It is an investigation involving around 70 officers and has dominated the TV bulletins and newspaper headlines. Yet no one has been charged with the murder of Natalie McNally to date.
s the hunt for the ruthless killer who stabbed the pregnant Co Armagh woman to death in her own home intensifies, so too does the pressure on detectives to crack the case.
Unsolved murders in cases involving paramilitary violence are notoriously high in Northern Ireland. The clearance rate for such killings is in single figures. The PSNI would defend this record, citing fear within the community preventing people coming forward to give information.
However, in other killings the clearance rate is high. In most cases, a suspect is charged within days, if not hours, of the reported death.
This is because often the killer is known to the victim.
The PSNI believes that Natalie’s killer was known to her too. It believes he was someone she was comfortable allowing into her home.
Natalie was one of four women in Northern Ireland to die violently in 2022. In the other three cases a person has been charged and is awaiting trial.
In 2021, six women in Northern Ireland allegedly died at the hands of someone they knew. In three cases someone is awaiting trial. In the other three cases the killer took their own life before they could be prosecuted.
Ken Flanagan stabbed his mother, Karen McClean (50), to death in a house on the Rathcoole estate in Newtownabbey before travelling to a nearby property where he killed his girlfriend, Stacey Knell (30). He then took his own life.
Newtownabbey woman Katie Brankin (37) was killed at a camping site in Limavady on July 12, 2021.
The mother of one was stabbed to death, and her partner, Thomas Davidson (53), was charged with murder. He took his own life in Maghaberry Prison while awaiting trial.
The family of Ms McNally have put their faith in the police investigation.
They have to trust that every resource will be availed of, every lead followed, every available officer working around the clock to bring her killer to justice.
The headlines have made difficult reading for detectives.
They have been forced to address online rumours that a police officer is linked to Ms McNally.
On Thursday, a senior detective said these were “not helpful” and an individual had been eliminated from enquiries.
There has also been criticism of PSNI comments interpreted by some as suggesting other women were not at risk. On Thursday, Detective Chief Inspector Neil McGuinness said he understood women are fearful.
But nearly three weeks on, where is her killer?
What we know so far is that he arrived at her house shortly after 8.50pm on Sunday, December 18. Less than 40 minutes later he is seen leaving the street.
Earlier that day Natalie had called to her parents’ home while out walking her dog. She gave no indication that there was anything bothering her.
Natalie loved her job in marketing for Translink. She was delighted to be pregnant; it was to be the McNallys’ first grandchild.
She loved her home. Fiercely independent, she had bought a house close to her parents and shared it with her dog and cat.
In five months’ time she would have also been welcoming her little boy, named Dean by Natalie’s parents, to her home.
The house cannot be seen from the main road. Only by walking into the development would her lights be visible, a sign that she was at home.
It is not known whether the killer had made prior arrangements to call or if she was expecting a visitor.
He did not come to the house carrying a weapon to kill her. Whether pre-meditated or something he decided to do on arrival, the knife used to stab Natalie was taken from her own kitchen.
It was recovered at the scene, as was her phone, which will provide vital evidence in establishing who Natalie was in contact with in the hours and days before her death.
Natalie was an activist. She campaigned for animal rights and resources for diabetes, which she was diagnosed with as a child.
She was also feminist and a fierce advocate for equality.
This would have brought her into contact with a wide range of people from all walks of life; people outside her childhood friendship circle and the wider Lurgan area.
It is these connections made on social media that the police are keen to trace, to establish who Natalie was interacting with online and if those connections hold any clue as to the identity of her killer.
The public have been asked again to view the CCTV that shows the man believed to be responsible. He is well built and features a distinctive gait and clothing.
As time goes on, people are becoming more concerned that a killer capable of such extreme violence remains on the loose.
Comments made by Mr McGuinness suggesting there was nothing to indicate that her killer was a risk to other women have brought little comfort to the worried residents of the Lurgan and Craigavon areas.
The only thing that will ease fears is when a suspect is identified, charged and remanded in custody.
Natalie McNally’s family are surrounded by love and support, but they need justice for the sister and daughter they called their “precious egg”.
The PSNI needs to deliver — and with each passing second the pressure to catch the killer is only building.