Bridge Shopping Centre
Tullamore Co. Offally
Grange Co. Laois
Slieve Bloom Mountains
Fiona Pender was a hairdresser and part-time model from Tullamore Co. Offaly, a large rural town in the Irish midlands sixty miles west of Dublin City. At the time of her disappearance Fiona was 25 years of age and also seven months pregnant. During the summer of 1996 Fiona was sharing a small apartment with her then boyfriend John Thompson on the main street of Tullamore known simply as Church Street. The couple had recently returned to Ireland after they moved to London in the winter of 1995.
Fiona had spent the afternoon of Thursday the 22nd of August 1996 shopping with her mother Josephine Pender for clothes and other items for her new baby, at Bridge Street shopping centre located in Tullamore. Upon completing their shopping for the day Fiona and her mother returned home to Fiona’s family home in an area known as Connolly Park within the town limits of Tullamore. Fiona stayed at her family home for a few hours and had a chat with her father Sean about a fishing trip he was soon to undertake. Fiona decided to return to her apartment at roughly 7pm that evening, as she was tired from the busy day of shopping. Josephine and her son Mark said goodbye to Fiona at the entrance to her apartment and made arrangements to meet her the following day. This unfortunately would be the last time Josephine Pender would ever see her daughter.
The following day Friday the 23rd of August, during the afternoon, Josephine returned to Fiona’s apartment, however she did not knock on Fiona’s door as the blinds on her windows were closed. Fiona’s mother thought she must have been resting and decided to leave. Later that evening Fiona’s father walked by her apartment and saw that her blinds were still closed and the lights inside had not been switched on, understandably this did not alarm him as she could have been resting or out with friends. By Saturday afternoon neither of Fiona’s parents had heard from her, and thus decided to return to her apartment upon getting no answer after knocking at her door Fiona’s mother decided to call her boyfriend John Thompson. Josephine asked John Thompson if he knew where Fiona was, he replied no and said he thought she was with her parents. He also told Josephine that the last time he saw Fiona was at 6am on Friday when he was leaving their apartment to go to work on his family’s farm, some eight miles from Tullamore in Mountmellick Co. Laois. Thompson then told Josephine that he had slept at his family’s farm on Friday night and he presumed that she was with her parents.
Fiona had met Thompson in October 1993 through a close relative of hers, they seemed to have hit it off immediately due to their love of motorbikes. Although they both shared a love for motorbikes, Fiona and Thompson’s backgrounds where quite the opposite; Thompson came from a long line of Irish Meredith’s, a name given to numerous British families that settled in Ireland over the previous centuries and acquired substantial land throughout the country. Thompson was the sole heir to his family’s farm and also to an equally large farm owned by his uncle. His uncle’s farm was valued at just over six million Euros by the Irish Independent in 2008.
Thompson’s family were also successful in business, a close relative of his runs a large haulage company that has operated successfully throughout Ireland for decades. It is fair to say that Thompson’s family were and are wealthy. However, Fiona came from a more humble background and grew up in a suburban part of Tullamore and had little to no experience of farming. Her father Sean was an artist and sometimes struggled to make money, notwithstanding this it has been widely reported that Fiona grew up in a happy environment and had wanted for little. Despite the differences in Fiona and Thompson’s background; Fiona was described as bubbly, outgoing and happy whereas according to retired Garda Detective Alan Bailey Thompson was known as shy, introverted and broody, the couple seemed determined to build a life together.
Fiona was an attractive woman, with distinctive long blond hair and known throughout the town of Tullamore, despite this there has never been any confirmed sightings of Fiona in her home town or the general area, from the time her mother saw her walk into her apartment building just after 7pm on Thursday the 22nd of August 1996. The last person to see her alive was Thompson at 6am the following morning.
Two notable witness have however, come forward to the Gardi about two separate incidents around the time Fiona vanished. The first witness told Gardi that sometime around 2am on Friday the 23rd he had been walking home from a pub on Church Street Tullamore, when he spotted two men placing a large bulky item that was wrapped up in a carpet into the back of a large 4x4 vehicle. The Gardi have never been able to find these two men nor as anyone come forward to offer an explanation for this event. The second witness told Gardi that also on Friday morning he was driving on a small country road in the Sliabh Bloom Mountains some twenty miles from Tullamore, when a 4x4 vehicle with one occupant came driving towards him erratically and at an extremely fast speed, he did not get a good look at the sole occupant, but did remember that the vehicle had a large sticker on the windscreen that read ‘Keep Her Lit’. Similarly to the actions the first witness saw, nobody has come forward to the Gardi offering an explanation for this event.
On the 24th of April 1997 John Thompson, along with his father Archie and three sisters were arrested in relation to Fiona’s disappearance. After twelve hours of questioning all of them were released without charge, as there was no evidence to link them to Fiona’s disappearance. John Thompson and his father were heavily critical of the Gardi and their arrest. John Thompson told the Irish Times that he took a “dim view” of his arrest he also went onto say “It is just not good enough for them to suggest that we disposed of her and leave it at that” he suggested that it was impossible for Fiona to vanish from a busy town centre without been see “I feel that someone might have seensomething, but is afraid.”
No further arrest have ever been made in relation to Fiona’s disappearance nor has any trace of her ever been found. Despite reports from neighbours that John and Fiona could be heard arguing loudly at times, no evidence of any form of struggle or any crime were found at their apartment during the Gardi’s forensic examination. There is simply little evidence of anything that could explain the presumed abduction and murder of Fiona and her unborn child.