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Cold case

A murder that haunts rural Ireland

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In December 1996 a 39-year-old French film-maker, Sophie Toscan du Plantier, was murdered on the south coast of Ireland. To understand this story, you need to understand the place, say Jennifer Forde and Sam Bungey in the podcast series West Cork. “You could reset or reinvent yourself” in this rugged, coastal area on the edge of Europe. “Maybe you were looking for something. Or maybe you were running from something.” The locals call the mysterious expats who settle there “blow-ins”.

One such blow-in was Ian Bailey, an English journalist who had moved to West Cork in 1991 and lived a few miles from the crime scene. He covered du Plantier’s case and the police claimed he was suspiciously well informed. Quickly he became a suspect and was arrested twice, but never charged. He has always denied any involvement and Irish prosecutors concluded there was insufficient evidence against him. Still, that doesn’t matter in West Cork, says one resident. Most people are innocent until proven guilty, but Bailey, now 63, will always be the opposite in the eyes of locals.

Did he do it? Bailey was convicted in absentia by a French court in 2019, but Forde and Bungey are unsure and elaborate theories abound. On her last day alive, du Plantier visited a dilapidated castle where locals say a ghost haunts the lake. Supposedly, anyone who sees the White Lady will die shortly after. That day the film-maker fled the castle, telling the landowners she’d seen something terrifying. A policeman would later say it was a shame the owners weren’t local – had they been, they would have known not to let someone who’d seen the White Lady walk home alone. It sounds absurd, says Bungey, but that’s what happens with unsolved crimes. “People try to make sense of it and decide on an ending for themselves.”

Listen to the series here.