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ON THE TRAIL OF THE COALBUNKER KILLER; Murder that shocked Ireland recalled in TV series.

Byline: JIM GALLAGHER

ONE of the most notorious murders ever committed in Northern Ireland is to be re-enacted on TV this week.

Detectives and forensic experts will reveal for the first time how they tracked down the brutal killer of 13-year-old Sonia Forsythe.

The troubled Belfast youngster's body was found in a coal bunker FIVE YEARS after her violent death.

But even though the remains were badly decomposed, detectives using modern scientific methods were still able to prove how the teenager was battered to death and then hidden in local man James Junior Craig's house - before being dumped in the bunker.

Craig, who was 20 at the time of the killing and had a daughter with a local girl, was sentenced to 20 years in prison without remission at his trial in 1998.

A realistic reconstruction of the killing in the RTE documentary, Probable Cause: The Murder of Sonia Forsythe, looks set to shock Sonia's family and neighbours in Sidney Street West, off the Shankill Road.

Sonia, who had a history of instability, disappeared in June 1991 after being spotted walking in the street with loner Craig, who told police he walked her to the pub and then to her front door.

Craig cooperated with a police reconstruction of Sonia disappearance's and she was thought to have run away.

When sightings of the girl were made elsewhere the investigation fizzled out.

But five years later Inspector Mervyn Bryans was asked to take a fresh look at the baffling case.

After interviewing her mother and neighbours again he decided to carry out a forensic search of Craig's house in March 1996.

Detectives found blood stains in a cupboard and a bedroom which matched the DNA of the missing girl.

Craig calmly walked about the street smoking as the search was being carried out.

But the next day - and before detectives could go back for more clues - there was a petrol bomb attack on the house and Craig disappeared to England.

Without a body there was little police could do.

But three weeks after the fire, workmen clearing up the mess found rolled up carpets in the house's coalbunker.

Inside were the badly decomposed remains of Sonia.

A positive ID was made with her dental records.

And experts using sellotape to take fibre samples from Craig's floor showed the carpets surrounding her had once sat in his home.

They had also been cut to fit his upstairs rooms.

State pathologist Professor Jack Crane will reveal to TV viewers how a poker with an unusual spherical head found in a house recess perfectly matched the shape of wounds to Sonia's skull.

Craig was convicted of the murder on the abundance of forensic evidence but never admitted his guilt.

Neighbour Debbie Murray, who saw Craig with a young teenage girl the day Sonia disappeared, said:

"Everyone talked about him and the way he walked about the streets for years.

"He took his own little daughter into the flat knowing what he had done. He showed no remorse whatsoever. It was so unbelievable that anyone could do that to a 13-year-old."

Probable Cause: The Murder of Sonia Forsythe is the first of six documentaries looking into murders solved by Northern Ireland's famed forensic experts.

l RTE1, Tuesday at 9.30pm.

CAPTION(S):

HORROR DEATH: Police removing the coalbunker at the house in Sidney Street West where the body of teenager Sonia Forsythe, left, was discovered; TRIBUTES: Where Sonia was found
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Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Jun 2, 2002
Words:575
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