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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 November, 2004, 15:03 GMT
Murder 'link to Shankill Butchers'
Sam McAllister
Sam McAllister was a member of the gang
A murder victim's body may be exhumed to find out if she was killed by the notorious "Shankill Butchers" gang.

The burnt body of Rosaleen O'Kane was discovered in her Belfast home almost 30 years ago.

No-one has ever been charged with the murder. The 33-year-old was found in her flat at Cliftonpark Avenue in September 1976.

Her body had been stripped and set alight.

The case has now been referred to the newly-formed Serious Crime Review Team, which investigates unsolved murders.

Miss O'Kane's family said police had told them of a possible link with the Shankill Butchers to her killing.

The gang was a group of sadistic loyalist killers who conducted a sectarian reign of terror against Catholics in Belfast between 1976 and 1978.

It was led by Lennie Murphy and killed at least 10 people.

We have not ruled out the possibility that advances in forensic science could lead to us applying for an order to exhume Rosaleen's remains to check if any additional evidence can be obtained, as has occurred in several cases in the Republic
Patricia Coyle
Solicitor

A post mortem examination failed to determine the exact cause of Ms O'Kane's death, partly because the pathologist could not conclude whether her skull was fractured before or after her murder.

Blood and other forensic samples taken during the post mortem were destroyed in a fire the following day at the NI Forensic Science Laboratory.

Miss O'Kane's relatives were told that police had intelligence information that two men from north Belfast were suspected of being involved in the murder.

Both were said to have a "history" and police said they could not rule out the possibility that a man named Murphy or the Shankill Butchers were involved.

'Original police investigation'

The O'Kane family has obtained funding for a review of the original post mortem evidence.

Solicitor Patricia Coyle said the review would be carried out by Professor Marie Cassidy, Ireland's state pathologist.

Miss Coyle said: "We have not ruled out the possibility that advances in forensic science could lead to us applying for an order to exhume Rosaleen's remains to check if any additional evidence can be obtained, as has occurred in several cases in the Republic."

She added: "Miss O'Kane's family have unanswered questions about the cause of death, the original police investigation and who was responsible."
Robert Bates
Robert Bates was murdered in 1997

Many of the Shankill Butchers' victims were Catholic men, abducted in a taxi as they walked home from pubs in the city centre.

The gang got its name from the butchers' knives used to torture and kill its victims whose mutilated bodies were later dumped in loyalist parts of the city.

The police initially failed to link the killings but eventually caught up with the gang, several of whose members had links with the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF).

Several members of the gang, including William Moore, Sam McAllister and Robert Bates, were jailed for life in 1979 but Murphy, who was already in prison on a lesser charge, was murdered by republicans in 1983. Bates was murdered in June 1997.




SEE ALSO:
Consultation on NI truth process
14 May 04  |  Northern Ireland
NI commission 'could heal wounds'
18 Feb 04  |  Northern Ireland
Killings will 'go unsolved'
10 Jun 03  |  Northern Ireland
Pledge over Cory report
14 Jan 04  |  Northern Ireland


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