Philip Cairns – Dublin – Missing since 1986

Philip Cairns (born 1 September 1973) disappeared on the afternoon of 23 October 1986 while walking back to school in south Dublin, Ireland.

The 13-year-old schoolboy left his home in Ballyroan to return to school, but has not been seen since.

A large-scale investigation was carried out but no trace of the boy has ever been found. 

His disappearance is now treated as a high-profile child murder case, the only similar incident in Ireland being the murder of Robert Holohan in January 2005. 

It is one of the most high-profile disappearances in recent Irish history.

Philip’s family have issued numerous appeals for information. A reconstruction took place in 2007 and was later televised on RTÉ One, while a reward of €10,000 has also been offered.

The book, When Heaven Waits, published in 2007, featured an interview with Philip’s mother. Nobody has ever been arrested. The case remains open.

Disappearance

“The very sad fact is that life went on after we lost Philip. I can remember we all went out and helped with the search, it was the neighbourly thing to do. But after a while you had to just get on with things. Young people, I think, are more resilient about things like that, they are able to forget more easily and put things behind them.”

Philip Cairns disappeared while returning to school in Rathfarnham.

He had departed Coláiste Éanna secondary school at 12:45 to go home for lunch

 He left his home at 13:30 to return to Coláiste Éanna.

There have been no confirmed sightings of the boy since. His family believe he was abducted by someone who knew him personally.

Speculation at his school the day after his disappearance had Philip being kidnapped by a “bad man” who had offered him sweets then lured him into a van

Investigation

Several hundred Garda Síochána officers and divers took part in a large-scale search of forests, lakes, mountains and rivers.

Psychics and clairvoyants were called in to assist.

Posters were distributed by milk companies. Cairns’ classmates were interviewed by Gardaí at the school during their mid-term holiday break the following week.

Six days after his disappearance, Philip’s school bag was located by two girls in an alley close to his house.

The lane had already been searched, and the bag was not there at that time.

The school bag was thought to hold vital clues, but nothing is known of how it came to be in the lane.

 It is thought the bag had been left there a short time previously.

 It was examined forensically but no clues were located. Philip’s implements, including pens, pencils, copybook, maths textbook, school journal and his pencil case were within.

Some of Philip’s books were missing, including a geography book and two religion books.

A forensic examination produced no clues as to Philip’s whereabouts.

Gardaí have sealed the bag and it is now locked in a safe.

Over 400 sightings were reported in the aftermath of the boy’s disappearance.

In one, Philip was reportedly seen in Manchester in the United Kingdom after his disappearance. Each sighting was seriously investigated, but none led to Philip.

Philip’s parents appeared regularly on the news and clutched what has now become a well-recognised picture of a smiling Philip in his Confirmation clothes of a blue jacket and a red rosette.

This photo has been deemed a precursor to that of British infant Madeleine McCann, who disappeared in Portugal 21 years later.

However, the family, unlike the McCanns, have been relatively private about their loss, speaking to the media on only a few occasions in the past 25 years.

It has been reported that this is due to several inaccurate reports of the incident of which they have disapproved

Gardaí have, however, praised the media as a proven method for encouraging people to come forward with further information on the case each time an appeal is broadcast. 

Residents’ organisation ACRA also launched an intense campaign to attempt to find Philip.

Several theories have been reported by the media, most of which have been discounted by investigators. These have ranged from death by accident to Philip having been taken by extremists such as paedophiles and Satanists. 

One theory had a woman tell gardaí that her partner, an alleged paedophile, had killed Philip after abducting him. 

This was later declared a false allegation

Investigation

Several hundred Garda Síochána officers and divers took part in a large-scale search of forests, lakes, mountains and rivers.

Psychics and clairvoyants were called in to assist.

Posters were distributed by milk companies. 

Cairns’ classmates were interviewed by Gardaí at the school during their mid-term holiday break the following week.

Six days after his disappearance, Philip’s school bag was located by two girls in an alley close to his house.

The lane had already been searched, and the bag was not there at that time. 

The school bag was thought to hold vital clues, but nothing is known of how it came to be in the lane.

It is thought the bag had been left there a short time previously. 

It was examined forensically but no clues were located.

Philip’s implements, including pens, pencils, copybook, maths textbook, school journal and his pencil case were within.

Some of Philip’s books were missing, including a geography book and two religion books.

A forensic examination produced no clues as to Philip’s whereabouts

Gardaí have sealed the bag and it is now locked in a safe.

Over 400 sightings were reported in the aftermath of the boy’s disappearance.

In one, Philip was reportedly seen in Manchester in the United Kingdom after his disappearance.

Each sighting was seriously investigated, but none led to Philip.

Philip’s parents appeared regularly on the news and clutched what has now become a well-recognised picture of a smiling Philip in his Confirmation clothes of a blue jacket and a red rosette.

This photo has been deemed a precursor to that of British infant Madeleine McCann, who disappeared in Portugal 21 years later. 

However, the family, unlike the McCanns, have been relatively private about their loss, speaking to the media on only a few occasions in the past 25 years.

It has been reported that this is due to several inaccurate reports of the incident of which they have disapproved.

Gardaí have, however, praised the media as a proven method for encouraging people to come forward with further information on the case each time an appeal is broadcast.

Residents’ organisation ACRA also launched an intense campaign to attempt to find Philip.

Several theories have been reported by the media, most of which have been discounted by investigators. These have ranged from death by accident to Philip having been taken by extremists such as paedophiles and Satanists.

One theory had a woman tell gardaí that her partner, an alleged paedophile, had killed Philip after abducting him. This was later declared a false allegation

Impact

The disappearance of Philip Cairns affected the entire country. The case was particularly unusual because it happened in the early afternoon and prompted parents to fear for the safety of their children, even in broad daylight