Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 28 August 2014

Elizabeth Douglas, the Sandy Row executioner

Belfast, July, 1974, and a naive and desperate young woman falls prey to a deadly adversary ... David Kiely's new book, Deadlier than the Male: Ireland's Female Killers (Gill & MacMillan, £7.99) charts the stories of 16 chilling cases. One of them concerns Co Tyrone woman Ann Ogilby, who paid dearly for saying the wrong thing to the wrong person at the wrong time.

On July 29, 1974, workmen came upon the corpse of a woman in a ditch close to the M1 at Stockman's Lane just outside Belfast. The woman had been battered to death. Five days earlier a young woman named Ann Ogilby, a native of Sion Mills, Co Tyrone, had disappeared. She was one of 13 children born to a poor Protestant family and had moved to Belfast when she was 17.

On July 29, 1974, workmen came upon the corpse of a woman in a ditch close to the M1 at Stockman's Lane just outside Belfast. The woman had been battered to death. Five days earlier a young woman named Ann Ogilby, a native of Sion Mills, Co Tyrone, had disappeared. She was one of 13 children born to a poor Protestant family and had moved to Belfast when she was 17.

She was a very attractive girl with dark-brown silky hair and blue eyes and perhaps it was her stunning looks that led to her downfall. It seems that, almost from the beginning, she began a slide down the social ladder in the city, falling in with a progressively worse crowd.

In her quest for Mister Right she embarked on a number of ill-fated love affairs, none of which lasted any length of time. She began to drift, losing one job after another, being evicted for being behind with the rent.

Ann was sexually active all the while and producing children. She shared the belief of naive young women that having a man's child will automatically 'bind' him to a relationship.

Six years following her arrival in Belfast she'd given birth to four children, each by a different partner. But at last she appeared to have found a decent man.

In August 1972 a friend introduced her to William Young. He was married but the marriage was 'on the rocks'. According to William, his divorce hadn't come through yet. He claimed to have fallen in love with pretty Ann Ogilby, and she fervently believed that she was in love with him. The pair set up house together.

Ann discovered that her live-in lover was deeply involved with the UDA. He was arrested in 1973 and interned at the Maze prison.

Loyalists collected money on a regular basis to buy food and other items to make a stay in jail tolerable for their prisoners.

The difficulty arose when the UDA mistakenly assumed that Young and his wife were still living together. Mrs Young was given food parcels to pass on to him. But they never reached him - or so Ann Ogilby claimed. Ann was incensed. She found herself practically destitute while her partner languished in prison.

She was now reduced to living at the YWCA hostel on the Malone Road.

She had four children to support, as well as looking after William Young. She was providing food parcels entirely on her own account. It wasn't fair.

Unfortunately she made the deadly error of airing her grievances to anybody who'd listen - and one of those listeners had the ear of Mrs Young, who in her turn was a good friend of Elizabeth Douglas, the 40-year-old 'commander' of the women's branch of the UDA.

Elizabeth listened to the allegations made against Ann Ogilby.

They were serious and she ordered that Ann be brought in for 'questioning'.

Elizabeth Douglas might have appeared to Ann as being a somewhat overweight and plain middle-aged woman, indistinguishable from so many such women who frequented the loyalist bars at the weekend.

Ann couldn't have known that she was dealing with a woman who loved power above all else.

Elizabeth Douglas had never had much of it, having grown up as the middle daughter in a poor, working-class family.

She married when she was 17 and in 1974 was the mother of four grown-up children - all she'd seen of life was the drudgery of marriage and motherhood.

When Ann Ogilby crossed Elizabeth's path, the UDA woman had a police record to rival that of any criminal, male or female.

She'd been in front of the judges and magistrates for a list of offences that included forgery, smuggling, assault and actual bodily harm. She'd also helped her husband to run a brothel.

Ann Ogilby was picked up on the evening of July 23 and brought to Douglas's home in City Street.

They asked her questions. Had she really made disparaging comments about Mrs Young? Ann admitted that she had. Elizabeth tore strips off her, threatening her with dire consequences and ostracisation if she did anything like that again.

"We have rules here," she said. "We all stick to them and I expect anybody new to do the same."

Ann said nothing, but seemed to be shocked into silence by the seriousness with which Elizabeth Douglas regarded the situation.

She was still angry, continuing to see herself as the wronged party, but she promised to behave and they brought her to Glengall Street bus station beside the Opera House so that she could take a bus back to the hostel.

There were nine women besides Ann, all squeezed into one car.

Ann boarded the bus and said goodnight to two of her 'minders'.

But she said a little too much for her own good. "Who does she think she is? she asked, referring to Elizabeth Douglas. "The Queen?"

The 'commander' was furious. She issued a curt order and, before the startled eyes of the bus driver and passengers, a woman walked out in front of the vehicle, preventing it from moving off.

Three other women boarded the bus, dragged Ann from her seat and bundled her back into the car they'd come in. It sped off with a squeal of tyres.

What probably saved Ann's life that night was a phone call made by one of the bus station staff. He took down the number of the car before it was driven away, and alerted the police.

A bulletin was sent out and the car stopped on Malone Road. The RUC constables were surprised to find so many women jammed into the one vehicle.

"We're off to a party, love," one said with a wink. "You won't report us for a wee bit of overcrowding now, will you?"

But the policeman told them of the report he'd received about one of their number being dragged off a bus.

"That would be me," Ann Ogilby volunteered, perhaps attempting to ingratiate herself with Elizabeth Douglas. "It was nothing. Only a couple of us fooling around."

The police weren't convinced, however, and all were escorted to Queen Street RUC station. Statements were taken. Ann Ogilby was noticeably distressed, but refused to make a complaint, even when pressed.

No charges were brought, though the women were held until 2am. Their names and addresses were taken. All lived in the Sandy Row area.

The police invited Ann to return to the station the following day, to make a statement. Again she refused. She asked to be driven to the Social Services Centre in Lower Crescent. She had an appointment there, she said.

She failed to keep the appointment, scheduled for three o'clock that afternoon. By nightfall she'd be dead.

What happened that evening in Sandy Row is shocking. And all the more because those involved were not only female but some as young as 16 and 17.

At 1pm a group of UDA women met in a bar in Sandy Row to discuss the situation. One was Elizabeth Douglas, another Kathleen Whitla, her 'second-in-command'. Alcohol was drunk freely and the talk was of the impossible situation the 'renegade' had placed them in.

No-one knew whether the police had quizzed Ann yet and, if so, what she'd let slip about the organisation. Elizabeth said that "something would need to be done".

They moved on to a second public house and at about 2pm, Elizabeth had made her decision. The loose cannon would have to be brought in.

Ann Ogilby failed to keep her appointment that day because a man driving a blue van came for her at the YWCA. We know the van was blue because that is what Ann's eldest daughter, six-year-old Sharlene, reported later to the police. We also know that the man was 25-year-old Albert Graham, known to his friends as 'Bumper'.

Mother and daughter were driven to a building in Hunter Street, close to Sandy Row. It was a disused bakery serving as a clubhouse for the UDA.

Bumper unlocked the front door, and escorted Ann and Sharlene inside. To their great surprise a group of women wearing face masks appeared as if from nowhere. Elizabeth Douglas, wearing no disguise of any kind, joined them. Her words left Ann Ogilby in do doubt that she'd crossed a line as far as the UDA were concerned.

"Take her upstairs," Elizabeth told the women, "and give her a good rompering."

What was meant by this emerged when all concerned were brought to trial. Three masked women had frog-marched the prisoner to a room on the first floor.

Sure enough, it was used mainly as a children's 'romper' room or playroom. It is hard to imagine less appropriate surroundings for what was to ensue.

They placed a hood over her head and tied her hands together. The 'enforcers' - Henrietta Piper Cowan and Christine Smith - set to work. Cowan was 17, Smith only 16. Ann was punched in the face so violently that she collapsed to the floor. Blows rained down upon her. She was kicked in the head and belly.

They stopped suddenly. From beyond the door came the sound of a little girl's wailing. Sharlene, missing her mother, had come up the stairs. Elizabeth Douglas had come up behind her, 'Bumper' Graham in tow.

"Get her out of her!" she hissed.

Graham brought Sharlene back down the stairs and out into the street. He gave the child 10p to 'go buy some sweets for yourself'. When she returned from the shop on the corner he decided it might be better not to have her about the place at all; he bundled her back into the van and drove her to the YWCA hostel.

He left her standing on the doorstep and went back the way he'd come, to the place where Ann Ogilby was being savagely beaten.

In the romper room the two teenagers had paused in their brutal battering of the helpless - and at that stage unconscious - Ann Ogilby. They wanted a smoke. Calmly and callously they lit up, laughed and joked, discussed which disco they'd go to that night, until they'd finished their cigarettes.

The punishment was then ratcheted up a notch. Somebody - probably Cowan - began hitting the victim repeatedly with a brick, concentrating on her head. It's probable that those blows hastened Ann's death.

Graham and Joey Brown had come into the second room by then. One of them saw the blood staining the sack and realised that the 'punishment' had gone too far. Yet still the two girls continued their frenzied beating.

Finally, after an hour or more, they stopped. Etta Cowan removed the sack. All knew by the sight of Ann Ogilby's disfigured face that she was dead.

The men gathered the body up into another sack and brought it downstairs to Elizabeth Douglas. She evinced no surprise on learning of the murder but instead ordered the corpse to be brought away 'somewhere and dumped'.

The teenagers, without any show of remorse or regret, went off to the disco they'd discussed while beating the innocent mother of four.

In February 1975, 11 women and one man, Albert 'Bumper' Graham, were tried and sentenced for the murder at the Belfast City Commission. All pleaded guilty.

The judge, Mr Justice McGonigal, said: "I do not know what constitutes a 'paramilitary' organisation. What appears before me today under the name of the UDA is gun law, a vicious and brutalising organisation of persons who take the law into their own hands and who, by kangaroo courts and the infliction of physical brutality, terrorise a neighbourhood through intimidation, and rule an area of this city."

He sentenced Elizabeth Douglas to ten years in prison for the manslaughter of Ann Ogilby. She received two further sentences of three years each for the crimes of intimidation and for detaining the victim against her will.

As is all to often the case, those sentences were to run concurrently with her ten years - presumably the thinking is that the minor crimes were committed at the same time as the murder.

Elizabeth Douglas was freed when she served half her sentences.

Ann Ogilby's four motherless children were taken into care.

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