An Phoblacht

Remembering the Past - IRA executed Butchers' leader

11 November 2004

Lenny Murphy

On 16 November 1982, 22 years ago, the IRA executed the psychopathic leader of the Shankill Butchers, Lenny Murphy.

The Shankill Butchers were a group of Belfast loyalists who abducted nationalists — their victims were usually walking home from a night out — tortured, beat them, and killed them, usually by cutting the throat.

The leader of the Shankill Butchers was one Lenny Murphy. He possessed seething anti-Catholicism/nationalism, and was a member of the Ulster Volunteer Force. He soon gathered together a gang, the core being Murphy himself, Robert 'Basher' Bates, and 'Big' Sam McAllister, who used his huge frame to intimidate the Butchers' victims. Typical of this gang's ritualistic killings was the case of Francis Arthurs, who was abducted, beaten and stabbed for over an hour before being killed.

The murder of Tom Madden is seen as one of the most gruesome examples of the Butchers' brutality. Madden was abducted and then stripped naked. He was hung upside down from the beam of a lock-up garage and slowly skinned alive. He eventually died of slow strangulation.

Francis Crossan, aged 34 and a father of two, was walking home from a night out when he was spotted by one of the gang. He was hit from behind with a wheel brace and dragged into a black taxi, which drove into the Shankill area. Francis was then tortured and badly beaten. He was repeatedly hit by Murphy, both with fists and with the wheel brace. Murphy repeatedly said things like, "I'm going to kill you, you bastard!" Francis Crossan was then dragged into an alley, and his throat was cut almost through the spine by Murphy. Pieces of glass found in Francis Crossan's head showed that a beer glass had been shoved into his head, either in the black taxi or in the alley.

More killings followed, until 1979. One of the Butcher's victims was found barely alive. He identified the Butchers, and they were all convicted of murder, except Murphy, who escaped on firearms charges. By 1982, he was out of prison, and he set about re-assembling his gang.

Murphy's gang re-grouped around the time a UDR man was kidnapped. The IRA had kidnapped him and was demanding a ransom. Murphy decided to kidnap a nationalist and demand the release of Cochrane in exchange. Murphy hijacked a black taxi and headed to the Falls Road, where 48-year-old father-of-two Joseph Donegan waved them down. He was taken to Murphy's house, where he was tortured. He had his teeth pulled out with pliers by Murphy until only three were left. He was finally killed by Murphy. Donegan's body was found in the back of Murphy's house. Murphy was arrested but the RUC said there was no evidence to suggest that he had committed the crime. The IRA, meanwhile, had set in train an operation to execute Murphy.

On 16 November 1982, Volunteers of the IRA's Belfast Brigade drove a blue Marina van to Murphy's girlfriend's house at Forthriver Park in the Upper Shankill. Murphy was waiting outside. The van pulled up beside him and IRA Volunteers, armed with a 9mm sub-machine gun and a .38 special, opened fire on Murphy. Murphy was hit by 26 rounds and died instantly. The blue van used by the Volunteers, which had been specially purchased for the operation, was abandoned and set on fire in Glenside Park, a predominantly loyalist area of North Belfast. The setting of the abandoned vehicle, and the fact that Murphy had recently been involved in the typical internal feuding within the UVF, led the RUC to concentrate their enquires in the wrong direction

The IRA, taking full advantage of this confusion, delayed its statement claiming responsibility for the execution until a few days later, when it said the following:

"Lenny Murphy (master butcher) has been responsible for the horrific murders of over 20 innocent nationalists in the Belfast area and a number of Protestants. The IRA has been aware for some time that since his release recently from prison, Murphy was attempting to re-establish a similar murder gang to which he led in the mid-'70s and, in fact, he was responsible for a number of the recent sectarian murders in the Belfast area. The IRA takes this opportunity to restate its policy of non sectarian attacks, while retaining its right to take unequivocal action against those who direct or motivate sectarian slaughter against the nationalist population."

Butchers may have been responsible for 1976 killing

Rosaleen O'Kane's body was found at her Cliftonpark Avenue, on 17 September 1976, stripped naked and burnt.

A postmortem examination, carried out at the time, failed to determine the exact cause of her death, partly because a pathologist could not conclude whether O'Kane's skull had been fractured before or after her death. In a sinister twist, blood and other forensic samples taken during the postmortem were destroyed in a fire at the Six-County Forensic Science Laboratory the next day.

Relatives of O'Kane were told by senior PSNI members that they had intelligence information that two men from North Belfast were suspected of being involved in the killing and that they could not rule out the possibility that the Shankill Butchers were involved.

Lawyers acting for the O'Kane family said they have now obtained funds from the Legal Services Department for a review of the original postmortem evidence, which will be carried out by Dublin state pathologist Professor Marie Cassidy.

Solicitor Patricia Coyle said O'Kane family has unanswered questions about the cause of death, the original investigation and who was responsible.

"The only thing they know is that their sister was murdered and possibly tortured and they further believe that the fire at the forensic laboratory may have been more than a coincidence," she said.

UVF commander Lenny Murphy led the Shankill Butchers gang which, during a reign of terror in the mid-to late-1970s, killed over 30 Catholics. In 1979, eleven members of the sectarian killer gang were convicted of 19 killings and jailed for a total of 1,885 years.

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