summoned to the station in Cappoquin. Almost immediately he complained bitterly about his recently deceased betrothed: “My wife has been at me since about the first week of our marriage. Anybody that used to come in she used to be fighting with them”. 

Later in the statement he admitted that White burned his house. “White said that he would do it, but I was not sure he would. He told me he set fire to the back of the thatch…he was disappointed she had not been caught in it.” O’Shea also knew that White had fired the fatal shot. He said in his statement that White had said “If we could get a cartridge we could shoot her…I knew it was Tommy White that had fired the shot because we had arranged that he do it.” O’Shea went on to confess that when he felt his wife going down he whispered an act of contrition gently in her ear. In a later statement, O’Shea admitted that White had told him that the signal he was about to shoot Maureen would be a tap on the shoulder.

O’Shea and White were tried jointly, the case beginning in Green Street, Dublin, on 7 June. Thomas White’s counsel immediately asked if the jury could rule on the sanity of their client, the judge granting their request.

Dr. John Dunne of Grangegorman Mental Hospital told the court that he been examining White in Mountjoy. His conclusion was that the prisoner was suffering from a mental deficiency and that he would be unable to follow the proceedings of the court. The jury retired for ten minutes before returning with a verdict of “not sane.” White was not fit to face the court and instead would be detained at the government’s pleasure. O’Shea thus faced trial for the murder of his wife alone.

O’Shea had already confessed to conspiracy to murder. However, he sensationally withdrew his statement before the court case, complaining, “I never arranged to have my wife shot. I don’t even remember saying that. That is all I have to say”. 

A crowd gathers outside Mountjoy Prison on O'Shea's execution day.
A crowd gathers outside Mountjoy Prison on O’Shea’s execution day.

The defence Solicitor Mr Nolan-Whelan said that there was no evidence to suggest a conspiracy between O’Shea and White. O’Shea had no drinking problem and no motive. “A man does not murder his wife without a motive, unless he is insane,” continued the solicitor. He also declared that the statement made by his client was involuntary and made under duress. They also stated that there was a case for an insanity, one doctor declaring that O’Shea’s mental age was about seven years. The prosecution disagreed and contended that he was acting simply to fool the jury into declaring him unfit to stand trial.

After the evidence the jury were given their chance to decide the truth. They needed fifty-five minutes to decide that the defendant was guilty of murder. O’Shea was visibly trembling and did not reply when asked if he anything to say. The judge told the jury he agreed thoroughly with their verdict before donning the black cap and sentencing O’Shea to be hanged. Several appeals were mounted against the sentence and the government cabinet of the day met to discuss a possible reprieve. In this case however, they chose to let justice run its course. Despite not firing a shot, William O’Shea was hanged in Mountjoy Prison on 12 August, 1943. He would be the only Waterford man to climb the scaffold in the history of Ireland’s independence.

The book Sentenced to Death: Saved by the Gallows is available on

 For more information see the author’s Facebook page

Thomas Quick: The Making of a Serial Killer


Review by A.R Muir


“Thomas Quick: The Making of a Serial Killer” is the English translation of Hannes Rastam’s Swedish true crime book “Fallen Thomas Quick [The Case of Thomas Quick]”. It chronicles the author’s own investigation of an 8-time convicted serial killer called Thomas Quick. In 1992 while spending time for armed robbery in a mental asylum, Quick announced to his doctors that he wanted to confess to the sexually motivated killing of an eleven-year-old boy. Then he admitted the killing of another teenage boy, then an Israeli tourist, and a Dutch couple vacationing in Sweden.


But his litany of horror did not stop there. Under the careful guidance of his therapists and the police, Quick continued to remember having committed more than thirty rape-murders in Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland. Eight of these murders were successfully brought to trial and Quick was sentenced to life in psychiatric confinement. He was thought to be Sweden’s most prolific serial killer.


There was only one problem as far as the journalist Hannes Rastam was concerned: Quick’s involvement in a number of these crimes seemed highly doubtful, even impossible. Throughout his exhaustive investigation, Rastam came to believe Quick has been wrongly convicted of ALL eight crimes. Rastam formed the opinion that Quick had in fact killed NOBODY, and his sentence was the largest miscarriage of justice in Swedish history. His book is a systematic and critical analyses of what went wrong in Quick’s psychiatric care and criminal trial. It contributed in a major part to every single conviction being overturned by the Swedish judicial system in 2012.


As a true crime book, Rastam’s work is above its game. But as a moral warning to the justice system (not just in Sweden) it is a standout triumph. Readers may be reminded of the recent release of the West Memphis Three, an American case that made headlines around the world for the deep questions raised about the justice system. There are a growing number of books on cases of injustice, and false confession, but Rastam’s book shoots straight to the top, and cannot be recommended highly enough.


This is one of the best true crime books of the year, and not to be missed. If readers can get passed the difficult Scandinavian spellings, it is well worth the effort. It goes without saying that readers are likely to find themselves more and more disgusted and outraged at the exploitation of this mentally disturbed patient, and the gleeful spree of opportunism exhibited by therapists, doctors and the police, not to mention Quick’s defence lawyer.

More true crime reviews by A.R. Muir can be read here at


Thomas Quick: The Making of a Serial Killer By: Hannes Rastam, Henning Koch (translator) and Elizabeth Day (introduction). Published in Sweden 2012 (English 2013)

Rimaru: Butcher of Bucharest



This book gives a fascinating insight into Romania in the 1960s and early 1970s. Not only is it about a brutal killer of women – Ion Rimaru – it’s also a bit of Communist Romanian history.

I love true crime books that are a blend of crime and history, and there are so many crimes from Europe and other parts of the world that I don’t know about.

Journalists Mike Phillips and Stejarel Olaru tell the story of Rimaru, who preyed on lone women in Bucharest and killed four women and almost murdered another six. He was executed hastily in 1971 but there was also speculation over his father Florea, who state police suspected of being an accomplice in the crimes.

I read this book over a few days while I was holiday last month. It kept my interest throughout. A good read.

Rimaru: Butcher of Bucharest is published by Profusion Crime.



The Kalinka Affair


The Kalinka Affair shows the lengths a parent will go for a child. In this case, the parent in question is Frenchman Andre Bamberski whose 14-year-old  daughter Kalinka died in 1982.  The story starts in 2009 with an abduction – of elderly Dr Dieter Krombach who was Kalinka’s stepfather at the time of her death and the person responsible.

Without ruining the plot for you, Bamberski is relentless in pursuing justice for his beloved daughter and undertook his own search for Krombach, who had been sentenced to 15 years prison in 1995 for the murder of Kalinka but had gone missing.

The Kalinka Affair is by Joshua Hammer, foreign correspondent and author and is published by The Atavist.

The Atavist is very cool, for those of you who have never heard of it. The Atavist published nonfiction stories by journalists that are longer than typical magazine articles but shorter than books for digital devices. When you purchase a title not only do you get the text but also “inline content” – audio book by the author, pictures, timelines, video – lots of value added stuff. It’s the story behind the story and I was so impressed with the experience.

The Kalinka Affair is available via The Atavist app (fully outfitted version) and for Kindle and Nook (full text and photos).

Blood on the Altar by Tobias Jones


In 1993, 16-year-old Italian girl Elisa Claps disappeared in a church. Blood on the Altar is the story of Elisa’s disappearance and her family’s relentless quest for justice and to find their beloved daughter and sister.

It is also the story of Heather Barnett – a 48-year-old mother brutally murdered in Bournemouth, England. Her death is linked to the disappearance of Elisa Claps.

The man linked to both the women – an oddball (extremely dangerous as it turns out) called Danilo Restivo (known as the ‘Barber of Potenza’ for his proclivity to snipping the hair from women while they sat on buses or at cafes) was protected by his influential family and, more alarmingly, the catholic church where Elisa was last seen with Restivo.

Journalist and author Tobias Jones’s book is fascinating – he built a relationship with the Claps family – in particular Elisa’s big brother Gildo – and communicates their appalling treatment at the hands of the Italian justice system and the catholic church. Jones is also clearly exasperated by the cover-ups and disgraceful treatment the family were given as they desperately sought the truth.

This story of  Elisa and Heather alone is enough to capture any true crime reader’s interest but Blood on the Altar is much more than the telling of a crime – Jones weaves in history and travelogue about the region Basilicata where Elisa Claps was born.  Jones spent several years living in Italy and was a columnist and correspondent for the Observer newspaper. His observations on Italian society give the reader a taste of how different the flow of life is there.

As a journalist, I was particularly gripped by the part where Jones (who had since moved back to England) was reading a local paper while on a visit to Dorset in 2002 (“…like any self-respecting journalist I usually pick up local papers…”) and there, in an article about the murder of Heather Barnett, was a photo of Restivo. (”I stared at the newspaper, unable to believe that a story that had started over a thousand miles away at the far end of Italy had followed me home to south-west England…”)

This story was clearly meant to be told by Jones.

Absolutely a recommended read. It’s so much more than a true crime book.

Blood on the Altar is published by Faber & Faber.

For more information on Tobias Jones go to

Here’s a short video of Jones talking about Blood on the Altar.