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The troubled family behind this chilling and grotesque killing

IT WAS a grotesque killing and the brutal, callous actions that immediately followed were staggering.

Charlotte and Linda Mulhall earned themselves the unenviable title 'The Scissor Sisters' by killing their mother's lover, before dismembering his body and dumping parts of it in the Royal Canal, in Dublin.

Kathleen Mulhall had been in a relationship with Farah Swaleh Noor (38). The relationship was volatile and Kathleen was on the receiving end of the Kenyan's abuse.

Charlotte (25) and Linda (32) could see at first hand the pain he inflicted on their mother, in what has been described as a "fraught" and "stormy" relationship. They felt he went too far when he made a pass at Linda, at Kathleen's flat in Dublin city, more than four years ago on March 20, 2005.

Buoyed by a cocktail of alcohol and drugs, the sisters retaliated, in horrific style. Charlotte took a bread knife to Noor and Linda wielded a hammer. They inflicted a fatal attack on their victim. However, it was what they did with the body afterwards that truly propels this case into the category of gruesome.

The duo dragged the body into the bathroom of the flat and began to cut him up into pieces. Charlotte began to saw on his arms with the knife, while Linda repeatedly hammered him. Their incredible actions lasted a few hours and after the body had been dismembered, they went about disposing of the various parts. They dumped the limbs in the Royal Canal and put Noor's head in a schoolbag and took it to Tallaght on the bus, where they buried it in a park. The head has never been recovered. They also cleaned up the flat.

The killing did not come to light until 10 days later, when two men out walking along the Canal in Ballybough encountered the most bizarre sighting. Floating in the canal was an arm, a leg and what appeared to be a torso and thigh. Their reaction of utter astonishment would later be mirrored by those involved in the garda investigation team, as they tried to piece together what exactly had happened.

The discovery led to a massive investigation as the Mulhalls' deep, dark secret was exposed. The identification of the victim was the first priority and, as gardai were pursuing this, speculation mounted that this was a ritual killing. A major appeal for information was launched by Crimestoppers. A photograph of the Irish soccer jersey that had been found on the body, along with a physical description of him, was circulated. Some six weeks after the body parts were discovered, a friend of Noor's saw the photograph in a newspaper and realised that the Kenyan wore a white jersey, similar to that in the photograph, during the St Patrick's Day celebrations. When he did not have any success in contacting Noor, he then came forward to gardai. This led to the formal identification, as the much-publicised appeals for information finally yielded a positive result.

Gardai were initially baffled and the investigation was challenging and difficult. From the start, they didn't even have the full body on which they would kick-start their probe. In the immediate aftermath of the grim discovery, a prosecution seemed highly unlikely, given the complex nature of the case.

But gardai ploughed on and in August of that year, the Mulhall sisters were questioned. They initially denied any knowledge of the killing, but weeks later Linda contacted gardai and admitted her involvement. This was a major development, as it would have been difficult to press charges, such was the contradictory nature of many of the statements made to gardai.

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The Mulhall sisters told gardai that on the day of the murder, they had been drinking vodka and coke while they walked around Dublin city centre, and had also taken ecstacy. Linda said that when they got back to the apartment, Noor had put his arm around her and said something "dirty" into her ear. This led to a backlash and Charlotte told investigators that her mother kept asking her to "kill him for me" and gave her a knife and hammer. She said that Noor would not let go of Linda, so she cut him in the neck with the knife, while Linda hit him with the hammer.

Charlotte claimed she could not remember who had cut off Noor's head and penis, neither of which were ever found.

Both Charlotte and Linda were charged with murder and went on trial at the Central Criminal Court in October 2006. The evidence was horrific, in particular the gross detail of how Noor was killed and his body dismembered by two women clearly out of control and gripped by rage.

Charlotte was convicted of murder and received the mandatory life sentence, while Linda was handed a 15-year-sentence for manslaughter. The jury had accepted her defence of provocation and reached its decision after deliberating for 18 hours.

The trial judge, Mr Justice Paul Carney -- a senior, experienced judge in criminal law -- referred to the killing as "the most grotesque" that had occurred in his professional lifetime.

But the sisters' convictions didn't spell the end of a distasteful tale. Given that the girls had been in the company of their mother in the hours leading up to Noor being butchered, what role, if any, would she play in the Garda investigation? Kathleen Mulhall (53) -- who had began a relationship with the Kenyan in 2001 -- fled the country when her two daughters were charged. She was eventually traced to the UK.

She was arrested in February 2008 after she surrendered herself to gardai. One year later, when she was brought before the Central Criminal Court, pleading guilty to cleaning up the crime scene.

At that court last Tuesday, it was revealed that she had offered to take the blame for Noor's death. She had initially denied any knowledge about what happened, but later said she had remained silent to protect her two daughters. She said she did not see Noor being killed and did not report the killing, as she wanted to protect her family. She said her life had been brutal and abusive, but she had always put her children first. While the horrendous nature of Noor's death and the Mulhalls' subsequent actions created a profound sense of shock and disbelief, it is the circumstances behind the gruesome killing that raise far more questions that can ever provide reasonable answers.

This case had an eclectic mix of alcohol, drugs, violence and psychological issues. Combine a measure of those with overwhelming anger and the end result is an almost unbelievable, repulsive killing of a man.

Undoubtedly, the Mulhall family were deeply troubled. Both Charlotte and Linda had a history of drug and alcohol abuse. Their mother had had a difficult life and had suffered abuse. Charlotte told gardai that Noor had threatened to kill her mother.

The trial of Charlotte and Linda heard details of the abuse that Noor had allegedly inflicted on various partners. He was painted as an aggressive, short-tempered ogre. One former partner told how he raped her on several occasions and she feared that he would kill her. She said that he was a lovely man at first, but changed dramatically when he had become consumed by alcohol. She said that he carried knives and had pulled her hair and hit her on the head. In the end, the abuse forced her to leave him.

Undoubtedly, there were factors that contributed to the vicious killing and subsequent actions, but was Kathleen Mulhall sufficiently provoked into doing what she did? Noor was cast as a cruel man who treated her very badly. A woman with a strong character would have had the ability to at least make an effort to walk away from the abuse, as Noor's previous partner had done. But Kathleen Mulhall did not have this characteristic and her two daughters could not offer her much in terms of support, given their emotional difficulties.

The combination of alcohol and drugs meant that the Mulhalls' recollection of what exactly happened on that fateful evening was hazy and the entire details will never be known. One thing is certain -- something drove Charlotte and Linda into a blind rage that prompted them to butcher a grown man. Whether this was a fury over Noor's treatment of their mother, or their inability to cope with life's peculiarities, or entirely different factors known only to themselves, will never be clear.

What is a sad fact, however, is that this working-class family has written itself into the history books, for most unflattering reasons, and is highly unlikely to leave the public's mind for a very long time.

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