Remembering an IRA kidnap victim who brought jobs amid terror

Thomas Niedermayer's grave in 1980
Thomas Niedermayer's grave in 1980

A former factory worker has recalled the ripple of shock which spread out around the shop floor as news of the boss’ abduction was broadcast four-and-a-half decades ago.

Today marks the 45th anniversary of the disappearance of Thomas Niedermayer, German chief of the Grundig plant in Dunmurry, south-west Belfast, which manufactured tape recorders.

He was seized from his west Belfast bungalow by the IRA on December 27, 1973, killed, then secretly buried beneath a rubbish dump before being found in 1980.

John Williams, now a 66-year-old nurse, was one of the many employees hired by Grundig during Mr Niedermayer’s tenure as boss, and remembers him as “a very pleasant gentleman and a good general manager”.

Mr Williams began as an apprentice at his factory, and was there from 1969 to 1976.

The Lisburn man would encounter Mr Niedermayer on the factory floor, and remembers he “always had a bit of a smile on his face”.

On one occasion, Mr Williams wrote a letter to Mr Niedermayer, wondering where he could park his bike after the workers’ bicycle shed was demolished.

“He wrote me a lovely letter back saying: you can park your bicycle next to my company car, in its own garage,” he said.

With regard to his abduction, Mr Williams said: “There was shock any time anybody was kidnapped.

“But because we knew who it was there was a great deal of shock on the factory floor whenever the news broke on the radio that morning.

“As far as we were concerned on the factory floor he was just a general manager from Germany giving local people here some work, whenever a lot of places of employment were being destroyed through terrorist acts.

“It was shocking to know one human being could do that to another human being and then dispose of the body like that.”

The book Lost Lives, a compendium of Troubles deaths, says that two men had called at his home late at night, claiming to have hit his car.

When he came out to investigate, he was snatched away.

It says that 10 days after the abduction, the London HQ of Grundig received a ransom demand, but by that stage Mr Niedermayer (whom is says was a married, 45-year-old father-of-two) was dead already.

It goes on to add that post-mortem results showed he could have died from a blow from a weapon, suffocation, or a heart attack, but that subsequent court proceedings revealed the IRA had held him in a small west Belfast room.

It quotes a paramilitary who claimed to have been guarding him as saying there was a struggle because he would not be quiet, and after being tied up, held face down on a mattress, and hit with a gun, he went limp.

In 1990, Mr Niedermayer’s widow Ingeborg flew from Germany to Bray, near Dublin. An RTE documentary in 2013 – ‘A Knock at the Door’ – said she had walked into the sea. Daughter Renate is also reported to have killed herself in 1991, as did daughter Gabrielle in 1993. Both were said to have answered the door to their father’s abductors.