Frank McCann – the swimming coach who killed his wife and child to hide a dirty secret

While awaiting a verdict, Frank McCann sat in the courtroom, engrossed in a book about “the perfect murder.”

he book, Total Eclipse, has been described as “engrossing” and “spooky,” which could easily be tied to McCann’s own story.

He had played the role of a distraught husband himself as he tried to get away with the murder of his wife Ester and the 18-month-old child they were planning to adopt.

But as the evidence of what happened on September 4, 1992 became clearer, his own story began to crystallize Irish Independent Headline: “A floating superstar and caring dad, but really a monster.”

In this week observed McCann on the streets of Dublin after serving almost 30 years for double murder.

He’s set to be paroled later this year, scaring Esther’s family, who believe he’s “an actor and a manipulator until something doesn’t go his way.”

The main names in this article are not the household names. They are Esther and Jessica McCann, who will be dead for 30 years next month. But other names include George Gibney, Derry O’Rourke and Father Michael Cleary.

Frank McCann was a high achiever in Irish swimming circles who valued his reputation more than the lives of his wife and child.

The month before the fire at his family home in Rathfarnham was a busy time for the landlord.

In June 1992 he was a senior official on an international swimming trip to Florida ahead of the Barcelona Olympics. The team included top athletes Gary O’Toole and Michelle Smith.

At home, he and Esther were trying to officially adopt his sister Jeanette’s child.


Innkeeper Frank McCann is led away from Central Criminal Court after being found guilty of the murders of Ester and Jessica McCann. Photo: Independent Newspapers Ireland/NLI Collection

Journal entries show how Esther had helped care for Jeanette in the final weeks of pregnancy and was in Coombe when Jessica was born.

It seemed like the ideal solution for the couple who desperately wanted a child and for the single mother who still wanted to see her daughter grow up.

“We were thrilled and a little concerned that Jeanette might have made her decisions too quickly. However, she felt that this was the best possible arrangement for you and that she was confident that we would be good parents to you,” Esther wrote at the time.

But unbeknownst to Esther, the adoption process would bring a secret to the surface.

Her husband had fathered a child with a 17-year-old special needs swimmer, and this baby, born just three months after Frank and Esther’s wedding, had been adopted with the help of Father Michael Cleary.

The cleric later told Esther’s family that he used them as leverage to get financial help for the teenager.

When someone known to the teenage swimmer learned that McCann was planning to adopt Jessica, they reported his secret to authorities, knowing it would cast doubt on his personality and suitability as a father.

Esther noticed delays in applying for adoption, but died before she found out the truth.

She was also unaware of the sexual abuse scandals that would unfold in connection with George Gibney and Derry O’Rourke, whom she would have welcomed into her home on occasion.

One of Gibney’s young victims has since recalled meeting with McCann, in his role as president of Leinster Swimming, to raise concerns.

“He said he was ‘hoping to fuck’ that it wouldn’t break while he was president,” the victim said.

In 1993, Gibney was charged with 27 counts of indecent assault and unlawful carnal knowledge, but left the country and never served time in prison.


Esther, wife of Frank McCann, his niece also Esther and baby Jessica. Photo: Independent Newspapers Ireland/NLI Collection

Derry O’Rourke was serving nine years of a 12-year sentence for a series of sexually assaulting girls as young as 10.

At the time of the fire, McCann was reportedly having a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old girl.

In the fall of 1992, Esther was concerned about how long it was taking the adoption committee to make a decision. She called repeatedly for updates and finally got an appointment for September 7 to discuss the case.

Esther told her sister that she planned to argue with Frank over inexplicable delays. He knew the net was closing in on his double life, but rather than risk public humiliation, he plotted an assassination.

Three days before the appointment, he set up a gas bottle and a blowtorch at the house on Butterfield Avenue and went to work at his pub in Blessington.

The lifeless toddler still had his pacifier in his mouth when the fire department came to her. Esther was found on the landing trying unsuccessfully to reach Jessica. McCann arrived at the scene and perfectly played the role of a worried husband.

During the Garda investigation, McCann attempted to frame someone with a personal vendetta against him or even his wife, who he claimed may have been smoking in the house and starting the fire.

In the run-up to the murders, he had concocted a series of false threats against him, smearing his pub with paint that read, “Burn, you bastard.”

It turns out he had made three other unsuccessful attempts to kill her, including one where the brakes on Esther’s car failed.

Jeannette’s friend never saw his child, but he brought a wreath to her funeral. Apparently, at McCann’s request, he was asked to go to the back of the church.


Ester McCann’s extended family in court. Photo: Independent Newspapers Ireland/NLI Collection

McCann was arrested and charged in April 1993. His first trial was stayed when he set himself on fire with a bottle of cologne in the courthouse.

The second trial took place in 1996, in which McCann was found guilty and sentenced to two concurrent life terms.
The headline on the front of the Irish Independent on August 16, 1996 read: “Life for heartless fireball killers”.

Throughout the decades, Esther McCann’s family have always dreaded the day of his release.

This week we photographed McCann, 62, walking alone and unsupervised from Mountjoy Prison to a charity-run training center in downtown south, where he is said to be taking a course to help people with a criminal conviction.

“He’s a cold-blooded killer. How he is allowed to walk through the streets of the city is incomprehensible. He’s not even tagged. He was sentenced to life in prison, and a life sentence seems appropriate for anyone who has killed a child,” said Esther’s sister, Marian Leonard.

“He looks strong and fit. It is frightening. It’s like he was in a time warp. We’ve all aged but he looks like he just came out of a gym,” she added.


Esther McCann with niece Esther and Frank McCann. Photo: Independent Newspapers Ireland/NLI Collection

McCann is understood to be due before the parole board later this year and his final release is near.

But Marian Leonard and her daughter, also named Esther, have said they believe he should never be released.

Esther said she feels nervous about being in town now that McCann has been given more freedom.

“I am nervous. I look over my shoulder. I’ve now started restricting my movements with my friends around town,” she said.

One morning this week, McCann left Mountjoy Morning in shorts, a T-shirt and a light jacket and strolled past the Mater Hospital and through a network of north-central streets that took him past the Garden of Remembrance and onto O’Connel Street.

No one recognized him as the double killer whose actions rocked the country nearly three decades ago.

He then spent nine hours at the training center before taking a slightly different route back to prison.

When approaching He refused to answer questions about his plans when he was released and if he had any regrets.
McCann spent much of his life sentence in Arbor Hill Jail, where he gradually gained more freedoms, e.g. B. Permission to work in the gardens and to clean the officers’ areas.

In March last year he was transferred to the Progression Unit in Mountjoy and although this was seen as another step towards his release, McCann was not happy about the move and barricaded himself in his cell.

“We’ve been told he’s a model prisoner but has been shown to become unpredictable and show his true colors when something upsets him. He’s an actor and a manipulator until something doesn’t go his way,” Marian said.

The last entry in Esther McCann’s diary was made exactly 30 years ago today, on July 30, 1992.

It read: “My dear daughter Jessica, you have grown and become a beautiful child. You’ve been going for a little over a week now and have given up clinging to the wall in search of your own slice of independence. A cup of tea and a daisy with constant talk of daddy, oh mammy and mammy’s baby. Lots of talking and every day brings new joys of all kinds…” Frank McCann – the swimming coach who killed his wife and child to hide a dirty secret

Fry Electronics Team

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