Corstorphine murder: Shallow grave ‘hard to dig’

The body was discovered on Corstorphine Hill. Picture: Ian Georgeson
The body was discovered on Corstorphine Hill. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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THE shallow grave a woman’s dismembered body was dumped in would have been extremely hard to dig, a murder trial has heard.

The desolate final resting place of Philomena Dunleavy, was 18 inches deep and would have taken “a lot of effort” to create.

Forensic archaeologist Dr Jennifer Miller said the top layer of sandy soil at the picturesque Corstorphine Hill nature reserve was so hard it could break a spade.

The 51-year-old expert said digging the soil tomb would have been back-breaking work.

She was giving evidence at the trial of James Dunleavy, who is accused of murdering his mum, Philomena, and burying her remains.

The archeologist – a recognised expert of analysis of stomach contents – also told the High Court in Edinburgh 66-year-old Philomena could have eaten a curry, possibly eight hours before she died.

In her laboratory she found tiny caraway seeds.

The doctor said she was later given a jar of caraway seeds seized by police from Dunleavy’s Balgreen Road flat – where it is thought the woman might have been murdered – and they matched.

Dr Miller said: “I examined the seeds and concluded they were of the same type as those found in the stomach contents.”

The trial was also shown how experts uncovered the

dismembered body. A time-lapse camera was set up on Corstorphine Hill to record the process, taking a photo every ten minutes.

The jury was shown the resulting footage, including the near-naked torso of a woman with her severed legs beside her and her head on top of the legs.

Describing the scene, Dr Miller said that the dead woman looked as though she had been given “a Christian burial”.

She said: “Everything was facing east. In an archeological context that would suggest a Christian burial. It is facing the rising sun.”

Dr Miller, who has visited hundreds of similar graves during her 19 years working as a forensic archeologist, was called in after a passing cyclist noticed teeth and a skull in the soil on June 6 last year.

Advocate depute Alex Prentice QC, prosecuting, asked what sort of effort would be required to dig the shallow grave. “Extremely difficult,” replied Dr Miller. “It would have been extremely hard to dig. A lot of effort, yes.”

Dunleavy – also known as Seamus Dunleavy – denies murdering his mother, Philomena, from Dublin, cutting up her body and taking her, in a suitcase, to bury on

Corstorphine Hill.

The 40-year-old is accused of battering his mother to death between April 30 and May 7 last year.

The murder charge alleges that he inflicted “blunt force trauma” on his mother by means unknown in his Balgreen Road flat, compressed her throat, and cut off her head and legs with a blade and something like a saw.

A second charge accuses Dunleavy of pretending his mother was unwell and had returned to Ireland.

The charge further alleges that Dunleavy put his mother’s torso, severed legs and head into a suitcase and took the dismembered body to Corstorphine Hill where he buried


Prosecutors claim that Dunleavy vacuumed and washed his flat to remove blood stains and torched a bed and mattress. He also, allegedly, got rid of her mobile phone and one he used himself.

On Wednesday, ski instructor Aaron McLean-Foreman told the trial that he had been “enjoying the sunny weather” on a bike at the beauty spot when he spotted the remains.

He noticed white teeth surrounded by flies and went into a panic before leading cops back to the spot.

The trial continues.