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The Shankill Butchers

An Excerpt:

‘It is incredible to think that Murphy was in fact a murderer at the age of twenty. There were many people at the time who would not have believed it. After all, he looked like most young men of his age, and his appearance did not suggest anything sinister about his character or his intentions. The only apparent thing was his pathological hatred of Catholics which he constantly stressed in all his conversations. He seemed a hardworking shop assistant, though his criminal activities paid for his flamboyant lifestyle of heavy drinking and womanizing. Indeed, many of his contemporaries derived an income from Unemployment Benefit supplemented with proceeds from robberies or extortion. He was five feet six and a half inches in height, of slim build with a crop of curly dark brown hair, blue eyes and a sallow complexion. He had a long face with overly long ears, a small turned-up nose and a rounded chin. There was a scar on the back of his left hand and several tattoos on both arms. The tattoos were of King William of Orange on a horse, the words “Mum and Dad”, the Red Hand of Ulster and “Rem. 1690”. The tattoos were fairly typical of many working-class men of his age though he often kept them hidden from view. It has been suggested that vanity caused him to do this since the tattoos were drawn in his teens but later conflicted with his “man about town” image.

‘The killing of Arthurs was gruesome but it was only the beginning of this type of murder involving torture or “rompering”. One month after the Arthurs killing an elderly Catholic was murdered in a way which bears a striking resemblance to the Arthurs crime. Though no one was ever brought to justice for these murders, it was thought that the manner of killing strongly indicated the same hand at work. The third murder was that of forty-eight-year-old Thomas Madden who worked in a Mill on the Crumlin Road and who, due to the geography of Belfast, was obliged to travel each day through tough Protestant enclaves to reach his place of work. Madden was a bachelor, an inoffensive man who enjoyed a drink and went to Mass on Sundays. He lived in a boarding house on Cliftonville Park Avenue in North Belfast and worked as a security guard, which involved night shift duty. Three weeks before his death he was stopped by vigilantes and taken to a club on the Shankill Road and interrogated. There is little doubt that it was the Lawnbrook Social Club, where Arthurs was murdered. He was detained in the rear of the club for almost twenty-four hours. His captors removed his personal possessions, which included a pair of rosary beads, a small amount of cash, cigarettes and a lighter, then interrogated him about his background, where he drank and whether he knew any IRA men in the area where he lived. After twenty-four hours he was released and all his possessions, with the exception of his money, were returned to him. His release was unusual, since people picked up in this fashion were immediately marked for death on the basis of their religion. We will probably never know why he was allowed to go free, though we can speculate that his captors intended that he should be kept under surveillance. Unfortunately, if that was the tactic, Thomas Madden’s drinking haunts would have placed him at risk, in particular one pub which he frequented often and which was bombed several times by Loyalist paramilitaries because it was a meeting place for Republicans. On the evening before he met his death he was drinking in his favourite pub, The Meeting of the Waters, and appeared reluctant to go to work that night. He mentioned to his drinking companions that he feared for his life but did not elaborate beyond this comment. However, he returned after 9:00 P.M. to his lodgings and repeated his fears to his landlady. It may have been due to the alcohol he had consumed that day, or perhaps the fear of losing his job, that made him set out for the Crumlin Road. Somewhere between his lodgings and his place of work he was apprehended by his killers, most likely in the vicinity of the Crumlin Road. He was taken to a lock-up garage in Louisa Street off the Oldpark Road. Between the hours of 10:00 P.M. and 4:00 A.M. he was tortured. He was suspended by a rope from a wooden beam and stripped of his clothing. A knife was used on his body much in the manner a sculptor would chip away at a piece of wood or stone. Long cuts were made down his back and thighs and in all there were 147 stab wounds on his body. This was the work of a sadist, and the pathologist’s report indicates that it was the work of one man. Not one of the wounds would have been likely to cause death but Thomas Madden must have lost consciousness frequently and been revived. Unlike Arthurs, his death did not occur from a bullet wound but from gradual strangulation from a slowly tightening noose. A woman in the vicinity of Louisa Street later revealed that at 4:00 A.M. she heard a man screaming, “Kill me. Kill me”.

‘The body was dragged one hundred yards by the killers, lifted to a height of six feet and thrown over a metal gate into a shop doorway. The manner of Madden's demise was similar to that of Arthurs and the wounds suggested the use in each killing of a nine-inch double-bladed knife. There was undoubtedly a lot of blood spilled in both instances, and this was to become a feature of killings by the Shankill Butchers, and particularly by Lenny Murphy.’


‘The Shankill Butchers remain unique in the sadistic ferocity of their modus operandi. The Provisional IRA - by far the most important of the various murderous organizations in Northern Ireland - never unleashed on society anyone quite like Lenny Murphy, The Chief of the Shankill Butchers………Martin Dillon has written a chilling book. Chilling, but fascinating’

--Historian and writer, Dr. Conor Cruise O’Brien.

The Shankill Butchers covers gruesome territory. The great value of Martin Dillon’s carefully researched and readable work is that it enters a world few journalists have been inclined or able to penetrate’.

--The Listener

‘Dillon’s books are a working lifetime’s brave and persistent effort to get information of a kind which, as he frankly says, can be perilous to possess, let alone to reveal’.
--Times Literary Supplement.

‘Not for the squeamish. The Shankill Butchers is a horrifying detailed account of one of the most brutal series of murders in British legal history ? a phenomenon whose real nature has been ob by the troubled and violent context from which it sprang’.

--Arrow Books

‘Gripping but altogether terrifying reading’.
--Washington Times