Back on the streets, the monsters behind three of Northern Ireland’s most chilling random attacks
THREE killers who murdered random women in the most horrific manner are back walking the streets of Northern Ireland having recently been granted life licences.
Connor McCrory, pictured for the first time today, Ricky Close and Alastair Leighton are now living in the community, surrounded by unsuspecting females who have no clue about their sinister backgrounds.
While public attention focuses on the horrific murder of teacher Aisling Murphy (22) in Co Offaly and spiralling rates of violence against women — Northern Ireland has the highest femicide rate in Europe — less thought is given to the killers among us.
The release of life sentence inmates McCrory, Close and Leighton are particularly concerning because, not only did each take the life of a random woman, they are also sex predators.
• Close was on bail for rape, for which he was later convicted, when he fatally stabbed retired teacher Daphne Taylor near Bangor;
• Leighton raped his victim Julie Hamill before strangling her to death on Portstewart strand;
• A judge ruled there was a sexual element to McCrory’s murder of Maria McConnell who he stripped naked, tied, gagged and beat to death:
Prison sources who alerted Sunday Life to their presence on the streets described Close, Leighton and McCrory as “dangerous”.
“There are particularly concerns about Close and McCrory because both have been kicked off early release schemes over concerns about their behaviour,” said an insider.
“Close was caught doing drugs while in the Burren House open prison, and was also found with a memory stick loaded with pornography.
“McCrory was charged with raping a woman the last time he was out in 2018. The case against him was withdrawn, but it still led to him being returned to jail.”
Both Ricky Close and Connor McCrory have found employment in the catering industry since being granted their life licences.
Close is working in the kitchen of a swanky Belfast bistro, while McCrory is doing a similar job in a specialist restaurant in north Down.
Killer rapist Alastair Leighton is understood to be living back on his native north coast.
Our source added: “These guys are dangerous, be in no doubt about it. The murders they committed may have happened 20 years ago, but that does not lessen the threat they pose.
“The public has a right to know they are out, especially after the murder of Aisling Murphy in Offaly, I’d have concerns for any women in my family living or working near them.”
Connor McCrory (42) refused to speak to Sunday Life when confronted by this newspaper near his home on Friday.
Ignoring our reporter’s questions about whether he felt remorse for the murder of Maria McConnell (22), he walked off into the distance.
The killing was particularly horrific as Maria suffered from socio-phobia and depression meaning she rarely left the house.
On the one night she ventured into the centre of Belfast in July 2000 she had the misfortune to bump into McCrory.
Preying on her trusting nature, he lured her to an an empty house in the Holyand district which he broke into.
When Maria refused McCrory’s request for sex he battered her with a portable CD player and stripped her naked.
The monster then tied her hands behind her back and threw her onto a bed. He stuffed a bandage into Maria’s mouth when she started crying for help, causing her to choke. It was then that McCrory used a folding chair to batter his victim over the head.
Realising she was near death he cleaned the murder scene before returning to his parents home and washing his clothes.
Maria’s body was eventually found 12 days later by a burglar who broke into the Canterbury Street property and alerted police.
McCrory initially denied involvement but confessed when confronted by CCTV and witness evidence.
Sentencing him to life with a minimum 15 years in jail, Mr Justice Higgins rejected the killer’s denials about there being a sexual element to the murder.
Branding him “brutal, callous and cold”, the judge asked if McCrory was capable of such evil once, “was he capable of doing so again?”
Killer rapist Ricky Close (49), who was also granted his life licence before Christmas, is another whose crimes will chill the public.
A former French foreign legionnaire, he stabbed retired teacher Daphne Taylor to death in 1994 as she walked her dog along the coastal path between Ballyholme and Groomsport in north Down.
Close — who was on bail for rape at the time — stabbed his 59-year-old victim twice in the neck for no reason.
Arrested six weeks later he denied murdering Daphne, claiming her death was a result of the pair falling during a struggle and the knife accidentally plunging into her neck.
But a jury rejected this having been told that after the killing he hid the weapon in water and washed himself and his clothes to remove his victim’s DNA and blood.
Close was jailed for life with a minimum of 17 years for murder, and while behind bars was caged for 10 years in prison for rape with both sentences to run concurrently.
Alastair Leighton (54), the third woman killer and sex predator to be granted his life licence, spent 20 years behind bars for the 2000 rape and murder of Julie Hamill.
He abducted the 28-year-old — who was the niece of South Down SDLP MP Eddie McGrady –— as she left Kelly’s nightclub in Portrush.
The thug drove his vulnerable victim to an isolated park in the town where he raped her, before stopping off at a late-night takeaway for a hamburger and chips.
A sedated Julie, who had been locked in the car, was then taken to Portstewart Strand where Leighton kicked and strangled her to death. Her naked body was found on the beach the following morning by a dog walker.
Julie, who was from Downpatrick, had been working in the education sector in Ballymoney and living in Portursh.
On the night of her death she went to Kelly’s nightclub with a friend, but had been taking it easy because she had an appointment the following morning.
A post mortem on the 28-year-old’s body discovered traces of a sedative in her system, leading to fears she had been deliberately spiked.
Leighton was arrested after CCTV from the nightclub showed him leading Julie to his car. He initially denied any wrongdoing, but faced with overwhelming evidence including DNA testing he pleaded guilty to murder, abduction, rape and buggery.