Murphy, Hugh Leonard Thompson (‘Lenny’) (1952–82), loyalist paramilitary and sectarian killer, was born 2 March 1952 in Belfast, third and youngest son of William Murphy and Joyce Murphy (née Thompson). The family suffered harassment due to the mistaken belief that William Murphy was a catholic, and some commentators have speculated that this influenced Murphy's extremism. He was educated at Argyll primary school and the Model Secondary School on the Shankill, where he earned a reputation for theft and bullying.
Already a petty criminal and ‘hard man’, Murphy joined the youth wing of the UVF in 1969, and took part in mob invasions of catholic areas during the riots that led to the intervention of the Westminster government. Over the next few years he recruited a gang from among his acquaintances, financed a showy lifestyle by racketeering, attended trials to gain legal knowledge for future use, and acquired a reputation as a cold, clever, manipulative psychopath who delighted in self-aggrandisement by spreading fear. He joined groups of loyalists in the torture and murder of catholics kidnapped from the streets at random and brought to safe houses for ‘interrogation’.
On 26 September 1972 Murphy killed a man suspected by loyalists of selling guns to the IRA. He was arrested for this crime; when an accomplice implicated Murphy, Murphy gained access to his cell and poisoned him after forcing him to sign a retraction. On 5 May 1973, while awaiting trial, Murphy married Margaret Gillespie; they had one daughter (b. 1973). He was tried for murder and acquitted on 18 June 1973; he was immediately rearrested, was interned, and subsequently received a three-year sentence for attempted escapes while awaiting trial. Murphy was released on 13 May 1975; by September he assembled his UVF gang, who drank and socialised in the Brown Bear pub on the Shankill. On 2 October 1975 Murphy and his gang murdered four catholics during an attempted robbery at a spirit warehouse.
On 24 November 1975 Murphy perpetrated the first of the murders that gave his gang the nickname ‘Shankill Butchers’. The victim, chosen simply because he was seen walking from the city centre towards a catholic area late at night, was struck over the head with a metal object and bundled into a taxi owned by a gang member. He was tortured while being driven to waste ground, where Murphy cut his throat to the spine with a butcher knife acquired by a gang member who had worked in a meat-packing factory. Two other catholics were butchered in the same way on 6 and 26 February 1976. At the same time, Murphy's gang killed two other loyalists in internecine feuds (one was tortured in front of a crowd at a loyalist bar), shot up a vanload of protestant factory workers whom they mistook for catholics (two dead, two seriously wounded), and shot a catholic in front of his wife on the Cliftonville Road.
On 2–3 March 1976 Murphy was arrested after shooting at two women; he admitted possession of a firearm, and received a twelve-year sentence. He continued to direct his gang from prison, ordering them to resume the cut-throat killings to divert suspicion from himself. Three more cut-throat murders took place on 29 October 1976, 2 February, and 29 March 1977. On 11 May a victim who had been slashed (without having his throat cut: the butcher knife was not available) was left for dead; he survived and identified gang members whose interrogations implicated most of the remaining Butchers. In February 1979 eleven gang members were tried and convicted.
The sadistic nature of the crimes produced revulsion even among some loyalists (though others admired the Butchers as ‘tough men’). During the trials Murphy was referred to as ‘Mr X’ (popularly called ‘the Master Butcher’); it was not considered possible to try him on the basis of accomplices' admissions. He was released on 16 July 1982, returned to racketeering, and is believed to have committed four further murders. On 16 November 1982 he was shot dead outside his girlfriend's house in Glencairn, Belfast. The IRA claimed responsibility, but it was widely believed that loyalists colluded in the killing, with the UDA racketeer James Pratt Craig (d. 1988) attracting particular suspicion.