Headless hookers and suitcase bodies

In July 2004 a badly decomposed body, described by the media as that of ‘a black non-national woman’ was discovered in a black plastic bag on a river bank in Co Kilkenny. Because she arrived as an asylum seeker in 2000, and, like all asylum seekers, had been fingerprinted, Gardai identified her through the finger printing data base at the Garda National Immigration Bureau as that of the 25 year old married mother of two Paiche Onyemaechi. She turned out to be the daughter of the Malawian chief justice and a lap dancer and prostitute. Because her body was found without a head by a local Kilkenny woman walking her dog, it did not take long for media representations to describe Paiche Onyemaechi as a ‘headless hooker’.

Writing in 2006, I described the story of Onyemaechi’s murder and representation as a typical story of 21st century Ireland, standing at the crossroad between Ireland’s then globalised economy and its migratory realities. As the daughter of an elite Malawi family, she escaped a state whose president has built a 300-room palace worth 100 million dollars while, as one of the world’s poorer countries, 11 million Malawians live on less than 1 dollar a day. Secondly, as the mother of children born in Ireland before the Citizenship Referendum, Paiche had leave to remain as the mother of Irish citizens. Thirdly, working in Ireland thriving sex industry, she was most probably living in a twilight zone of exploitation and danger. Garda sources tell me that a lot of energy was spent on investigating her murder, though not much was reported in the press. Ultimately, her murderer could not be brought to justice, because he left Ireland.

I was thinking of Paiche two weeks ago when the body of another Malawian woman, Rudo Mawere, was found in a suitcase on a Dublin city street – quickly to be described by the gutter press as a ‘body in a bag’. Like Paiche she was denuded of any humanity, becoming an object, a thing.

Mawere came to Ireland as a student; she studied human resources, worked as a care assistant in St Luke’s hospital and was looking for a job as an au pair. She apparently loaned money to Zimbabwean Jasper Taruvinga and when she went to his city centre apartment to talk about the money he owed her, he strangled her and dumped her body in a suitcase in a residential street; again, the body was identified through her fingerprints.

I was distressed to learn that Rudo was my neighbour, living a few houses down from me, in a busy street where many of the houses are divided into flats, a young woman like other young women, studying, working and looking for work, apparently decent and honest and fun to be with. In this case too there will be no trial, as only five days after the murder, Jasper Taruvinga fled to England and hang himself.

I find it hard to forget Paiche Onyemaechi and Rudo Mawere . Onyemaechi, however, has been long forgotten as yet another shadowy figure, whose life, as former Irish Times editor Conor Brady wrote at the time, was removed from the experience of contemporary Irish life: ‘living in the darkened world that touches on illegality, whatever happened to her had nothing to do with us’. I fear Rudo too will be forgotten as are other victims of our patchy but strict immigration regime, which often abandons migrant women to their dreaded fate.