The niece of Co Down man Leslie Ross – who was once suspected of being Northern Ireland’s first serial killer – has described him as a “monster” who abused her as a child.
Waiving her legal right to anonymity to share her story, Debbie Ross hopes the move will inspire other abuse victims to follow in her footsteps.
The 54-year-old, who is originally from Co Down but is now based in the United States, said she was sexually abused by her uncle between 1969 and 1973, when she used to visit a pub owned by her grandparents in Castlewellan.
Leslie Ross, 70, had been facing 44 charges of sex abuse at a trial in Newry before he passed away earlier this month.
He had previously been cleared of murdering former lovers Elizabeth McKee, Margaret Weise and Michelle Bickerstaff.
Speaking to BBC News NI from her home in New York state, mother-of-four Debbie said: “He was an absolute monster to have done what he did to me. I was very afraid of him. You were just terrified of him.
“When he moved from grooming me to the more serious abuse, then I became a victim of his aggression.
“His general demeanour was one of a very violent man. He used to have a piece of wood that was two (inches) by two with nails sticking out of it. You could see that people were afraid of him.”
Debbie said the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of her uncle meant she found it difficult to form adult relationships.
She told the BBC: “Growing up, I felt as if I came from another planet. I did not consider myself being worth anything. I acted out badly and I did not trust any men.”
Leslie, who now works as a senior research scientist after graduating from Queens University Belfast with a PhD, said she emigrated to the USA in 2005 in order to get a “clean break”.
She added: “As my understanding of the impact of the abuse grew, I felt I needed a fresh start.”
When Debbie learned about her uncle being charged with murder, she contacted the PSNI.
She added: “The police came over here to New York to interview me and I made a formal complaint.”
Debbie also claimed her younger sister Karen had been a victim of abuse at the hands of her uncle, adding: “(She) was not strong enough to make the charges, and I believe as a result of all this all coming back into our lives at this much later date, Karen took herself to bed, chose not to eat, and subsequently died.”
While Debbie said she was “disappointed” that the sex abuse case against Leslie Ross will not happen, she added that she was “relieved” that her uncle was dead.
“At least he can’t do it to anyone else and that was my main goal,” she added.
Encouraging other victims of abuse to speak out, Debbie said: “Do it for yourself, do it for your daughters and grand-daughters. Speak up.”