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Tortured and butchered


Some of the most brutal murderers of Ardoyne people were carried out by loyalist paramilitaries.

For most of us the reasons why loyalist groups like the Shankill Butchers were particularly bent on abduction, horrific torture and mutilation, is unimaginable in its cruelty. But for the families, the trauma is greater knowing their loved ones suffered terrible and fearful deaths.

On 22 July 1972, 23-year-old Patrick O’Neill was enjoying a night out with friends in Kelly’s Cellars in Belfast. He was abducted with his friend Rose McCartney and both were subjected to a brutal sectarian attack.

They were shot several times and Patrick’s body showed signs of having been beaten in a murder that horrified both friends and family alike.

Described as full of life, Paddy O’Neill never drank and his passion was fixing cars and driving his friends about.

He was a lady’s man and helped raise money to buy a bus to drive families to Long Kesh to visit the internees.

His friend Sadie Grieve said: “He didn’t deserve the death that he got, it was terrible.

“His whole family went to pieces over his death.

“He was with a young girl called Rose McCartney; the loyalists killed them both. God help her family too.”

Some families had to endure the awful pain of having more than one loved one murdered by loyalists.

Brothers Pat and Francis Crossan were both murdered at the hands of loyalist death squads just two years apart.

Pat, who was a bus driver, was targeted on 2 March 1973 as he drove his bus along the Woodvale Road. Two loyalist gunmen shot and killed him.

The father-of-two who lived for his ‘family, community and chapel’ had always made light of sectarianism, ridiculing it in his workplace. His family believe that was enough for him to be branded a target.

His wife Maureen describes sickening hate mail that claimed to be from his murderers in the wake of his killing, boasting they would never be caught. The letters were passed on to the RUC.

“As far as I know he (a neighbour) took it to the police, but I never heard anything. I couldn’t even tell you if there was an investigation into his murder,” she said.

In November 1975 Pat Crossan’s brother Francis was making his way to his home in West Belfast when he was picked up and brutally murdered by the Shankill Butchers. At the time of his death, the Butchers were well established and at large. The 34-year-old father-of-two was involved in organising cross-community holidays for young people.

His badly beaten and mutilated body was found in an entry off Tennent Street and his throat had been cut.

Maureen Crossan said of her brother-in-law: “His father brought him home to Ardoyne.

“They couldn’t open the coffin because he was that badly mutilated.

“It was only two years before that my husband was killed. They had another brother Desmond killed in a car accident – that was three brothers killed.”

Ciaran Murphy suffered an horrific death at the hands of loyalists on 13 October 1974. He was only 17.

The popular lad was easily recognisable at six foot one and had an Afro hairstyle. Like the rest of his family he was a GAA man and played hurling for Ardoyne Kickhams.

He was on a night out with his friends when a loyalist gang abducted him. He was brutally tortured, murdered and his body dumped on the Hightown Road.

“He was picked up in Manor Street by a loyalist gang operating out of the Silverstream area,” said his brother Pat.

“He was taken to a community centre in the Ballysillan area and he was held and tortured there for three or four hours.

“He was then taken to the Hightown Road where he was beaten and shot eight or nine times by the gang.

“Forensics showed he had been shot with four or five different handguns.

“It was plain that he had been badly beaten; there were stab wounds to his face, chest, right shoulder and arm.”

A picture of Ciaran Murphy’s dead body was used, without his family’s permission for an NIO advertisement a short time later.

“About January 1975 they used a black and white image of Ciaran lying under a blanket on the Hightown Road in an advertisement for the confidential telephone line.

“They did that without consulting my family. They never asked for permission or consulted with the family at any stage. They just printed it.”

Ciaran’s friend Seamus Larkin said: “Ciaran had everything going for him. He really had.

“He was a good guy, good craic, had a heart of gold and he was a very good friend. He’s sadly missed. Ciaran would have been 45 now, if he’d still been alive.”

Murders unrivalled in their brutality continued into the 1980s. Only three days into the decade on 3 January, 20-year-old Alex ‘Speedy’ Reid was delivered into the hands of his loyalist killers on the Shankill Road after he and a friend got into a taxi.

His lust of life and good humour earned him his nickname after the cartoon character Speedy Gonzalez.

He had a penchant for hats and was well known around the district walking with his fashion accessory – a walking stick.

He had been with a friend when they boarded a black taxi outside the City Hall. The taxi went up the Shankill Road and stopped outside a loyalist bar. The driver went into the bar and announced he had ‘two Taigs in his car’.

A gang dragged Alex and his friend from the taxi. His friend managed to escape but Alex was brutally beaten to death with a breezeblock and his mutilated body dumped in a derelict building in Berlin Street, off the Shankill Road.

His brother Martin describes his doubts after identifying him, such were the terrible injuries inflicted on him.

“I still wasn’t too sure if it was Alex. In fact it was a bit of a shock.

“It didn’t look like him. I always imagined that within the next couple of days I’d find out I’d identified the wrong person,” he said.

“I think three people were charged with his murder, but only one got convicted with the killing. The other two were convicted of GBH.”

September 4, 2002

This article appeared first on the web site on September 2, 2002.