Charles Self was stabbed to death in his home in Monkstown on the 21st January 1982. Despite repeated appeals for information, Gardaí are no closer to finding his killer.
Charles was born in England on Valentine’s Day 1949. Following the death of his mother, he was mainly raised by his Aunt in Glasgow. He had been working as a set-designer for the BBC when, in 1978, Alpho O’Reilly, head of design for RTÉ, persuaded him to move to Ireland to work for RTÉ. In an unrelated case, Alpho would later disappear himself in 1996 but I’ll go into more detail on that at another time.
Charles was well-known on the homosexual scene in Dublin at a time when it was extremely difficult to be gay. For context, homosexuality wasn’t decriminalised in Ireland for another 11 years.
On the evening of his murder, Charles spent about 30 minutes in The Bailey Bar. He then went to the South William Public House and stayed here until about 10.30pm. From here he met 5 friends in the now closed Bartley Dunne bar on Stephen’s Street Lower. Bartley Dunne was a known gay bar and Charles regularly socialised here.
When Bartley Dunne’s closed at 11.30pm, Charles left the bar heading along D’Olier Street onto Burgh Quay where he entered the Hotpot Café. The walk would have taken about 15 minutes. He ordered food at the Hotspot Café and spent about 30 minutes eating at the counter and chatting to the other customers.
After leaving the Hotpot Café he went to the public toilets on the corner of Burgh Quay and O’Connell Bridge. These toilets were reportedly a notorious gay hookup spot. According to witnesses, Charles spoke to two men here who were never identified and Gardaí are appealing for information on them. The first man was described as skinny, wearing a leather jacket and blue jeans, and was around 25 years old. The second man is described as pudgy with long blonde hair and wearing a black jacket with a white stripe down the sleeve.
Around 12.20am Charles and a young man took a taxi from Eden Quay back to Charles’ flat at Annesley Mews, off Brighton Avenue in Monkstown. During a reconstruction aired on RTÉ, the man with Charles was described as being very quiet, while another source says the two were ‘amorous’ in the taxi. This man was described as in his 20’s and with blonde hair. He was smartly dressed and wearing a two piece suit.
Around 8.50am on the following morning Charles was found stabbed to death at the bottom of the stairs in his flat. His body was found by Berty Tyrer, a friend who had stayed the night while Charles’ regular housemate was in London. Berty regularly crashed at Charles’ house and had stayed on this particular night as it had been snowing and this prevented him from getting to his own home in Wicklow. When Berty tried to call the Gardaí he was unable to get a dial tone and had to run to a neighbour’s to raise the alarm.
Charles had been stabbed 14 times and suffered 3 slash wounds to his throat. The torn cord from his roommate’s dressing gown was also wound tightly around his neck. The rest of the cord was tied to a chair. Gardaí reported that the assault on Charles started in the kitchen of the apartment before moving into the sitting room and ending in the hallway. The scene was described as chaotic, with the stereo still playing and records strewn across the room. The murder itself has been described by Gardaí as ‘brutal and frenzied’. 6 of the stab wounds, which were inflicted with an 8 inch kitchen knife, were so vicious that they went completely through his body.
The location of Charles’ body meant it was impossible to open the front door to the apartment. This led Gardaí to believe that the killer may have fled through a small window in the kitchen. However the window was also only 2ft wide and opened inwards making it almost impossible for someone to come in or out of, especially without disturbing the dishes on the counter. Furniture was also placed over some of the bloodstains leading Gardaí to believe the scene may have been staged.
Despite the ferociousness of the murder, Berty slept through the entire thing. He did say he was woken by someone entering his room at 2.30am before they apologised and closing the door. Although Berty only saw the man briefly he described him as having curly dark hair, while the man in the taxi with Charles was described as having straight blonde hair. Berty reported hearing no other noises that night. A neighbour in a nearby building did hear screaming during the night and another neighbour who lived across the courtyard reported hearing a stone bench being dragged through the courtyard at 4am. When she looked out she saw a man climbing over the wall into a nearby garden and noticed that the door to Charles’ home was ajar.
Gardaí received much criticism of their investigation into Charles’ murder. As mentioned above, homosexuality was still illegal at the time and the Gardaí were notoriously homophobic. Many gay men were questioned as part of the investigation and many of those questioned were not openly gay or had any logical connection to the murder. Gardaí seemed convinced that a ‘rent boy’ was responsible for the murder.
It is feared that, as Gardaí were so unwelcoming to members of the LGBT community at the time of the murder, key witnesses may have been afraid to come forward for fear of harassment. Gardaí hope that someone with information may still come forward especially as their relationship with the LGBT community has greatly improved.
The most obvious killer is the man who returned home with Charles, although Gardaí have never publicly named him as a suspect. Did something go wrong when they got to the house? Stabbing Charles 14 times, and so brutally that the knife went completely through his body, seems like overkill. It also points to a murderer who was extremely angry at the time of the killing and indicates a personal element also. Since Charles was also found with a torn ligament around his neck, and the other part of the ligament on a chair, it could indicate that the killer attempted to torture Charles in some way.
However the one thing I can’t get past is Berty sleeping through the violent struggle occurring downstairs. One newspaper explained this away by saying that Berty was in his 60s and was possibly hard of hearing but surely if someone entering his room was enough to wake him, then a violent murder taking place just downstairs would be more than enough to rouse him. The fact that Charles’ body was also found inside the front door, preventing it from being opened and with no other feasible exit, makes me extremely suspicious of Berty who remained in the house. However Gardaí never seemed to consider him a suspect and even asked him to draw a sketch of the man in the house. I haven’t found any sources stating whether Berty was gay or not, but if not this could explain why Gardaí didn’t see him as a suspect Maybe they were so determined to focus on the LGBT community that they ignored a potential suspect closer to home.
Of course there could be a much simpler explanation. Maybe Berty did hear the commotion downstairs but, fearing for his life, he stayed in his room so as to avoid getting killed himself. When he found Charles dead he was so ashamed that he didn’t intervene that he found it easier to pretend he slept through the whole event, eventually taking this secret to the grave.
Whatever happened that night, it’s been 37 years and Gardaí are still trying to discover who murdered Charles Self and what their motivation was. Anyone with information is asked to contact Gardaí at Dun Laoghaire Garda Station on 016665000.