Police were today investigating the sudden death of one of the leaders of the notorious Shankill Butchers gang, which carried out a series of savage sectarian murders of Catholics in the 1970s.
Serial killer William Moore (60), who was jailed for life in 1979 for his part in the gang’s sadistic killings, was found dead in his north Belfast home yesterday.
Officers were called to his flat in the loyalist Mount Vernon estate at 7.45am yesterday. The circumstances surrounding his death are being investigated, however his death is not thought to be suspicious.
Moore was due to be questioned by the Historical Enquiries Team about the murder of a west Belfast man in 1974, one year before the Shankill Butchers officially began their killing spree.
John Crawford (52), from Andersonstown, was abducted and beaten before being shot dead by a UVF gang close to Milltown Cemetery. Historical Enquiries Team detectives were to quizz Moore about his role in the killing.
In 1979 Moore was given 14 life sentences for his involvement in 19 murders, 11 of which he admitted.
He was released from the Maze Prison in 1998 under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, despite a judge's recommendation that he should never be freed.
The trial judge, Mr Justice O'Donnell told him: "You pleaded guilty to 11 murders carried out in a manner so cruel and revolting as to be beyond the comprehension of any normal human being.
"I'm satisfied that, without you, many of the murders would not have been committed... I see no reason whatsoever, apart from terminal illness, why you should ever be released."
The judge added that if Moore was ever released it should not be for at least 35 years.
Moore, a butcher by trade, supplied an assortment of knives and cleavers used by the gang to carry out random abductions of Catholics who were then tortured, mutilated and killed. He is alleged to have personally slit the throat of one victim, and kicked another to death.
Moore also drove a black taxi used by the gang to cruise the streets of Belfast seeking Catholics to kill. Some were intercepted merely because they were walking "in the wrong direction" towards Catholic parts of the city.
The gang also killed several rival loyalists as a result of petty feuds.
Moore became leader of the Shankill gang, taking over from Lenny Murphy who was jailed in 1976 and subsequently convicted of firearms offences. To divert suspicion from himself Murphy ordered the Butcher slayings to continue. Murphy was shot dead in 1982 after his release from jail. The assassination was carried out by the IRA, but it was strongly suspected that it had been set up by fellow members of the UVF.
After a victim escaped alive, the Shankill Butchers were rounded up by police and most of them broke down and confessed, although they were too terrified to implicate Lenny Murphy. They stood trial in February 1979.
During his trial the court was told that Moore committed the throat cuttings himself, encouraging the rest of the gang to torture the victims.
In recent years Moore was reportedly involved in many types of criminality, including drug dealing. He is believed to have been running a drugs ring with the help of a drugs gang in Scotland.