The sudden death of William ‘Willie’ Moore — a butcher by trade and a murderous Shankill Butcher in his spare time — brings to four the number of leading figures in the infamous Shankill Butcher gang who have died.
Moore, who supplied the knives for the sadistic gang and slit the victims’ throats, died in his Mount Vernon flat last Sunday, aged 60.
First to go of the Shankill Butchers was Lenny Murphy, shot dead by the Provisional IRA. He was an aggressive psychopath who loved the limelight as much as he did killing and torturing innocents.
He was at the apex of the gang, followed by a man whom I referred to as Mr A in my book on the Butchers.
Mr A, contrary to previous reports by some journalists, is still alive and living in the stomping ground the Butchers made their own, namely the Shankill area of west Belfast.
Then there was Mr B, who was in fact Lenny’s older brother, John. He died some years ago in a car accident on the Grosvenor Road in the Lower Falls district.
Some of those who went to John Murphy’s aid were Catholics, who were unaware the dying man would have thought nothing of taking their lives in the dark days of the Butcher murders.
And, it is hard not to forget the Butcher with the moniker ‘The Basher’. He was Robert Bates and clearly he did not acquire his nickname for being a nice guy.
Somewhat ironically, his end came in 1997 when he was shot dead as part of a loyalist revenge feud.
At the time of his passing, he was said to have found God and was helping rehabilitate men released from prison.
If that were true, one wonders why he had not found God long before he revelled in killing people.
While he was a prominent member of the Shankill Butchers gang, he played a less important role than ‘Willie’ Moore, who not only provided the knives the Butchers used to torture and slit their victims’ throats, but also the taxi in which the gang cruised the darkened streets of west and north Belfast.
Victims were dragged into that taxi, beaten and sliced in it and dragged from it to be put out of their misery. In some instances, Lenny, or sometimes The Basher and ‘Big’ Sam McAllister, taunted victims, telling them they had fallen into the hands of The Butchers.
It is impossible to convey the horror people must have felt at that moment, knowing they were at the mercy of savages.
Within the gang, Moore was the quiet man but I suspect there was always a devil hiding behind his calm, unemotional features.
His mother thought so too. After he was arrested, she thanked Jimmy Nesbitt, the lead detective in the Butchers investigations, for putting her son behind bars.
The truth is, Moore was the ideal person to do his masters’ bidding and by masters I mean Lenny Murphy, John Murphy and Mr A.
He was happy to take orders and loved the adulation he got from the two Murphy brothers for agreeing to play a critical role in the gang’s activities.
His taxi and his knives were his passports to that acceptance but more importantly, his unquestioning loyalty bought him credibility in their eyes.
Moore was not as flamboyant as Lenny, Big Sam or The Basher, or as calculating as Mr A. But he was shrewd and familiar with the exactitude of the sectarian geography of west Belfast.
In later years, people I met who knew many of the Butchers said they were shocked when they learned Willie Moore led a gang of cutthroats, much less killed people. But those witnesses never really knew Moore — behind the unassuming exterior was a cold, vicious bigot.
When Lenny ended up behind bars, he sent out messages to Moore via John Murphy and Mr A.
Those messages were to continue the killings. John Murphy and Mr A did not need to do the dirty work of slitting throats because Moore was the obedient soldier who had begun to enjoy starring in the lead role of the slit-throat killer in Lenny’s absence.
Mr A and John Murphy merely helped Moore with the logistics by providing the knives and a gun each time a victim was snatched off the streets.
However, when justice came calling, Moore was no match for Jimmy Nesbitt and his fellow detectives on the Tennant Street station murder squad.
Moore confessed to them: “It was that bastard Murphy who led me into all this. My head’s away with it.”
The Murphy in question was Lenny Murphy, whom Moore had known from primary school days. During police questioning, Moore broke down and cried.
At one stage, he asked his interrogators, ‘Do you think I’m wise?’, meaning, ‘Do you think I’m crazy?’. That Willie Moore was not the Moore who behaved like a happy man at his trial, waving to friends and relatives in the public gallery.
By then, he had grown a beard and was snappily dressed. To the outside world, he did not resemble the unshaven serial murderer in the photos of him taken at the time of his arrest.
The trial judge Turlough O’Donnell was in no doubt about the role Moore played in the Butchers’ gang.
He told Moore: “You pleaded guilty to 11 murders carried out in a manner so cruel and revolting as to be beyond the compre
hension of any normal human being. I am convinced that without you many of the murders would not have been committed.”
Moore was impassive when the judge told him he should never be released, but smiled and waved to the public gallery when he was led from the dock.
After sentencing, Jimmy Nesbitt visited Moore in prison, hoping to persuade him to give up Mr A and John Murphy, whom I referred to in my book as Mr B.
Moore made it clear that no one could protect him if he betrayed his masters by going up against them in open court. In that claim, he was right.
Lenny had already murdered someone in prison and the UVF regarded Lenny, Mr A and John Murphy as heroes.
In fact, the UVF gave Lenny a big paramilitary send off and his family buried him in Carnmoney Cemetery (where Moore was also buried on Thursday), close to the grave of one of the Butcher victims, a student called Stephen McCann.
Moore had personally slit McCann’s throat from ear to ear.
In many things written about the crimes of the Shankill Butchers, most of the focus has been on Lenny Murphy, the smiling sadist. But Moore, the quiet man whose own mother knew he harboured deadly thoughts, was a critical figure.
Lenny Murphy cleverly chose a fellow psychopath when he picked Moore to help him kill innocent Catholics.
I never followed Moore’s history after he was released from prison though I heard rumours he was involved with drugs. That did not surprise me, given he had a penchant for criminal activity.
From what I was told by people within loyalism, Willie never expressed any remorse for the Butcher murders.
Among the leading Butchers still alive, Mr A stands out as the person who had the closest connection to Lenny Murphy, John Murphy and Moore.
Mr A knew Moore well but I have no evidence they linked up after Moore was freed under the Good Friday Agreement.
Moore appeared to have made new friends, though one source saw him in the company of Big Sam McAllister on a few occasions. McAllister continues to drink in his favourite bar in the Shankill area and, according to one of my sources, has shown no remorse for his role in the Butcher murders.