Celtic Mystery

Who Kidnapped Irish Millionaire Kevin McGeever?

The property magnate was found last week wandering the Irish countryside with THIEF carved in his forehead. A shocked nation is closely following the investigation—but with not much sympathy, given developers’ low standing in Ireland. Tom Sykes reports.

02.05.13 9:45 AM ET

Property developers are not the most popular people in Ireland—many blame them for the economic crash that has seen unemployment hit 14 percent and forced an IMF rescue of the country—so it is perhaps not surprising that there is an unmistakable whiff of schadenfreude in the coverage of the extraordinary ordeal of a 68-year old developer named Kevin Michael McGeever, who went missing from his palatial home in May last year.

On Tuesday night last week, McGeever finally turned up. He was discovered by a passing motorist wandering barefoot, emaciated, and filthy along an isolated country road in County Leitrim. He had three-inch fingernails. He was wrapped in a plastic sheet, carrying an unused mobile phone and a torch—and the word THIEF had been carved onto his forehead.

He was found by a local writer named Catherine Vallely, who stopped because she thought the figure wandering aimlessly through the night was a “hippy camper.” Instead, she discovered the disorientated man who knew only that his name was “Kevin” and claimed to have been dropped out of the back of a van by three men. “He had a pair of enormous eyes in a very thin face. He was rubbing his beard with fingers that had long nails. He was well-educated, well-spoken and polite. He was skin and bones," she told reporters.

Vallely—who was appositely enough driving home from a class in creative writing—told a reporter for the Irish Sunday Times that the mobile phone McGeever was carrying was almost dead. “The battery was dying so I called directory inquiries using my own phone to get a telephone number he asked for,” she said. “The person, his friend, refused to come and get him. They said Ballinamore was too far away to go and collect him. Whoever he was speaking to wasn’t that interested in coming to get him.”

She drove McGeever (against his will) to a local police station, where he apparently asked for a portion of chips with curry sauce and a cup of tea. It was here that his hat was removed and the gruesome inscription on his forehead was revealed.

McGeever, who reportedly lost 70 pounds during his ordeal, currently is being treated for malnutrition and dehydration in an Irish hospital, but extraordinary reports are starting to filter out from police sources that he was abducted at gunpoint and kept in a shipping container for the duration of his captivity by masked men, who gave him one ham sandwich a day and communicated with him only by writing notes. The Irish Independent quoted a family member as saying that on the walls of the shipping container were pictures of other men with their names written on them and that he was told that the men in the pictures "are dead and you will be next."

Prior to his extraordinary ordeal, McGeever was typical of many “culchies,” as the Irish jokingly refer to unsophisticated ruralites who rose to prominence in the Celtic tiger era, turning a manual background in construction into an enviable property empire.

McGeever specialized in the Middle East, developing properties in Dubai and selling them “off-plan” to Irish investors through property expos he organized in hotels around the country. Such was the mania for property investment during the Celtic tiger boom years—1996 to 2007—that few of the Irish investors would ever have physically seen the properties they acquired, much less visited them, hoping instead to flip the apartments for quick profits. The website for a firm called KMM Aviation Worldwide, which trades in aircraft, lists Kevin McGeever as its chief executive.

McGeever became rich, and with his fortune he built a vast mansion of dubious taste in the small village of Craughwell, County Galway, which locals nicknamed “Nirvana.” Aerial photos show that the property is surrounded by immaculately manicured lawns, with a water fountain at the front of the house. He also owned a Ferrari and a Porsche, and even had his own helicopter—emblazoned with his initials KMM, according to the Irish Independent. The Irish Times reports that, “He had plans to install an artificial lake with swans at the back but it never came to fruition.”

It was from this house that McGeever allegedly was kidnapped in May. He is due to face questioning by the police later this week, as they attempt to unpick the details of this amazing case.
The nation remains shocked, fascinated, and not quite as sympathetic as one might hope. The country is littered with too many abandoned, half-finished, and poorly thought-out developments—“ghost estates,” as they are called—for that, while, despite national bankruptcy and outrage, many of the developers themselves have been able to hang on to their lifestyles and properties. Many are still living, as McGeever was, in some style.

Mind you, it seems there always were some who took issue with McGeever’s style of business. In 2010, according to reports, he contacted gardaí—Irish police—after a man in an English-registered car approached him in Craughwell and threatened to have him shot.