Last week – in what turned out to be the final interview of his life – McCrory lifted the lid on two of the most enduring murders mysteries of the Troubles
Last week – in what turned out to be the final interview of his life – serial killer McCrory lifted the lid on two of the most enduring murders mysteries of the entire Troubles.
One was the execution of notorious Shankill Butcher boss Lenny Murphy by the IRA in 1982 – and the other is the murder of an innocent pensioner in his home in what has become one of the most controversial and disputed killings of the entire Troubles.
Father-of-11 Francisco Notarantonio – a 66-year-old former republican prisoner and internee – was shot in his bed when a UFF killer unit led by McCrory burst into his Ballymurphy home in west Belfast.
McCrory – who died in a fall last Sunday – told the Sunday World just days earlier: “Both these killing were steeped in the dirty water of the so-called Dirty War. In fact they go to the very heart of it.
“The families left behind are entitled to know at least some of what happened.”
McCrory said he was aware that he had been linked to the murder of Mr Notorantonio for the past 35 years. And he openly admitted planning hits on top republicans in Belfast.
But despite being pressed by Sunday Worldto reveal his widely-reported involvement in the Notarantonio killing, McCrory stopped short of admission.
“I know the detail of what happened, but that’s all I’m prepared to say on the record at this stage,” he said.
But he confirmed that the UFF had been told to target Mr Notorantonio at the last minute instead of their original target who it’s believed was supplying information to the security forces.
Last week, McCrory explained that Mr Notarantonio’s details had been passed to the UDA by Brian Nelson – a former soldier who was persuaded to join the UDA by the Army intelligence service Force Reconnaissance Unit (FRU).
But he also named another Ballymurphy man who McCrory claimed was the original UFF target. This man, insisted McCrory, had close connection to Gerry Adams.
“The target was switched by Brian Nelson. He pushed us in the direction of Notarantonio,” said the former UFF gunman.
And he dismissed stories suggesting the FRU switch was to protect an agent known as Stakeknife.
“Francisco Notarantonio was thrown to the wolves by FRU to protect their man who was close to Adams. I’m convinced of that,” he said.
Mr Notarantonio died seconds after 22-year-old McCrory and another ‘C Coy’ gunman burst into the family home around breakfast time on October 9, 1987.
The grandfather – a retired taxi driver who was in ill-health – was in bed with his wife Edith, when Skelly – using a powerful .357 Magnum pistol – shot him twice in the chest and once in the back. He died instantly.
A second gunman – another Shankill Road loyalist – walked to another bedroom where Mr Notarantonio’s 16-year-old grandson was sleeping. He fired three shots at the teenager, but missed him, hitting the pillow.
With their getaway driver waiting in the street with the engine running, the UFF hit team jumped back into the car and sped off. They made it safely back to base after dumping the vehicle.
On hearing the screams of his mother, Christy Notarantonio – who lived nearby – raced down Whitecliffe Parade to his parents’ home.
And speaking to the Sunday World yesterday, he relived the horrific scene.
“I ran up the stairs and jumped on top of the bed. I saw two large holes in his chest. And when I lifted him up, a third bullet fell out from under his arm.
“I saw my father’s eyes staring straight at me, but I knew he was dead,” he said.
Yesterday, Michael Brentnall – solicitor for the Notarantonio family – issued the following statement, published here in full: “We have initiated High Court Legal proceedings on behalf of our client in relation to this matter, with the ultimate aim of securing the truth around Francisco’s murder.
“Our actions aim to secure the rights of our client in regard to the ongoing Operation Kenova initiative and via separate civil actions against the RUC and Ministry of Defence.”
McCrory had been born into a respectable family from Louisa Street in the Oldpark area of Belfast.
He was called after his uncle Sammy who had scored a goal for Northern Ireland in the 1958 World Cup finals.
But touched by the Troubles erupting around him, young Sam rose to become one of the most-feared triggerman of his generation.
And when he and his close friend Johnny Adair took over UFF in the lower Shankill, loyalist terror reached unforeseen levels.
Basing themselves in the lower Shankill estate, Adair and McCrory developed a blood-brother relationship based on absolute trust.
They acquired ultra-modern weaponry – Adair persuaded the old men of Ian Paisley’s Ulster Resistance to hand over guns which British Intelligence had helped import. And a tooled-up ‘C Coy’ – with the likes of Skelly and Mad Dog – was bad news not just for republicans, but for the city’s whole Catholic community.
Their simple strategy was to take the terror war to the door of the IRA – often literally. Of course, if they couldn’t find their target, any Catholic would do. Loyalist paramilitaries hoped a terrified Catholic community would put pressure on the IRA to quit.
Even in jail, McCrory and Adair dominated the future direction of the UDA as peace teetered on the brink.
After discussions with SDLP leader John Hume and Secretary of State Mo Mowlam, Adair and McCrory managed to persuade other loyalist prisoners – who had previously voted to break a UDA ceasefire – to push for peace.
“Sam McCrory wasn’t just a crazed gunman. He followed a carefully thought-out strategy,” Adair to the Sunday World in an exclusive interview this week after the death of this closest pal and confidant.
“He was a political animal who physically stood up to the IRA. And when the time was right, he supported peace,” Adair claimed.
After surviving a murderous internal feud which saw the death of loyalist legend John ‘Grugg’ Gregg, Adair and McCrory were forced to flee Northern Ireland.
McCrory’s two decades in exile in Scotland ended last Sunday night when he smashed his head in a fall on a steep concrete stairway outside his apartment in Ayr.
It is believed that as he was undergoing emergency treatment in Kilmarnock’s Crosshouse Hospital, he suffered a massive heart attack.
Neighbours, who came to his aid, say the 57-year-old – who weighed around 17stone – was just three steps from the top when he stumbled backwards, banging his head.
A severe loss of blood led to initial speculation that the one-time loyalist hitman had been shot or attacked by revenge-driven enemies bearing hammers.
And within minutes the Belfast rumour mill was churning out fake news.
On hearing the news, McCrory’s life-long friend and loyalist comrade Johnny Adair was stunned.
“At first, I couldn’t get any information from the police. But I then realised this was because they didn’t really know what had happened. And of course Sam was still hanging on by a thread.” Adair told us.
He added: “Around 10pm the police confirmed to me he had gone. I was in complete shock.”
A father of two who later came out as gay, McCrory had been living in the Kincaidston district of Ayr for nearly 20 years.
An avid Rangers and Liverpool fan, McCrory developed good friends in Scotland on either side of the religious divide.
And he and Adair recently survived a murder bid by republican dissidents. Their would-be killers were caught in an MI5 sting.
After the gang was convicted, McCrory told the Sunday World: “It’s time for all these people to pack their bags and leave the stage.”