Forensic Archaeology and the use of data paradigms in the search for concealed victims of homicide in the Republic of Ireland

  • Niamh McCullagh

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The goal of the research in this thesis is to improve on the search practices for missing people who are believed to have come to harm and to do this through the extension of the forensic archaeological search approach to include statistics on homicides. This research is based on the theory that the analysis of primary data in relation to previous cases will contribute to the development of a decision support system to be used in the early stages of the search and investigation process. This data based approach has the potential to significantly improve upon the current methods by which we search for missing persons and thus increase the number of missing homicide victims who are found and enhance the associated evidence that can lead to convictions.

The thesis begins by examining the background literature on the theories that underpin the approach adopted in the research. It looks at a number of fields of study including forensic archaeology, search theory, environmental criminology and criminal spatial analysis. It goes on present the context of homicide and missing persons in Ireland, through a detailed consideration of the relevant literature and available data on homicide in Ireland.

Research for this thesis involved the creation of a database drawn from over 5,000 files in the Office of the State Pathologist of Ireland. This produced 178 relevant disposal homicide cases. Location data was shared by An Garda Síochána for 61 of these cases. The results of the analysis show distinct patterns by sex of victim in terms of cause of death, distances travelled to disposal site, distances between victim and offender addresses and the concentration of cases on a geographical basis in the country. The thesis goes on to consider in more detail case administration, demography of victim and offender, disposal details and spatial data relating to such disposals. This creates a capacity to develop data based search strategies that should allow for informed decision in the search for missing persons who are presumed to have been victims of homicide. It is the premise of this study that this approach will allow for search areas to be prioritised within landscapes and that resources can then be directed accordingly.

Currently, the e-thesis is heavily redacted until December 2025. This is for reasons of confidentiality and sensitivity. This redaction will be subject to a review decision in 5 years.

Date of AwardDec 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SponsorsNorthern Ireland Department for the Economy
SupervisorJennifer McKinley (Supervisor) & Alastair Ruffell (Supervisor)

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