The Butcher Boy: history repeated in new tragedy
Enda McLaughlin’s stabbing spree in Germany could have been avoided, writes Donal Lynch
Ireland seems to do a particular line in small -town madmen who slip through the cracks in the system.
Exactly 20 years after Brendan O'Donnell committed his awful murders in Cregg Woods, Co Clare, another recidivist from the West, Enda McLaughlin, brought a similarly random brutality back into the headlines.
The bloodshed was just as senseless and the narrative, what led to it, was grimly familiar. Like O'Donnell, McLaughlin's mother was absent for much of his early life. He seemed to have inherited her mental health issues. And from his early teens the Donegal man had begun to get into trouble.
He once told a judge that he would only control his drinking "if someone shoots me". As in the earlier case, which transfixed the nation in 1994, the dogs in the street knew that tragedy was on the horizon, but little was done.
In cases like these, the bloody ending seems glaringly obvious in hindsight.
Enda McLaughlin had been in and out of prison for much of his life, but at no stage did someone in authority have the foresight to see that this was a man careening towards disaster and to do something about it. His own family saw it of course: McLaughlin's sister said that Enda thought that "life was a cartoon and he was in it."
She said that he had been diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. His father hoped, against all better judgement, that his son was going to make a new life for himself in Holland, that Enda would, in the words of his fictional counterpart Francie Brady, become "not a bad bastard anymore".
In fact, the bloody end was nigh: the Donegal man would go on a knife-wielding frenzy, stabbing three people, before running out in front of a car in Aachen, Germany. He became a real-life Butcher Boy.
The beginning of the end came at 1am on Monday morning when Dutch taxi driver Jon van Alst received a call to collect a fare in Heerlen town in the southeastern part of the Netherlands.
The passenger, Enda McLaughlin, got into the front seat and asked to be driven 20km across the border to Aachen. He refused to wear his seatbelt and spent the journey beadily eyeing the driver.
However, he seemed neither drunk nor high on drugs, so Mr van Alst took the fare. They arrived at Aachen casino at about 1.20am. The passenger jumped out of the taxi without paying and was chased by Mr van Alst.
"Then he rammed a knife into Jon's stomach without warning," Fred Ruijters, owner of the Heerlen taxi company, told the Irish Times.
Mr Van Alst was rushed to hospital and underwent emergency surgery after his small intestine was ruptured. The crime was totally senseless.
Mr Van Alst's colleagues revealed that the driver still had €500 on him - McLaughlin hadn't even wanted to rob him.
After stabbing the Dutch taxi driver, McLaughlin demanded money from a passer-by, a 49-year-old German man. He refused and was also stabbed and taken to hospital. Just a few minutes after this, the Donegal man got into another taxi at an Aachen rank.
The driver would later say that he was taking him to a brothel in the direction of Cologne.
When the passenger got out at a service station to use the toilet, the driver heard the radio dispatcher warn of a knife-wielding madman who looked like the man in the back of the car.
"Just as he reached for the handle of the door to open it, I decided it was him, stepped on the gas pedal and sped away," he said.
After, as he drove at speed away from the scene, he called the police. By that point Enda McLaughlin had moved on to another crime.
He stabbed an Estonian truck driver at the petrol station. The attacker then ran on to the motorway where he was struck by a passing car driven by a bewildered and traumatised English couple. A postmortem at Cologne University Hospital showed that the cause of death was multiple traumas from the impact.
His heartbroken father would later say that he felt sure Enda would one day die in circumstances such as this.
"From his early teens he got into trouble," he said. "The system let him down."
When someone has such a record of long criminal activity, when their own family have such well-founded concerns for their mental health, should there not be some mandatory oversight on the part of the judicial and mental health systems. Multiple chances of intervention were missed.
Did nobody take on board the fears of this man's own family?
Perhaps if they had the tragedies which occurred in Germany and Holland last week could have been prevented.