Was Neighbor's Vodka Bottle the Xmas Gift from Hell?

By Will Godfrey 09/23/11

A crucifix was used to kill an 81-year-old grandmother the night before Christmas. Her neighbor, who drank the vodka she gave the victim, is on trial for murder.

Accused: Karen Walsh Photo via

An almost-emptied bottle of vodka—and its possible effects—are central to a gripping trial proceeding in Northern Ireland at the moment, as a woman is accused of beating her 81-year-old neighbor to death with a crucifix. It was 10pm on Christmas Eve 2008 when pharmacist Karen Walsh, 45, says she visited elderly next-door neighbor Maire Rankin to give her a card and a one-liter bottle of vodka. A visiting relative found the grandmother's body on Christmas Day—with 15 broken ribs and extensive bruising to the face and scalp. Northern Ireland's state pathologist, Professor Jack Crane, told Belfast Crown Court yesterday that bruising on her chin was consistent with the crown of thorns on Jesus' head of a crucifix found at the scene. Physical evidence showed that Mrs Rankin's body had also been sexually assaulted, he confirmed. DNA evidence on the vodka bottle—of which only 5ml remained—linked Walsh to the scene. She stated that after arriving at Mrs Rankin's house, she sat on the bed talking to the pensioner—whom she described as "a friendly woman"—while drinking some of the vodka neat from the bottle. But she claims to have returned home at 10:30pm and slept in her clothing, before her husband woke her at 11:30 the next morning to tell her that Mrs Rankin's house had been sealed off. Police say that when they first interviewed Mrs Walsh, she repeatedly asked them whether her neighbor "had been beaten," and whether her door had been left open. Having been arrested two days after the discovery of the body, Karen Walsh has pleaded not guilty and her trial continues.

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Will Godfrey is the former editor-in-chief of TheFix. He was also the founding editor-in-chief of Substance.com, and previously co-founded a magazine for prisoners in London. His work has appeared in Salon, Pacific Standard, AlterNet and The Nation among others. He is currently the Executive Director at FILTER. You can find Will on Linkedin and Twitter.