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Bizarre romance is proof murder can be seductive

By Gail Walker

Published 08/09/2015

Julie McGinley pushes a shopping trolley beside her new partner
Julie McGinley pushes a shopping trolley beside her new partner

News that killer Julie McGinley is to wed a former top BBC NI TV producer here is one of those moments where you just wonder about people. How on earth does someone fall in love with a vicious killer? Especially one who is doing time for the cold-blooded murder of her husband?

Of course, after a certain age, practically everyone you meet will have a past, but that's not the sort of tale about an ex that is going to make you rush to turn the lights down low and snuggle up. It would certainly be a difficult backstory to bring up.

But then such is McGinley's notoriety that few haven't heard about how she plotted with her then lover, Michael Monaghan, to have her husband Gerry bludgeoned to death.

Or how, following the murder in August 2000, the body was stripped, then moved from their Co Fermanagh home to woodland at Ballinamore, Co Leitrim, where the remains lay undiscovered until June 2001.

Certainly her new love, who was reportedly struck by Cupid's arrow when he met her while researching a documentary on life behind bars, would have known just how apt the term femme fatale was in her case.

So, how are we supposed to react to news of the romance, as revealed by our sister newspaper Sunday Life? Wish them well? Howl like a member of a braying mob with pitchforks? Or just shuffle around feeling that something is not quite right.

For most people asked to deliver a dream profile of their special someone, serving a life sentence for a sickening, brutal murder and being branded a devious liar by the trial judge would be a deal-breaker, though it makes your annoyance at your (prospective) better half's annoying tendency to suck his teeth, or find the umpteenth re-run of Porridge funny, seem a bit picky.

While most of us would have to write the whole thing off as a bizarre instance of human nature, there will undoubtedly be some - the more modern, say - who will endeavour to be understanding. (They wouldn't appear to include Romeo's former bosses at the BBC, who are said to have hauled him in to quiz him about the relationship.)

Perhaps, there is something almost redeeming in how McGinley's fiance saw beyond the crime to the possibly reformed person behind those screaming headlines. You know, how he got to know "the real woman".

But does such a charitable stance not bring with it the risk of doing an injustice to the dead man who is, of course, still dead, all the while McGinley and her beau enjoy time together in their east Belfast love-nest, or take trips to Tesco?

The story reminds me of the New Order song, 1963. A rare song about the squalor of murder and domestic violence, the narrator is that of a murdered wife and contains the chilling lines: "And though he was ashamed that he had took a life/Johnny came home with another wife/And he often remembered how it used to be/Before that special occasion, 1963".

What chills about the song isn't just the casual reference to murder, but the ease with which the killer moved on with his life.

Julie McGinley callously plotted to have her husband murdered for the £310,000 life insurance money, but what was her punishment? Not a lot, judging by the reports of trips to the shops, her own car parked just behind the gates of Hydebank, days out with her lover plus a gardening job in the prison. Little wonder she apparently looks younger than her 44 years.

As part of her release conditions, she is banned from going to Enniskillen, contacting Gerry McGinley's relatives and from entering licensed premises.

And, er, that's punishment?

Perhaps that is why the idea of loving a killer strikes us as being so horrifying. At the end of the day a killer, however repentant, is coming home to a new love, a new life - both of which they so brutally took away from a person equally as valuable as they ever were.

We live in a culture where there is more acclaim for a murderer who repents (or even who doesn't) than for any of the many victims they create, from the deceased to family and friends.

Victims in our culture remain what they were to begin with - obstacles to be ignored or erased. The very word 'murder' - "it's subjective" - has been degraded in our society to such an extent that the opprobrium which accompanies it in civilised societies simply doesn't exist here.

Many even balk at the word 'killer' - "too emotive" - so we end up with everyone being a victim and no one is responsible for anything.

Mind you, while taking up with a former BBC producer isn't the move of a shrinking violet seeking a quiet life out of the glare of the cameras, the journo wouldn't be the first here to be seduced by either the perfume or aftershave of murder.

It seems to be a heady fragrance for some.

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