YESTERDAY (Tuesday) marked the 15th anniversary of the disappearance of Tullamore woman Fiona Pender.
Her family have put up posters with a different photo of Fiona on them in the hope of finding some information about how and why Fiona went missing.
Fiona has been missing from her home at Church Street, Tullamore, on August 22 1996. At that time she was 7 months pregnant and had spent the previous day shopping for baby clothes with her mother in Tullamore. She was in good form and was looking forward to the birth of her baby.
The disappearance of the popular hairdresser led to the largest Garda operation ever seen in the Tullamore area.
Air Corps helicopters searched over the Slieve Bloom mountains, while tracker dogs were also used in searching Offaly bogs.
Sub-aqua divers searched in the Grand Canal and the Tullamore River. Fiona’s friends in the UK, the United States, Germany and Italy were contacted, and the help of Interpol and London’s Metropolitan Police enlisted.
All maternity units in Ireland and Britain were notified, and posters placed in a wide range of locations in both countries.
Fiona and her boyfriend, John Thompson, had worked for a period at the Hilton Hotel at Croydon in south London, but this proved of no relevance to the disappearance.
The suffering of the Pender family was all the greater as Fiona’s brother Mark had died in a motorbike accident in 1995. Her father, Sean, died in tragic circumstances some years later.
John Thompson has consistently denied having any involvement with the disappearance. In 1997, on the first anniversary, he gave an exclusive interview to Offaly Express in which he rejected suggestions that he or his family were involved, and criticised the Garda operation.
He has stated that he left her on the morning of August 23 to go to work on the family farm between Killeigh and Mountmellick.
He also rejected suggestions that there was any hostility on the part of his father, Archie, (who is since deceased) or his sisters, towards Fiona.
It had been widely believed locally that there were problems relating to religious differences - Fiona was a Catholic, the Thompsons a Church of Ireland family - but the late Archie Thompson told the Offaly Express that he liked Fiona, that he had provided a site for land for a home for the couple, adding “I have to say, before God, I liked her.”
Mr Thompson also stated “All I wanted was that John would find a girl he was happy with and I couldn’t care less whether she was a Protestant or a Roman Catholic or no religion. I couldn’t care whether she was black or white.” The discovery of a small wooden cross in May 2008 with Fiona’s name on it in a wooded area in Moincknew in the Slieve Bloom Mountains proved to be a cruel hoax. After excavation Gardai failed to discover anything let alone human remains at the site.