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‘I remember wanting to crawl into that coffin with her’: Mother appeals to bring toddler’s body home

In a situation beyond devastating, a woman whose Irish husband killed their three-year-old daughter in Cork has appealed to be allowed to exhume her child's body and take her back to the US.


by Jennifer McShane
20th Apr 2021

Photo via Rebecca Saunders

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Rebecca Saunders, from Houston, Texas, is campaigning to have her daughter Clarissa Jean McCarthy’s body exhumed and re-interred in the United States.

Clarissa was just three years old when her father killed her and himself in Co Cork in 2013. In a “fog of grief,” Saunders agreed to have McCarthy buried alongside her father in Ireland.

“I agreed to that. It was brought up by somebody else, I did not think of it myself,” she said.

“I did not want to think of how I would bury my own daughter, but I thought to myself at the time that I could not handle the thought of having my daughter cremated that time.”

“I felt like when the idea came up to bury them together, if she had a choice, if she could make a choice in this decision whether she was going to be by herself or whether she wanted to be with somebody, I just felt like she would not want to be alone. I did not realise just how sinister Martin’s plan was and how much in advance he planned out what he carried out that night. And so I thought to myself; if she had a choice, she would want to be buried with her father … even though he did what he did, as she would still love him.”

#ClarissasCause has been launched in hopes of exhuming the remains of her daughter and taking her home to her.

Rebecca appeared on RTÉ One’s Claire Byrne Live programme on Monday evening via a video link and shared previously undisclosed details of a chilling letter her husband Martian McCarthy wrote in a letter to her before he drowned their daughter Clarissa at Audley Cove in West Cork on March 5, 2013.

The letter was written as Rebecca was preparing to divorce her husband before he and their daughter vanished from their home, she had travelled to Bantry that day to seek legal aid in relation to separation proceedings.

If you can take Clarissa to America I can take Clarissa to heaven,” he wrote.  “You can now get on with the rest of your life as mine and Clarissa’s is about to end. By the time you will get to read this letter I and Clarissa will be in heaven. You did not realise how much I loved you, I could not see my daughter being raised up by a stepfather.”

“You will never forget this day.”

A fog of “grief and shock”

Rebecca reiterated her desire to have her daughter’s body exhumed after she agreed to have them buried together while still in “a fog of grief and shock.”

“I remember when Clarissa got back from her post mortem and her coffin was open,” she said, speaking on RTÉ’s Claire Byrne Live.

“I just remember always wanting to be by her side and wanting to crawl into that coffin with her. I could not believe what was in front of my eyes and what had just happened and how fast everything was going.”

“I just felt like I had made a grievous mistake. “I feel like burying them together was a huge mistake. I feel like I essentially abandoned her… I would sleep better, I would be able to funtion better if I would be able to take her home with me. I know that exhuming her won’t bring her back, but there will be a small amount of closure that I no longer have to think that she is in the arms of that monster.”

Rebecca has since said, “I feel so lifted up and held by everyone who has taken the time to reach out to me. Your words, prayers, wishes and aid have instilled in me so much hope that I didn’t have mere months ago. Hope that Clarissa’s final resting place does not have to be half a world away from me. Thank you to everyone who have opened up their heart to myself and Clarissa. Thank you for hearing my story, I know that it is not easy to listen to.”

“My heart is filled with gratitude, love and hope at the sheer scale of support shared with me.”

You can donate to #ClarissasCause here