Michael Walsh: Mystery of a ‘gentle soul’ who helped the homeless

Michael Walsh
Michael Walsh

GENTLE, good-natured, totally honest and a free spirit.

Those are just some of the words family members used to describe Michael Walsh, who was arrested by police in 1985 and never seen alive again.

Michael Walsh

Michael Walsh

Earlier this month an inquest recorded an open verdict into Mr Walsh’s death, but his family called for a comprehensive investigation.

A police report written three years after his disappearance recorded that Mr Walsh, known to family and friends as Mikeen, was last seen by officers when he was released from Milton Keynes Police Station on Christmas Day 1985.

It said he had been arrested the previous night for breach of the peace and, after being freed in the early hours of the morning, was re-arrested, charged with criminal damage and eventually released again.

These details are only found in a document produced by Detective Inspector Phil Burrows in 1988, with police maintaining that none of the contemporaneous custody records relating to Mr Walsh’s arrests can be found.

Mr Walsh was never seen alive again and a year later the lower half of his badly decomposed body was found in the River Great Ouse at Olney.

At that time the body could not been identified and was buried in an unmarked grave at Fenny Stratford Cemetery. It was only earlier this year when the body was exhumed that extensive DNA testing revealed that it was Mr Walsh’s body.

This week Mr Walsh’s siblings spoke about the brother they had lost.

Older sister Kathleen Walsh Lennon told the Citizen how she had helped raise him as a baby, while twin brother Frank Walsh said while they worked in New York Mikeen had taken in people off the street, clothing them and giving them money.

And brother PJ Walsh insisted there is no way Mikeen would have committed suicide – something hinted at in the report by Mr Burrows.

They spoke of a man who loved music, art and the countryside; and who scorned ‘book learning,’ instead embracing an ‘each day as it comes’ ethos.

Michael John Walsh was born in 1958 in County Longford, Ireland as one of eight children; five boys – PJ, Eddie, Richie, Frank and himself – and three girls, Kathleen, Anne and Mary.

Kathleen remembers looking after Mikeen as a baby – ‘a quiet, good child, no problem to look after’ – and saw him grow into a ‘very gentle soul, who never offended anyone’.

At 16 he went to work in America, staying in Queens in New York and working on construction and maintenance jobs, and as a janitor, in Manhattan.

Four of the Walsh boys headed out to the Big Apple, escaping the poor job market in Ireland.

Mikeen returned briefly in 1975, just before his mother died, before heading back again.

Frank revealed how his twin used to help out homeless people: “Mikeen was the most good-natured person I’ve had the pleasure of knowing.

“When we lived in New York he helped many homeless people not just in monetary terms, but by taking them home, cleaning them up and somehow managing to provide them with a head start in life again.

“Although his efforts were not always successful, he never stopped trying.”

And PJ added: “He was a free spirit. Totally honest, very direct – he called a spade, a spade.

“At times he was courageous to the point of foolishness if there was anything he didn’t think was right.

“He was a creative man; a very, very good artist and musician.

“He was kind of fearless and free, very gentle in a lot of ways. He liked the country and the simple things.

“Mikeen had as much fondness for the rain as he did the sun.

“He wasn’t much of an advance planner and took life as it came.

“He didn’t believe a superior education gave you a better life, but he would surprise you with some of the statements he would come out with.”

But the gaps in Mikeen’s final moments and the missing police documents – including, bizarrely, the loss of a policy document relating to the retention of custody records – have made the family determined to piece the puzzle together.

“I can’t understand why they can’t find his records,” Kathleen said.

It is a sentiment echoed by the whole family.

“It is inconceivable that all the policies of the time are untraceable,” said PJ.

“It was only 25 years ago and it doesn’t make sense”.

“He would never have committed suicide or looked for the easy way out.”.

Mikeen returned to Ireland in 1978 and eventually moved to Milton Keynes in 1983. Just two years later he was dead in mysterious circumstances.

But it wasn’t until April this year, when the family heard the result of the fresh DNA testing, that they knew for sure he was gone.

Kathleen said: “Anyone who knew him in America or Ireland loved him.

“I didn’t believe he was dead until I saw the DNA results. That was a massive knock. Everyone said he was dead, but I couldn’t see it.

“The day I went to the cremation was the worst day. It was new to me.

I hadn’t prayed for him and couldn’t say it was him before.

“To me, he died in April. My main aim was to get him home and buried with his parents.”

And Frank called on the police officers who arrested him or other detainees who may have seen him at the police station to come forward.

He said: “If such a person is out there we would be grateful for any help in giving us closure.

“We simply want answers, a proper investigation into the circumstances of Mikeen’s disappearance and death when he had last been seen in police custody.”

After the inquest a police spokesman said the investigation would go on, adding: “Efforts have been made to address a number of questions that have been posed by the Walsh family, and we will continue to assist where possible in answering these.”

> Anyone with any information about the disappearance of Michael Walsh should contact his twin brother Frank on 003538 72025575.