Suspicious about the deaths of Michelle Bickerstaff, Margaret Weise and Elizabeth McKee, people in Dromore yesterday did not seem surprised that someone had been arrested over the deaths.
The common reaction from the many locals speaking about the subject yesterday was to lower their heads, eyes and voices and to affirm that they expected something more from police eventually.
Yesterday morning the PSNI said they had arrested a 66-year-old man as part of investigations into the deaths of the three women.
He was named locally yesterday as “brilliant” stonemason Leslie Ross, whose skills were reportedly behind the intricate stonework of the high wall around the town’s police station.
At the time of going to press Mr Ross had not been charged with any offence and was being questioned by detectives at Antrim’s Serious Crime Suite.
It is understood that he had been in relationships with all three women. The PSNI described him as a “suspect” but did not specify what crime he is suspected of having committed.
The three women who died were Michelle Bickerstaff, 47, who died in April last year; Margaret Weise, 50, who died in August 2007; and Elizabeth McKee, 52, who died in December 2002.
Police said their suspect had also been arrested in connection with a number of other offences in relation to other women and that the families of the deceased women had been informed about the arrest.
A small commuter town on the A1 Dublin to Belfast route, Dromore is a small, normally sleepy, town with a red brick library in the centre of the small town square – a scene which has changed little over hundreds of years.
The ancient iron ankle stocks remain in position beside the library as a tourist curio while Gallows Street nearby also nods to the antiquity of the town and the justice system of a bygone era.
But the normally quiet square and surrounding streets were abuzz yesterday with television and press cameras, politicians giving interviews and smartly dressed journalists striding around with notebooks, zipping through the town’s narrow streets and rapping on doors.
The response of a prominent local man was representative of the many others who spoke to the News Letter.
“A lot of people were wondering how long it would take for the police to catch up on these deaths,” he said, lowering his voice and head.
Likewise, two women speaking in a shop gave a similar reaction.
They were “not at all surprised” that police had begun to probe the three deaths again.
There had long been speculation about how they had died in the town.
It is understood that arrests were made originally after all three deaths but that no charges were brought against anyone that was questioned.
Relatives of the deceased women were yesterday keeping a low profile and trying to avoid the media.
For some at least, the investigation has reopened old wounds and brought old fears to the surface once again.
The police actions have for some raised hopes of closure but also raised fears of emotional turmoil with perhaps no real resolution.
Some were concerned that talking openly to the media might undermine any trial that might happen. Others were simply keen to protect their privacy.
It is understood that police have been interviewing a wide range of people in the area repeatedly in recent months.
The investigation is being led by district-based detectives, not by the specialist PSNI Serious Crime Branch officers.
The PSNI’s Serious Crime Branch is providing support to the Lurgan-based detectives leading the investigation.
It is understood two of the women died after sustaining physical injuries, with officers working to establish how they were caused.
In the wake of Ms Bickerstaff’s death last year, police arrested a 64-year-old man. He was later released unconditionally.
Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson said he knew some of the women and their families.
“I can’t begin to contemplate what it must mean to them,” he said.