Jozef Puska had been frustrated in his efforts at stalking women earlier that January afternoon as he cycled his Falcon Storm mountain bike with its distinctive green forks when he spotted Ashling Murphy walking alone up ahead. It was about 3.20pm on a cold but sunny January 12, and Ms Murphy had come to the canal for exercise after finishing her day’s teaching at Durrow National School. Puska dragged her down the steep ravine by the towpath and into the briars and thorns. He stabbed her 11 times in the neck and slashed her once with the edge of the blade.
Nobody other than Jozef Puska can know what brought about their first engagement, but the forensic evidence suggests he may have attacked her from behind — her wounds were all to the right side of her neck and Puska is right-handed. The evidence also shows that Ms Murphy fought back. She had cuts to her fingers that State Pathologist Dr SallyAnne Collis said could have been caused when she tried to protect herself from the knife and was caught by the blade. The wounds to her neck had destroyed her voice box so she could not call out but she kicked out with her legs and scratched at Puska’s skin, gouging out genetic material that would later be used to identify and help to convict her murderer.
Primary school teacher Jenna Stack was the last person, besides Jozef Puska, to see Ms Murphy alive. She told how she was running with her friend Aoife Marron along the canal when she noticed a luminous green bicycle in the hedgerow beside the towpath. She stopped, thinking somebody might have fallen off, and then heard a “rustling in the hedgerow”. She said: “It was like someone was struggling. I thought maybe someone fell off the bike and maybe they were in trouble.” Ms Stack stood out on the grass verge for a closer look and shouted, “are you okay?”.
“At that point then, this man, he turned. He was crouched over… he was crouching over something, like he was kneeling down.” When he turned Ms Stack said she could “see his face clearly”. She added: “I couldn’t see his hands because he was holding a person down. I thought it was a girl because of what she was wearing.” Ms Stack asked him what he was doing and he shouted “get away”. His teeth were “gritted”, she said, and he had “this angry kind of facial expression. It was terrifying, to be honest”. She recalled seeing Ms Murphy kicking with her legs and added: “She was lying on the ground and the only part of her body I thought she was able to move was her legs and she was kicking, like, so hard. I knew she was strong, she was moving whatever part of her body she could to get help.” Ms Stack said she thought Puska might be trying to rape Ms Murphy or at least that he intended to harm her. She told Puska she had a phone and was calling the gardaí. Ms Stack did not have a phone but hoped that if he thought she did he might “leave her alone”.
When the man “lunged, as if he was going to frighten us” Ms Stack and Ms Marron ran away to Digby Bridge where they met two men, one of whom had a phone. She told him to call the guards, that there’s “a girl in the hedge and a man has her pinned to the ground”. She also spoke to a man named Enda Molloy who was cycling his bike. Mr Molloy immediately cycled to the area where Ms Marron and Ms Stack pointed him to. Mr Molloy found Ms Murphy unresponsive in the briars but Puska was already gone. Charlie Kelly arrived moments later and could see immediately Ms Murphy was dead from the colour of her skin. Her hair was matted to her face with blood and one of her legs was suspended against a tree stump.
Within hours, the murder was the top news story in the country as gardaí busied themselves taking witness statements from people on the canal and searching for CCTV that might help to identify a suspect. Meanwhile, Jozef Puska was in Dublin. At about midday on January 13, less than 24 hours after the murder, he called an ambulance to his parents’ home in Crumlin, alleging he had been stabbed the previous evening in Blanchardstown. Gardaí arrived with the ambulance, and detectives spoke to Puska at St James’s Hospital. Puska’s account ‘didn’t add up’ When Inspector Shane McCartan heard Puska’s vague account of being stabbed, he decided it “didn’t add up”. Puska lacked detail on what happened as well as on how he got from Tullamore to Dublin and then out to Blanchardstown. He also had scratches all over his face and hands that gardaí felt could be consistent with him having crawled through thick briars. The investigation into Ashling Murphy’s murder was still the most talked-about story in the country, so when Inspector McCartan heard Puska claimed to have arrived in Dublin from Tullamore the day of her murder, he contacted his colleagues in Tullamore.
Puska underwent surgery on January 13 and at about 3pm on January 14, Detective Garda Fergus Hogan and Detective Sergeant Brian Jennings arrived from Tullamore to speak to him with the help of a Slovakian interpreter. Puska repeated the lie that he was stabbed in Blanchardstown and said the scratches on him were caused when he was “dragging on the ground” trying to protect himself. Jozef Puska claimed in court the real killer was a…