In an interview with the Sunday World this week, Belfast-born and reared Tracey revealed he had known the infamous loyalist leader since school days.
‘Skelly’ was the main triggerman in the UDA’s fanatical Shankill Road ‘C’ Coy, who police Special Branch believe murdered 57 people in a matter of a few short years. Almost all were innocent civilians.
Sources say Skelly personally killed more than 10 people, although those secrets went to the grave with him.
But Tracey remained one of Skelly’s most loyal friends throughout the years.
“At first he frightened me,” admitted Tracey, whose father Jackie was shot dead in a loyalist feud in 2000.
For the last 20 years – despite the long miles between Scotland and the Shankill – Tracey and Skelly had remained in close contact, speaking nearly every day on the phone.
So when word came through that Sam had passed away after an accidental fall outside his home in Ayr, Tracey fell to pieces.
Back on the streets where she grew up, the 43-year-old mum of four spoke at length about her dear friend ‘Skelly’, who was almost unique among loyalist terror gangs in that he was gay and came out as such while a loyalist prisoner in the Maze, where his boyfriend would visit him.
And Tracey expressed her apprehension about facing the future without him.
Struggling to hold back tears, Tracey reflected on the friendship she lost last weekend: She said: “Of course I know what Skelly did in the past.
“And I fully understand loss as a result of violence. Everyone knows I lost my daddy during one of those awful loyalist feuds.
“But I will love and miss Skelly for ever. I’ll miss his voice, his guidance and his kindness.
“The past is the past and Skelly often said he had moved on. But he also said, he genuinely hoped others could forgive him and do the same,” said Tracey.
She said Skelly was rocked when he recently lost his only son.
Businessman Samuel McCrory Jnr died in Belfast last year after a short illness. He was 34.
Samuel’s mum Edie and his 35-year-old daughter Nikita will travel to Scotland with Tracey next month to attend the funeral.
Said Tracey: “I’m in touch with Sam’s family. And I’m really delighted they are travelling to Scotland for his funeral.”
Despite bitter differences in political strategy and deep divisions caused by murderous feuds, ‘Skelly’ remained a figure of unity among loyalists right up until his death.
“People from all shades of loyalism are devastated about Skelly. Anyone who served time with him in prison can speak about how he kept everyone’s spirits up,” Tracey told us this week when we visited her on the Shankill.
Despite the floods of tears streaming down her face, Tracey managed to raise a smile when she recalled a recent trip to Scotland to visit Skelly.
“I got off the boat and I couldn’t see Sam. I had travelled over with some lads who were on their way to see Rangers. Suddenly Sam came running from nowhere. He grabbed me and he hoisted me up in the air.
“The Rangers lads were all cheering, but I was really embarrassed,” said Tracey.
She added: “My heart is just so very sore right now. I’ll get through it I know, but it’s so very, very hard.”
Skelly and Johnny Adair were lifelong pals – playing in the same punk band Offensive Weapon and famously being photographed at a National Front march in Belfast where pals openly sniffed glue. It wasn’t long before they were both side by side in a loyalist death squad.
One pal said: “It was clear that all through the years Skelly idolised Adair. You can see it in every picture – it wasn’t Johnny looking up at big Skelly, but Skelly hero-worshipping Johnny.
“And they brought that relationship into the terror gang. They became blood brothers – and Skelly was happy to pull the trigger if it meant he went up in Johnny’s estimation.”