Why do some killers dis­mem­ber their vic­tims?

The Irish Times - Weekend Review - - FRONT PAGE - Conor Lally

Though cases of dead bod­ies be­ing dis­mem­bered are rare, there have been a num­ber in Ire­land in re­cent years. While one might as­so­ciate such bar­bar­ity with or­gan­ised or gang crime, few of the per­pe­tra­tors in these re­cent cases were hard­ened crim­i­nals. Most had no his­tory of se­ri­ous vi­o­lence, and no crim­i­nal record.

1 The best-known case is that of Linda and Charlotte Mul­hall, who are serv­ing terms of im­pris­on­ment for the killing of Farah Swaleh Noor in Dublin in March 2005. A Kenyan na­tional, Noor had been beaten and stabbed, and his body dis­mem­bered at a house in Bally­bough, in Dublin’s north in­ner city. Wrapped in black plas­tic, the body parts were dis­carded into the Royal Canal near Croke Park. How­ever, some floated to the sur­face and passers-by alerted the Garda.

The vic­tim had been in a re­la­tion­ship with the sis­ters’ mother, Kath­leen Mul­hall. They in­sisted Noor had raped their mother, and when he made sex­ual re­marks about them they felt threat­ened and alarmed, and they killed him in a spur-of-the-mo­ment at­tack. They cut up the re­mains over sev­eral hours in the bath­room of the house be­cause they did not know what else to do with the body.

Mr Jus­tice Paul Car­ney called the crime “the most grotesque case of killing that has oc­curred in my pro­fes­sional life­time”.

Nei­ther Linda nor Kath­leen – later jailed for con­ceal­ing the crime – had pre­vi­ous con­vic­tions for any form of crime. Charlotte had con­vic­tions for mi­nor pub­lic or­der mat­ters.

2 In an­other case, the Garda is cur­rently search­ing for the out­stand­ing parts of the dis­mem­bered

re­mains of James Nolan. The first in­di­ca­tion that he had been killed and his body dis­posed of in pieces in sev­eral lo­ca­tions was when his hand washed up on Dol­ly­mount Strand, north Dublin, in 2011.

The 46-year-old, from Fair­lawn Road in Fin­glas, Dublin, was last seen at a lo­cal methadone clinic on Novem­ber 30th, 2010. He was a con­victed rapist, and gar­daí be­lieve he was killed by his brother, Thomas Nolan, who took his own life in a flat in Mon­aghan last Novem­ber.

Thomas Nolan wrote a de­tailed sui­cide note, run­ning to about 20 pages, giv­ing an ac­count of the stran­gu­la­tion, mur­der and dis­mem­ber­ing of his brother, be­fore his re­mains were dumped in a Co Mon­aghan lake and a park in Fin­glas, north Dublin. The killer had even cut tat­toos from the dead man’s up­per arms to pre­vent his iden­ti­fi­ca­tion.

Gar­daí be­lieve the mur­der oc­curred dur­ing a drink-fu­elled row.

3 In an­other dis­mem­ber­ing case, Dubliner Mark Burke dis­ap­peared on July 28th, 2014, and his par­tial re­mains, iden­ti­fied through DNA pro­fil­ing, were found at Thorn­ton’s re­cy­cling plant on Killeen Road in Bal­lyfer­mot three days later, on July 31st.

His killing has never been solved. He was home­less at the time of his dis­ap­pear­ance, and gar­daí do not be­lieve he had any en­e­mies who wanted him dead. They sus­pect his killing was un­planned, and who­ever was be­hind it de­cided to dis­mem­ber his re­mains for ease of dis­posal.

4 An­other Dublin man, Ken­neth O’Brien, was mur­dered and dis­mem­bered last year. JCB driver O’Brien (33), from Le­land Road in Clon­dalkin, was re­ported miss­ing on Jan­uary 15th, 2016. The fol­low­ing day his torso was found in a suit­case by walk­ers at the Grand Canal near Cel­bridge, Co Kil­dare. A man is cur­rently charged with mur­der.

5 Only one Ir­ish case in re­cent times has been linked to or­gan­ised crime: that of Christo­pher Gaffney. In Novem­ber 2013, re­mains of the 37-year-old heroin dealer were found by a hunter’s dog in a field near Clonee, Co Meath.

Gaffney is the only one of the mur­der vic­tims dis­mem­bered in re­cent years who gar­daí be­lieve was de­lib­er­ately tar­geted and killed by peo­ple who were likely to have taken life be­fore.

A Fin­nish study by foren­sic psy­chol­o­gists Helinä Häkkä­nen-Ny­holm and Eila Repo-Ti­iho­nen sug­gests dis­mem­ber­ing and mu­ti­la­tion oc­cur in be­tween 0.2 per cent and 1 per cent of killings, de­pend­ing on what geo­graphic area is stud­ied. Their study, ‘Homi­cides with Mu­ti­la­tion of the Vic­tim’s Body’, also found that such killings were in­creas­ing in some parts of the world, in­clud­ing Ger­many and Ja­pan.

The in­ter­na­tional re­search ex­plores five kinds of mur­ders with dis­mem­ber­ing and/or mu­ti­la­tion: de­fen­sive, ag­gres­sive, of­fen­sive, psy­chotic and or­gan­ised crime.

Ag­gres­sive cases are those in which the mur­der and dis­mem­ber­ing/ mu­ti­la­tion are the same act of ha­tred to­wards the vic­tim, rather than sep­a­rate events.

Of­fen­sive cases are those where the dis­mem­ber­ing is the ul­ti­mate goal of the vi­o­lence. These killings of­ten have a sex­ual as­pect.

The psy­chotic cat­e­gory in­volves those where the killer has lost touch with re­al­ity and/or is hear­ing voices, for ex­am­ple.

There has been at least one such killing in Ire­land in re­cent years. In 2015 Save­rio Bel­lante was found not guilty of mur­der by rea­son of in­san­ity af­ter killing and con­sum­ing part of his land­lord, Tom O’Gor­man, in 2014. He killed the vic­tim af­ter a row over a chess game and be­cause he be­lieved he was Je­sus and had no choice but to kill him.

The or­gan­ised crime cat­e­gory of mu­ti­la­tion or dis­mem­ber­ing mur­ders in­cludes those de­signed to cre­ate fear and send mes­sages to oth­ers, per­haps to in­crease a gang’s power.

The dis­mem­ber­ing killings in Ire­land in re­cent years, bar Gaffney’s, fall into the aca­demics’ “de­fen­sive” cat­e­gory – dis­mem­ber­ing of a corpse to con­ceal a crime and frus­trate iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of the re­mains.

Ken­neth O’Brien, from Le­land Road in Clon­dalkin, whose torso was found in a suit­case the day af­ter he went miss­ing, in Jan­uary 2016

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