The Unsolved Belfast Murder Of Brian McDermott, 1973.
This 10 year old lad was last seen in a park playground on Sunday 2nd September 1973. The park, Ormeau, is located on the banks of the River Lagan in East Belfast, UK.
The little lad, or at least parts of him, were found when a hessian sack that was recovered from the river. The body had been burned to some degree. Identification was only confirmed by his fingerprints being compared to a print off a school book.
The RUC told press at the time it was a particularly gruesome murder. Very quickly they ruled out the possibility it had anything to do with the sectarian violence that had gripped the city.
The remains were found near the Annadale Embankment a little south of where the boy had been playing. From what I can tell he had been missing about six days. Two cars were mentioned in connection to a couple of men. The cops wanted to identify them because one of the drivers was seen to throw a ‘sack’ into the river on 6th September. He was driving a green Morris Minor saloon. They were popular cars at the time. This sighting was not mentioned in a later review of the case.
From his home address in Well Street to the park you would expect a walk of less than ten minutes. A search now indicates the street has gone. I followed the directions that said the dwelling was off Woodstock Road. A Well Place exists now with houses built in the years since.
Brian was killed a few years after four boys went missing from the Belfast area never to be seen again. Out of a possible eight kids that have question marks over their fate only Brian was ever found. The others were: David Leckey, 12, Jonathan Aven, 14, Ronald Kirk, 16 and John Glennon, 16. A year later two more boys disappeared from a busy road in West Belfast. Their names were Thomas Spence and John Rodgers. Links to all these cases can be found below.
Another lad widely referred to as J Lesithen is more of an enigma. I have so little information that I have yet to write up any account.
Returning to Brian McDermott. In 2003 police were reviewing the case and asking for information. They hoped that the passing 30 years might have shaken something loose. I notice they were specifically saying that they believed people were in the park and saw what happened that day. This would make sense. Brian was out in the park from about 1.45 pm. September is a month with changeable weather but normally warm enough for a family stroll etc. It was the last day of the school summer holidays. It is quite possible many people were enjoying the park that Sunday.
The paper noted that Detective Chief Inspector George Hamilton was realistic about the possibility of success. He needed vital information. He pointed out that technology existed in 2003 that was not available in 1973. It doesn’t look like either the appeal or the technology helped.
I have just watched a ten minute Crimewatch UK reconstruction of that day. Brian was seen in the park by a few friends he knew. There were also other people who witnessed some unusual events. The police seemed keen to have anyone who was there that day contact them. They mentioned people playing tennis and others that did not come forward when the initial appeal was on.
The main focus was on a group of teenage lads who had lit a fire in some trees. A Chopper bike was mentioned. This was a model of kids bicycle not a Harley. The one riding the bike was later seen being violently sick. A witness said that one of the teens may have said something about ‘ little Jock.’
Brian and his family had moved to Northern Ireland five years before from Scotland so the cops were wondering if the ‘Jock’ reference may have been about Brian.
There was one other unsolved UK murder that had similar police theories regarding younger suspects. A little while ago we wrote about the 1967 stabbing of Keith Lyon in Brighton. To this day the main focus there is on the likelihood he was waylaid and robbed by teenagers. His story is linked below.
Side Note for anyone from outside of the UK: ‘Jock’ is a nickname for anyone from Scotland and was a name that men from there would often answer to. More of an old fashioned term now
In 2008 one of Brian’s two older brothers, William, was arrested and interviewed regarding the murder. He had been arrested originally in 1976. He confessed then, however, it has been said by him it was a coerced confession. Certainly, it did not lead to a prosecution. After being interviewed in 2008 he was again released. In a later BBC article he called for the killer of his brother to step forward and again denied any part in the killing. He also detailed the tension it had caused with his family who he said believed he had some involvement in the crime.
Kincora Child Abuse Scandal
Kincora House was located a couple of miles from Ormeau Park. It was a social services home for boys. It later became the backdrop for a twisted tale of the systematic sexual abuse of children. Some staff who had worked there were later sent to prison.
Unlike some stories about paedophile rings this scandal was convincingly proved. Initially Brian’s death was linked to the Kincora scandal. In 2003 the police said they were looking at all possibilities. However, in the Crimewatch UK segment they made no mention of a sexual motive. They seemed very focused on the younger element that was in the park that day.
Please note that we are not asserting any theory of our own. We have found that when past suspects are mentioned, or in this case a suspect and wider ranging crimes, people can get quite passionate about one theory or another. Our impression is that the focus of the police enquiry from 2003 has been on the possibility that Brian’s death was caused by some interaction with teenagers. We are not saying it had no connection with Kincora or some other low life sexual predator. All possibilities are at play as his brutal murder remains unsolved.
Next year it will be 50 years since this little (apparently he was small for his age) lad was killed. His torso and one arm were found. What was recovered had been mutilated and burned. If the offender(s) was only mid teens etc in 1973 they should still be sweating. I wonder what that is like, waiting for that heavy knock on the door? Maybe it is the phone they dread. If it rings it is a friendly sounding copper just wanting a ‘chat’. People change their minds about giving in long overdue information. Time roles on and guilt can gnaw away at witnesses.
Below is the full list of similar murders and vanishings we have written about. These are just UK cases between the 1960s and year 2000. Many others are on our website from the USA, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. We hope to put together similar linked lists for those places soon.
John Rodgers and Thomas Spence
Brian Mc Dermott
Our contact details are on the above banner. Below are the links we found. We don’t list all of them but if you want to see where we got the above from there is a good overview there.
Police contact: Police Service of Northern Ireland (psni.police.uk)
The segment on Brian is about 42 minutes in to the below video.
The original news article about Brian’s remains being found.
spotlight: Image (wordpress.com)
2003 Police appeal
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Arrested for murder, 30 years on – BelfastTelegraph.co.uk
Man denies killing brother in Belfast 40 years ago – BBC News
Special thanks to Bits of Books. An incredible catalogue of old news stories and publications. A brave website too as it uncovers much of the activities of organised and systematic child abuse: