DASHING out the door, mum-of-four Dolores McCrea gave her eldest daughter Sharon a quick kiss on the forehead and told her she loved her before heading to the pub for a game of darts.
Heartbreakingly, it would the last time Sharon Walsh, now 36, would ever see her mum, after her violent and abusive dad Gary McCrea murdered his estranged wife and incinerated her body.
It was a horrifying crime that sent shockwaves through the small rural town of Ballybulgan in County Donegal, Ireland.
Now the heartbreaking story is at the centre of a new Channel 5 documentary, Murder My Sweetheart: The killing of Dolores McCrea.
Speaking exclusively to The Sun, Sharon reveals the horrific murder meant she was left to raise her three younger sisters – and says the impact on her family has been devastating.
"There's not a day was past that I don't think about Mum and what happened to her," she says.
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“I've had no mum since I was 18 and all four of us have missed out on so much by not having her in our lives."
McCrea was jailed for life for Dolores' murder in 2005, and Sharon, who now refers to him by his full name, says he terrorised the whole family throughout her childhood.
"I have no feelings towards Gary McCrea at all," she says.
"He's my dad biologically but he was never a father to me. I don't think he ever truly cared for his four girls when he was able to take their mother away from them. I hate that he robbed us of our Mum."
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House full of secrets
Dolores met mechanic McCrea at a dance in 1984 and quickly fell for him.
They went on to have Sharon, Laura, Tanya and Leona, and wed in 1989, but things were far from rosy.
Dolores and her daughters were treated like "slaves" by McCrea, with the mum forced to cover bruises with make-up.
Describing her childhood, Sharon says: "We were scared of putting a foot wrong because the punishments were severe.
"He'd hit us, slap us, beat us and the worst one was being beaten with a leather belt, which he hung on a nail at the side of the mantelpiece.
"If we'd done something wrong, that's when the belt would come down.
"It was a house full of secrets… We all kept our own secrets, mum included.
He'd hit us, slap us, beat us and the worst one was being beaten with a leather belt, which he hung on a nail at the side of the mantelpiece
"I [once] spent five days in a bare room as a punishment. I was given a potty and made to go to the toilet in the room and ate my dinners in the room."
Sharon says the house was run like a military operation, with her mum terrified to have anything out of place.
"Gary McCrea was very controlling and everything had to be done to his standards," she says.
"We were always looking at the time when he was coming in from work, making sure the dinner was ready, the table was set, the house had to be cleaned properly, his clothes washed and laid out on his bed for him.
"We were his slaves, we did everything for him.
"In the gap between school and him coming home, we went out to play and did normal things. In the summer, Mum would take us to the beach.
"They were our happiest times, but coming up to the time where he would come home from work, the whole atmosphere changed to one of fear."
Dolores tried to hide the abuse from her daughters, but as Sharon got older she witnessed the true horrors.
"He was always verbally abusive and when I was young I would see bruises on her face and arms, but it was never spoken about," she says.
"But in my teens, I witnessed a couple of times where he beat her, and when I was 14 he gave her an awful beating outside the house after a night out, hitting and kicking her, before locking her out.
"I went and brought her in and begged her to call the Garda (police) or go down to Granny and Grandad's, just to tell someone, but she couldn't."
A year before her disappearance, Dolores left McCrea and took their four daughters – but he continued to harass her.
Describing the day they left, Sharon says: "He came storming up pointing his finger at me and told me he hoped I rot in hell… I've never called him father or dad since that day. He doesn't deserve that title.
"We thought we were going on to a peaceful new life but it was far from it.
"He would ring her every day, shouting abuse down the phone, accusing her of sleeping with this person and that person… he was obsessive."
Missing without a trace
On the evening of January 20, 2004 Dolores left Sharon babysitting for her sisters – then 14, six and four – and went to meet her darts team, calling in at McCrea's on the way.
Dolores was buying a new car, and he'd agreed to buy her old red 1997 Peugeot 306.
The following morning, when she hadn't arrived home, Sharon rang and texted but got no answer.
"I knew there was something badly wrong because she'd never gone away and not come back," says Sharon.
"I rang my aunt and we went out looking for her, and all day that feelinggot worse and worse."
Sharon went to McCrea's house and found her mum's car. McCrea said Dolores had been there the night before but left in a different car, "implying she'd left with another man".
He later confirmed to police she'd arrived between 7:30pm and 8pm to collect 1,000 euro from him, but left the car there.
Dolores' disappearance raised eyebrows in the community who couldn't believe the doting mum would just up and leave her kids.
The former family home – where McCrea still lived – quickly became the focus of the investigation, with an intensive missing persons search.
In the yard, police officer Brendan McMonagle investigated the smouldering remains of a fire in the chassis of a old mobile home – and found a piece of bone.
Police also discovered a videotape of a TV documentary indoors which told the story of a group of people who killed a man called Simon Carter before burning his body.
The badly charred remains meant the case quickly became a full scale murder enquiry.
Delores was later identified by a ring found in the ash and dental records, and McCrea was spotted on CCTV buying two five gallon drums of diesel.
"As soon as the Garda told me they'd discovered a fire at the back of the house, I just fell to pieces because I knew what he had done," Sharon says.
"Even before they told me that they discovered bones, I broke down screaming. I said, 'I knew he was going to do it, I knew he'd kill her'."
McCrea, then 39, was later charged with murder, and it was believed Dolores was strangled to death.
It transpired McCrea had told people – including his own daughters – if Dolores ever left him, he'd kill her.
"He told me he would kill her and he would maybe get eight years and get on with his life," says Sharon.
"I knew he was really violent and capable of anything, but I never thought he would actually follow through."
Sharon adds: "I always hoped and prayed she didn't suffer and he hadn't put her into the fire alive.
"When [they said] she may have been strangled first, there was a certain amount of relief hearing that. It made sense… it was always mum's throat he went for when they were fighting."
Justice at last
In November 2005 a jury found Gary McCrea guilty of murder and he was sentenced to life imprisonment. His two eldest daughters both gave evidence.
Sharon says: "I felt so sick to my stomach… waiting to hear what [the jury] were going to say… I just remember hearing guilty. I think my body just sort of collapsed and I just started crying."
Sharon filed for custody for her sisters, knowing it was what Dolores would have wanted.
"Without them, I don't know how I would have got through it," she says.
"I'm so proud of them. I'm so glad that I got 18 years of [Mum]. I feel so bad for the girls that they got so little time with her."
Now a mum-of-three herself, Sharon says she's had a few "dark times" where she sought therapy.
"I just wish she could have been there when I had my own children," she adds.
Sharon urges anyone suffering sexual or physical abuse to speak out.
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"Just telling one person could make a whole world of difference," she says. "It only takes one person to listen."
Murder My Sweetheart: The Killing of Dolores McCrea airs on Channel 5 tonight (24th March) at 9pm.
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