Evil Empire: The Irish Mob and the Assassination of Journalist Veronica Guerinby Paul Williams
On June 26, 1996, an international outcry was heard over the assassination of Irish journalist Veronica Guerin, gunned down by Ireland's most vicious gang. It was the first European case of what the police called "narco-terrorism," where drug syndicates use terror tactics against individuals and states to protect their interests. The hit would change European
On June 26, 1996, an international outcry was heard over the assassination of Irish journalist Veronica Guerin, gunned down by Ireland's most vicious gang. It was the first European case of what the police called "narco-terrorism," where drug syndicates use terror tactics against individuals and states to protect their interests. The hit would change European police tactics forever and make the law enforcement community realize that this problem was no longer confined to the third world.
Ruthless godfather John Gilligan controlled a colossal drug empire and a mob of Dublin gangland's most dangerous criminals. Violence and the threat of murder kept terrified witnesses silent and other gangsters in fear. Gilligan thought himself above the law--and never managed to figure out that there was a line between what gangsters can and cannot do.
In Evil Empire Paul Williams tells the chilling inside story of Gilligan's rise to power, his savage gang, and the truth about the terrifying murder that shocked the world. Also shown is the behind-the-scenes drama of the dedicated police squad that waged an unprecedented four-year war to smash "Factory" John's Evil Empire.
"Evil Empire is exhaustively researched and chillingly riveting . . . traditional crime reporting at its best."The Sunday Independent
"Evil Empire is the most definitive account of the country's most dangerous gang . . . It is an explosive book not to be missed."Sunday World
"Each part is meticulously researched and reads more like a thriller than true life . . . Williams dedicates the book to the memory of Veronica Guerin and the Lucan Investigation Team . . . He has served both in spectacular fashion."The Evening Herald on Evil Empire
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The Irish Mob and the Assassination of Journalist Veronica Guerin
By Paul Williams
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2002 Paul Williams
All rights reserved.
The LITTLE MAN
Ballyfermot, West Dublin, circa 1960
The man out enjoying his evening stroll was the first to spot the group of small kids scurrying from cover at the edge of the golden field of wheat. It didn't take much deduction to work out that the little terrors were up to something. They tittered nervously and glanced back into the huge field of crops that was ready for harvesting.
The first hint of fire was a single pillar of smoke rising up from the crops about five hundred yards into the field. Within minutes the plumes of smoke were blocking out the sun as flames devoured the crops.
"I will never forget that day. Ever since the kids had moved out to the new council houses they were always messing in that field lighting fires, but this was the worst I ever saw. It was pure devastation," recalled the elderly gentleman forty years later.
He distinctly remembered one of those kids. The boy's cherubic face was full of excitement and his deep-set, hazel eyes twinkled with mischief. As fire engines rushed from the city to quell the raging flames, he and his chums giggled 'til tears streamed down their cheeks. This would not be the last time the eight-year-old would cause panic and mayhem in his lifetime. The child was called John Gilligan.
Forty-one years later, as Gilligan began the longest sentence ever given to a drug boss, the old man sat in his home and shook his head with disbelief. "When you look back you never think that an innocent kid like that would turn out to be such a gangster," he reflected somberly. "I always thought that he was a grand kid who just dabbled in a bit of ducking and diving ... but don't use my name, I wouldn't like the trouble," he added cautiously.
It said a lot about little John Gilligan, the kid who would progress from childish vandal and petty thief to international gangster and boss of a dangerous criminal empire. Even old neighbours who had always liked and got on well with him were in fear of him. Despite being universally reviled and safely locked away in a maximum-security prison for the next twenty- eight years, a lot of people in "Ballyer" consider it safer to keep their views on little John to themselves.
* * *
John Joseph Gilligan was born on March 29, 1952. He was the fifth of eleven children, four boys and seven girls, born to Sally and John Gilligan, both of whom came from the Grangegorman area of Dublin's north inner city. The Gilligans were among the thousands of families who were moved from the squalor of inner-city slums to new, sprawling estates on the edge of the capital in the 1950s.
The governments of the day had done commendable work in clearing the appalling tenements in which impoverished Dubliners had been forced to exist for centuries. Unfortunately, the new public housing projects erected out in countryside areas such as Ballyfermot, Cabra, Crumlin, Inchicore, Donnycarney, Glasnevin and Marino would create a whole new set of social problems.
Despite having more space, privacy and decent sanitation, the new estates were lonely places for many of the new tenants. In the move to better living conditions, whole communities were uprooted and broken up. Lifelong neighbours found themselves living miles from one another. The new working-class suburbs had very little to offer apart from accommodation. They would later become notorious breeding grounds for the country's first generation of organised criminals.
The Gilligans were allotted number 5, Loch Conn Road, a modest three-bedroom house with running water and toilet facilities. Although a vast improvement on the slums, the new homes were small and pokey for large families. Loch Conn Road was on the edge of the maze of concrete roads and houses that marked the new border between city and country.
Just a few hundred yards away were the wheat fields which stretched as far as the eye could see. A kid could stroll through the fields of areas called Clondalkin, Palmerstown and Ronanstown, which would later also be gobbled up by voracious urban expansion. At the back of Loch Conn were open fields nicknamed the "California Hills" by the locals who had made the exodus to new lives in the "wild west" of Dublin. Like most of their neighbours, the Gilligans arrived with all their worldly possessions in prams and carts. When most of the residents moved into Ballyfermot the infrastructure was still not complete and the bus service did not go as far as the estates, so everyone had to walk the rest of the journey.
Gilligan's mother, Sally, had a hard life. Her husband, a heavy drinker and gambler, was also a well-known petty thief. In drunken rages he regularly beat his wife in front of his children. In between short periods in jail for house-breaking, John senior worked as a seaman with B and I and was away from home a lot. In a time when crime was still not a major problem in Ireland, John Gilligan senior was the first member of the family who would attract Garda attention.
The hallmark of his break-ins to houses was a lower door panel kicked in with the heel of a boot. One older detective who had arrested him recalled how Gilligan couldn't understand why the police knew so much about him. "Gilligan senior was one of our habitual thieves and he couldn't work out why we kept catching him. He often gave us information in return for dropping charges. His son obviously picked up a lot of his characteristics. He was a nasty, evil little man," the officer recalled.
However, the Gilligans were well liked in their area. Even though the family was poor, their mother ensured that the children were turned out clean and tidy in the best clothes they had. They were considered good, helpful neighbours. The parents of kids who had heard that the Gilligans' father was in prison warned their children not to talk about it, not because they were afraid but out of respect for Mrs. Gilligan. "I remember my Da saying that that woman was too good for John Gilligan. She was a very quiet, pleasant woman," one of her acquaintances explained.
Gilligan junior's sisters were hard-working girls and they helped babysit the neighbours' children. When they were older the children would not tolerate their father beating their mother and barred him from the house on Loch Conn Road until he had recalled his manners. One time when an elderly neighbour's wife died, Sally Gilligan ensured that her kids helped out the widower. "They were decent, hard-working girls," recalled a former resident. "You couldn't ask for better neighbours than the Gilligans."
Those who knew him growing up described John junior as a pleasant young guy but otherwise quite unremarkable. Some of his contemporaries thought he was not very bright. "Years later when he was caught robbing sweets we said, 'Ah, sure, what would ya expect from that little dimwit?' Other lads were out robbin' banks and Johnny was nicking sweets," one of his contemporaries joked. Gilligan certainly wasn't a scholar. He attended the Mary Queen of Angels national school in Ballyfermot village but spent more time "mitching" (playing truant) than pursuing his education. He and his pals roamed around the wheat fields and rode the wild ponies and goats which wandered freely in the area. Gilligan left school when he was twelve years old to pursue his chosen career: crime.
* * *
In 1966, at the age of fourteen, Gilligan joined his father as a seaman with the B and I Line, the only legitimate job he would ever hold, but which he used to engage in criminal activity for the next ten years. During the 1970s the B and I Line, which had a passenger ferry and freight service, was being run into the ground. Successive governments were told that nothing could be done with the company because it was in the grip of the unions. An internal investigation was conducted and it was discovered that the Gilligans, father and son, and a small group of employees were running a major corruption racket on board.
A secret survey conducted among passengers illustrated just how much the company was being ripped off. On one sailing the manifest recorded two hundred and twenty passengers, but a head count found that there were actually more than seven hundred people on board. The little cartel had pocketed the other almost five hundred fares in just one sailing. In the early 1980s the then Minister for Transport, Jim Mitchell, reorganised the company and cleared the Gilligans and their associates out. Thirty years after getting the job Gilligan produced his seaman's record (number E 10214) to a journalist to prove that his conduct with the company had been "very good" during thirty-six voyages.
Within a year of joining his dad on the high seas, young Gilligan notched up his first criminal offence on dry land. He was convicted of larceny on July 3, 1967. His maiden crime was rather unremarkable compared to his later endeavours. Gilligan was caught stealing a farmer's chickens in Rathfarnham. On that occasion the District Court Judge decided to give the teenager the benefit of the doubt and applied the Probation of Offenders Act. The Act is intended as a slap on the wrist to a first-time offender and as an incentive to guide his return to a law-abiding life. Practically every gangster who ever made his mark in Ireland has the Probation Act typed on his record alongside his first conviction.
When John Gilligan was eighteen he met the woman who would one day be described in the courts as his able "partner in crime." Geraldine Matilda Dunne from Kylemore Road in Lower Ballyfermot was thirteen when she fell for the diminutive young thief. "Everyone wondered what Geraldine saw in him — the size of him — but she was mad about him. Everyone thought he was a bit of a gobshite and she was the real brains of the operation," recalled one of Geraldine's former female friends.
One of six children, Geraldine was born on September 29, 1956. Like her boyfriend, she dropped out of school when she was twelve. She was described by a former friend as a "real live wire." From the time she was a child she had a deep interest in horses. It wasn't unusual to see the fifteen- year-old "Dunne lassie" galloping bareback on a pied ball pony up Loch Conn Road to pick up her man. "She was a real character then, a real live wire. She used to drink Kiskadees and laugh that she had had several 'kiss me gees,'" a friend recalled.
Geraldine worked in Abbots Belts, Buckles and Buttons and later as a basic line operative in a ladies underwear factory in Ballyfermot. At lunchtime she would go with friends to see Gilligan, who invariably was hanging around the house on Loch Conn Road. She would instruct her friends to tell her employer that she was sick and then would go off for the afternoon with her man. After several sick days she lost her job, so she went to sea for three months with Gilligan, working as a chef on board a merchant navy vessel.
In January 1974 Geraldine discovered that she was pregnant. She was eighteen. On March 27, just before Gilligan's twenty-second birthday, the couple were wed in the Church of Our Lady of Assumption in Ballyfermot. They moved to live in a flat at the North Strand in Dublin near John's "work." In 1977 the Gilligans moved to a local authority house in Corduff Estate, Blanchardstown, one among many such new estates built during the 1970s. In September Geraldine gave birth to a daughter, Treacy. A year later, in September 1975, the Gilligans had their second child, a son, Darren. John Gilligan was staunchly loyal to his family and twenty years later declared that he would murder anyone who upset them. It was a sentiment that would have sinister consequences.
Now that Gilligan had responsibilities to his wife and babies, he felt he had to knuckle down at his work and provide for them — by robbing. The following October he was taken away from home after he was convicted of larceny in the Dublin District Court. This time the judge was not as lenient and Gilligan was given a six-month prison sentence for his efforts. A young Garda called Tony Sourke had caught him breaking into a shop in Ballyfermot. When Sourke took Gilligan into the local station to be charged with the offence, the diminutive would-be gangster warned the cop: "I'll blow your fucking head off for this."
By now gangland was undergoing a major transformation. The burglar had been replaced by the armed robber and the level of serious crime was increasing at a dramatic rate. Gilligan and his pals were part of that new breed. Among his associates were the Cunningham brothers, Michael, John and Fran, from Le Fanu Road in Ballyfermot. John and Michael, career armed robbers, would gain notoriety when they kidnapped Jennifer Guinness, the wife of John Guinness, the millionaire chairman of the Guinness Mahon Bank. Fran, who was nicknamed the Lamb, preferred to spend his time in the fraud game, robbing banks with dud cheques and dodgy bank drafts. One of the Lamb's closest associates was another suave con man called John Traynor, who also befriended Gilligan. Traynor had also served on the B and I Line with Gilligan.
Among Gilligan's list of criminal associates was another up-and- coming underworld heavy-hitter, George Mitchell, also known as the Penguin, who would become one of the wealthiest drug traffickers in Europe. Through these contacts Gilligan was also acquainted with Martin Cahill, alias "the General," and several members of his mob, including Martin "the Viper" Foley and Michael "Jo Jo" Kavanagh, all of whom would play significant roles in the story of Gilligan's evil empire.
* * *
In the 1970s Gilligan was associated with members of the Dunne family from Crumlin, the first truly well-organised armed robbery outfit in Dublin. The Dunnes were the first major league criminals to move from heists to heroin in the early 1980s and gave the lead to other criminals. They were singularly blamed for sparking the heroin scourge in Dublin, though eventually it destroyed them too.
Gilligan and his father were useful to the new crime gangs. They helped smuggle firearms sent from Britain and other European ports when they worked on the ships. By the mid-'70s Gilligan was "working" with various members of the young crime families. At weekends he and the rest of the criminal community would meet on the beach at Portmarnock for trotting races, where they also planned various jobs. Gilligan was gaining a reputation for violence and was fond of handling firearms. Like his father he developed a serious gambling problem. Sometimes he combined both. In September 1976 he was caught and charged with an attempted robbery of a bookmaker's shop on Capel Street in Dublin's north inner city. He had begun to make a name for himself.
The following year Gilligan received three prison sentences. In July he was sentenced to eighteen months for receiving stolen goods, the load of a van that he had liberated from a shop. In September he got another three months for larceny and a year for the botched bookmaker's job.
Gilligan developed a particular area of criminal expertise. From his time on the container ships he realised that they were veritable floating Aladdin's caves, with every conceivable type of domestic product rolling off the ramp into Dublin. Security was lax and he had solid, corrupt contacts in the shipping business. He saw a comfortable niche for himself in the burgeoning crime industry. He would have no problem selling a container load of goods in the working-class estates across west Dublin. The punters would appreciate a bargain and he would turn a tidy profit in a short time.
He was also growing tired of prison. Like the other young turks of organised crime, he was learning to play what the General referred to as the "game." During Gilligan's sojourn in Mountjoy Prison in 1977 he spent time with Cahill, who was doing time for car theft. There were many loopholes in the law which could be exploited using a clever lawyer to play the "game." Trials could be scuppered by scaring off potential witnesses or simply shooting them. In fact, Gilligan's sixteen convictions over a thirty-year period of intense criminal activity, which were recorded before the Guerin murder and most of which carried relatively short jail terms, are evidence of how he used both legal and criminal means to thwart the law. During the same period he was charged over thirty times with larceny, burglary and robbery.
When Gilligan came out of prison after serving less than a year of his combined three sentences, he organised a team of local criminals around him and went back to work. One night in November 1978 Gilligan hijacked a truckload of frozen bacon as it left a storage depot at Grand Canal Harbour off James Street in Dublin. Gilligan produced a .45 pistol and dragged the driver from his cab. He chained the terrified man by the neck to a lamp post and left him there in freezing temperatures.
A few days later the young policeman who had arrested him four years earlier, Tony Sourke, heard information that Gilligan had been behind the robbery. His informant led him to where part of the haul had been hidden by Gilligan, behind a ditch in a field near Ballyfermot. The rest of the haul was hidden in a shed belonging to a certain husband and wife. Sourke discovered that Gilligan had been paying the couple for the use of the shed for several months to hide various truckloads of goods. He found that Gilligan was robbing everything from frozen bacon to sheets of galvanised metal.
Excerpted from Evil Empire by Paul Williams. Copyright © 2002 Paul Williams. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Paul Williams is Ireland's most respected crime journalist and true crime author. A qualified criminologist, he has won a number of major journalism awards for his investigative work for The Sunday World. He has been responsible for a string of major exposes about John Gilligan, his gang and the murder of Veronica Guerin. Williams is the international bestselling author of Gangland and The General, which was made into a major motion picture by director John Boorman.
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