The Magic Disappearing Coat
One of my most popular posts on Crime Guy about Ian Bailey's coat after the killing of Sophie Toscan du Plantier in West Cork, Ireland.
Is the coat black? Everyone says it was dark and nobody disagrees. To some, the coat is normal length for a man's overcoat, around the knees. Others say it is down to the ankles, which makes it a woman's coat, doesn't it? Or a very peculiar style of thing for keeping a man dry, like a raincoat or a fisherman's cape, perhaps shiny plastic. Some say they saw the coat in a bucket in a shower, others, and sometimes it is the same person, says she saw the coat in a bath - but on that occasion, it might not have been a coat but it was definitely dark fabric that was likely clothing. Some say it was bleached, but wouldn't that have taken away some or all of the colour? You couldn't have worn it again after that, could you? And certainly not in public on one of the most important social events of the whole year?
There is an article on the official Woolmark website describing the best ways to remove various stains. The word bleach is not on that page. The word blood is on the page, though, and the recommendation is white vinegar followed by normal detergent. The only reason people think the coat was bleached is because a bottle of beach was bought at the creamery on Christmas Eve. However, it was bought with several other reasonable household items at the same time. Anyway, I can tell you I would have been bleaching my murdering coat like a mad bugger the second I got home, not waiting another day.
Why would anyone have waited over 24 more hours before trying to get the blood out of the coat? Not many people know that in the Prairie cottage that Christmas in 1996, there were eight people staying. There was Ian Bailey, Jules Thomas plus her three daughters, plus their friends Dillon and Ronan and even one of their friends from Europe over as a guest for Christmas, Arianna.
It seems unlikely therefore that someone staying at that house who had just carried out an unusually brutal murder would bring any clothing back into that environment. The other house owned by Jules Thomas, often called The Studio, was around 150 metres away on a different plot of land. It would have been logical to place all of the dirty clothes at that unoccupied property, and most likely outside.
Two witnesses claim there was a bonfire outside the back of The Studio on Boxing Day 1996, but the dates are disputed and anyway, it might not matter. The date only matters if the coat was thrown onto that fire, and there is proof that it was not.
There is a video of Ian Bailey on Christmas Day, wearing his trademark hat with the long dark coat. You can't really see his hands on the tape, because the person making the video didn't notice anything odd about them at the time, but you can see the coat. You can also see he is missing a prominent front tooth, but nobody has ever mentioned this tooth in any witness statement. Bailey isn't making efforts to conceal his hands because you can see them at times and they're not in his pockets, although it was cold. The hands are important, like the coat, because whether there were scratches and if so, when they were received, and what caused them, are all hotly debated.
Other testimony supporting the fact that the coat was never soiled or burned? Garda Kevin Kelleher saw Ian Bailey carrying a bottle of wine in the small hours of New Year's Eve, 31st December 1996. At that time, Bailey was wearing the coat again.
The coat presents logistical difficulties if it was worn during the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier. If it was worn, with its long, thick sleeves, how could the killer have received lots of cuts and scratches up to his elbows? On the other hand, if it wasn't worn during the attack, where did the killer find the composure to remove the coat on a freezing night, just before carrying out a frenzied, red mist attack? And where are all the other clothes that were worn? Those clothes would have been covered in blood and dirt. Why were they not seen soaking somewhere? Do you remember the statement of Garda Liam Hogan? This is someone who seriously suggested the killer stripped naked before carrying out an uncontrolled, manic attack in the middle of the night. Presumably the killer then took a shower or swam in the river before carefully getting dressed and going home. And if he was a naked killer, wouldn't he have scratches on more than just his arms?
If the man in the long dark coat was Bailey, why was he seen walking away from Sophie's cottage and away from the Prairie, towards Goleen? Bailey has no particular connection to Goleen and would not be in the mood for a relaxing hike. He would be obsessed with getting home to clean off.
All the observations about buying bleach at the creamery on Christmas Eve are also therefore irrelevant. Bleach damages clothing if it is used undiluted. It also has a distinctive smell. Witnesses who saw clothes soaking at the Prairie never mention the trademark stink of bleach in the air. And of course, if bleach is diluted, it is less effective. In a mad panic, desperate to dispose of evidence, you would not wait 24 hours and you would not experiment with different concentrations of bleach, would you? You would use as much of it as you could lay your hands on, as quickly as possible. A litre or two will not fill a bath or even a small bucket. Bleach stains dark clothing. In the words of the Taoiseach, Micheál Martin, this murder “...is a terrible stain in terms of our country, in terms of what happened to a person of great substance, who loved her visits to west Cork. It is incomprehensible what happened on that perfect evening."
We know the coat was never in fact burned because the police bagged it with lots of other clothing as evidence on 10th February 1997 while other police officers interviewed Bailey at the police station. Nobody has ever seen any of those items again. Think what evidence there might have been on those clothes. Although, of course, it might be that there was no evidence on them at all. The only logical thing for the police to do, if they couldn't tie any of Bailey's clothes to the murder, was to lose them. Funny, because that is exactly what happened. And not much more than that is documented fact.