A man who knew a Co Antrim killer before he carried out his first murder said he was “stunned” to find out that he had committed another brutal murder in England.
Painter and decorator William McFall, 51, from Greenisland, was last week convicted of a key role in the torture, rape and murder of Vietnamese mother-of-two Quyen Ngoc Nguyen near Sunderland in August.
Stephen Unwin, 40, from Tyne and Wear, and McFall had subjected the 28-year-old 5ft tall woman, known as Anna, to a four-hour ordeal of rape and torture before setting her on fire in her own car.
The News Letter reported in April 1997 that McFall, then 30, “smirked” as he was sentenced for his first murder - that of 86-year-old Greenisland widow Martha Gilmore.
The prosecution said it appeared McFall had rung the door bell in the early hours of May 5, 1996 but it had taken time for the frail pensioner to get up and answer it.
The court heard that McFall then broke into the house thinking it was empty, only to be confronted by Mrs Gilmore. Fearing she might identify him, he then knocked her to the ground and battered her three times on the back of the head with a hammer. She was found the next morning by her home help lying near a pool of blood.
The Irish Times recorded that when he was first charged with Mrs Gilmore’s murder, he made “a single fingered gesture at the magistrate” as he was led from the dock of Newtownabbey Courthouse.
McFall told the jury in Newcastle last week: “I am solely responsible for the death of that lady in 1996. I was surprised in the hallway and struck out several times. For that I am truly sorry, I still think about it. Life is sacred.”
He was released on licence in 2010 and had been living in Blackpool.
A Greenisland man who knew McFall in his youth has recounted his memories.
“I remember he lived 10-15 houses away from Mrs Gilmore,” he told the News letter. “She was in her eighties and was a lovely, thoughtful woman.”
McFall grew up a member of a young family which got a lot of redundancy money from one of the local factories, he said.
He did not appear to have “the usual discipline” in his life.
“I spoke to him before the murder [of Mrs Gilmore] and he related to me a time when he was in a home, it appeared to be some sort of borstal, for minor misdemeanours.
“He said he had been subjected to abuse. It was a time when such claims were not taken seriously.”
The neighbour said he could not remember what type of abuse McFall reported being subjected to.
“It was some time after that I was quite surprised to hear the reports [of him murdering Mrs Gilmore] because he did not seem bad or vicious.”
The neighbour thought he might first have come into contact with Mrs Gilmore by cutting her grass.
“He was not a big guy, he was not a threatening size. He was only about 5ft 8in tall.
“I was very surprised that he was involved in such an act. And I was stunned he was involved in something like that again [in England].”
This week another Greenisland neighbour of Mrs Gilmore she “wasn’t surprised” that McFall had killed again, as there had “always been a badness about him”.
“There was an incident when the local school was broken into and a goldfish was cut up and put between the pages of a book — neighbours feared that McFall was involved in that,” she told the Belfast Telegraph.
Rev Paul Lyons, a minister of The Church of The Holy Name in Greenisland where Mrs Gilmore had been a member, said the community bought a silver communion tray in her memory which is still in use.
McFall’s latest conviction was mentioned in passing a couple of times to him by people, he told the News Letter. “Generally the feeling is that it is very sad and tragic.”
During the most recent trial in Newcastle, McFall made ‘cut throat gestures’ to journalists and turned around to smirk at police officers.
He also carried out repeated outbursts, arguing with lawyers who were cross examining him and complaining he was not getting a fair trial.
As the jury left the court and passed McFall in the dock, he said to them: “Absolutely brainwashed.”
Det Insp Ed Small, of Northumbria Police, said they are “probably two of the most violent individuals I have come across in 25 years of policing. They have never shown any remorse”.
Their latest violence shocked even hardened officers. The day after the murder they went out for a pub lunch.
Unwin had also killed before, murdering a 73-year-old man in his home during a burglary in 1998.
Both Unwin and McFall are now facing life in prison.
They will be sentenced on April 25.