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Inside the mind of a killer who chose to rob and kill over working for a living

AS HE prepared to come face to face with Malcolm MacArthur for the first time, John Courtney was taking no chances.

After three weeks of painstaking detective work, the head of the Garda Murder Squad had tracked down the country's most wanted man to a luxury apartment in Dalkey. Just to make the situation even more nerve-wracking, it also happened to be the home of Attorney General Patrick Connolly.

"We were very apprehensive," Courtney says today, recalling the most dramatic moment of his career. "MacArthur had already shot one man dead, and for all we knew he would be ready to try it again. So we were all armed."

Luckily, it didn't come to that. The Attorney General arrived home, was told the stunning news about his house guest and persuaded MacArthur to open the door. Instead of resisting arrest, the bow-tied murderer actually led his visitors upstairs and showed them the refuse bag where he had been hiding his sawn-off shotgun. "Then he said something that I've never forgotten," said Courtney. "He looked into my face and said, 'If I'd known you were coming, I would have been gone from here.' That proved to me that he fully understood what he had done was wrong.

"On the day we arrested him, he refused to engage with us at all. The following morning, I watched him make a full confession of the murders of Bridie Gargan and Donal Dunne. But not only did he show no remorse, he didn't show any kind of emotion at all, he appeared totally calm about everything that was happening."

John Courtney, who rose to the rank of Chief Superintendent and now works as a private investigator, has met plenty of murderers in his time. Almost 30 years after he caught MacArthur, however, he admits that the man's true personality is as much a mystery to him as it is to everyone else.


"Some killers are just thugs, pure and simple," he says. "MacArthur was different. He was very well spoken, obviously well educated -- you could imagine meeting him in a social situation and having a normal conversation with him."

Meanwhile, Courtney had the tricky assignment of explaining the full story to Charlie Haughey. The Taoiseach famously described the arrest of a double murderer in the Attorney General's apartment as "grotesque, unbelievable, bizarre and unprecedented", coining the name GUBU.

"Haughey was very kind to us," is how Courtney remembers it. "He insisted that we all have a drink to celebrate a great piece of detective work. And when he found out I was from Dingle, he just wanted to hear stories about Peig Sayers instead."

How does Courtney feel about Malcolm MacArthur walking the streets today? First of all, he is adamant that there can be no excuse for the 66-year-old's horrific crimes.

"MacArthur's murders were totally unnecessary," he points out. "He bludgeoned a young nurse to death with a lump hammer just to get her car, then shot a young farmer because he wanted a gun to rob banks with."

MacArthur grew up with a violent father who regularly beat him and sent him to school barefoot. Does he deserve any sympathy for the way his life turned out?

"I've known many children who had it far tougher than he did and grew up into law-abiding members of the community," Courtney said. "The only reason he needed money was because he was too lazy to work."

Since Courtney has had no contact with MacArthur since those fateful days in 1982, he cannot say whether the toff-turned-killer is fit to be let out again.

"In my experience, it's very difficult for prisoners who have been in jail for that long to adjust to life on the outside," he says. "But I have great faith in the social workers and psychologists.

"I helped to put away Geoffrey Evans and John Shaw, the two Englishmen who raped and murdered Elizabeth Plunkett and Mary Duffy in 1976. They have never been released, and to me Malcolm MacArthur was no better or worse than them.

"But I never had any animosity towards the murderers I dealt with. If I met Malcolm MacArthur on the streets tomorrow, I'd be happy to stop and talk to him."