It was a little after six-thirty on a chilly, December evening. In fact, it was the 8th of December 1980. News of John Lennon’s murder was beginning to circulate, so I was feeling upset. The Beatles had been my favourite band since my teens and I could hardly believe the news. I had just said goodnight to the staff and locked up my shop for the night. I had two bags. One was loaded with grocery shopping. The other bag, also packed with provisions, concealed the day’s takings from my supermarket, QwikShop Value Store.
I turned into the bitter winter chill and walked around to where I’d parked in front of Sandra Bishop’s hair dressing salon. Sandra was chatting with a client, both of them huddled for shelter in her doorway. As I bent down to open my car door, I gave her a quick wave, before placing the two bags on the floor beside me and starting the engine.
That was when my nightmare began. The driver’s door and the door behind me were wrenched open. I caught a glimpse of a man with a badly pockmarked face, wild ginger hair and glaring dark eyes, shouting at me. He viciously shoved a double-barreled shotgun into my face and ordered me to move over and lie on the floor. Pockface clambered into my seat, his buddy climbed into the back. I obeyed orders and lay facedown on the floor.
The car took off at high speed. Tyres screeching for traction on the road. Backseat guy shoved something against my head and screamed, “Where’s the money? Give me the bloody money.” With no argument, I pulled the bags from under me and threw them back in the direction of his voice.
The car continued to careen at high speed, while backseat guy checked the bags. Eventually, he said, “There’s less than a grand here. Where’s the rest of the bloody money?” Despite my rising panic, I explained that I’d lodged the morning takings after lunch and I only had cash from the afternoon.
Backseat hit me brutally with something solid, probably the stock of his gun. Pockface began to shout at his partner. “Shoot the bastard. He saw my shaggin face.” His friend told him to relax. “Calm down mate. He never had a chance. We were too feckin quick, a grands not bad for a night’s work.”
Pockface and Backseat continued to argue over my fate. They asked who the women in the doorway were. I’d forgotten all about Sandra and her customer. They’d seen the whole thing happen. “Squads of police cars must be searching for me. It’s only a matter of time,” I thought, clutching to any faint hope.
Pockface was winning the argument and I became more and more convinced that I was going to die. As the debate escalated, I asked if I could say an act of contrition. Without waiting for an answer, I began to say The Lord’s Prayer, out loud. My prayers seemed to calm my captors. Backseat leaned over the seat saying “We’re not going to hurt you. Just do as you’re told and you’ll be okay. We’re going to stop in a few minutes. I’ll get a rope and as long as you keep your face on the floor, all that will happen is you’ll be tied up. Okay?”
True to his word, the car pulled to stop a couple of moments later. I could hear the two men get out, Backseat telling Pockface to watch me while he got the rope. Then he warned me once again, not to move.
I remained frozen to the floor for what seemed like an eternity but was probably no more than five or ten minutes. Eventually, I found the courage to take a quick look up. I saw nothing threatening and risked climbing up into the seat to confirm that I was alone. My hijackers had fled the scene.
When I reached for the ignition I realised that they had taken my keys. This was a double blow. First, I couldn’t drive home, but more importantly, they had a full set of keys to the shop, including the office safe. I got out of the car and went looking for help. I banged at several doors. Nobody answered, except for one elderly woman, who slammed her door in my face as soon as she saw me. I began to realise that we must have driven around in circles during the entire ordeal. My car was parked in a side street, no more than a few hundred yards away from my shop.
I made my way down to the twenty-four hour shop on the corner, where my legs turned to rubber and I collapsed in a heap on the floor. Andy Murphy, the owner ran from behind the counter to help me. I was barely coherent, and gave him a garbled account of what had happened. Andy pulled a bottle of whiskey from a shelf, opened it and handed it to me. The burning sensation of the neat spirits in my throat helped me to come back to my senses. Andy rang the Gardai, explained the situation and came back to wait with me. Moments later, the flashing blue lights of a squad car announced the arrival of the Gardai. Two uniformed officers entered the shop and asked me a few questions, before escorting me out to the waiting car and driving me to Mountjoy Garda station.
Once inside the Garda station I was escorted to an interview room where two detectives were waiting to talk with me. One Detective, Sergeant Gus O’Malley was a small fat man with thin greasy hair slicked over his bald head. The other, Inspector Jim Sheridan was a lean six foot tall. Together, they reminded me of the classic comedy duo, Laurel and Hardy. Their demeanour though was far from comedic. They gave off an aura of quiet confidence and steadfast resolve.
After introductions were made, the two detectives jumped straight into questioning me. I gave them my full name, Colin Sharpe and my address. I recounted the night's events step by step, exactly as they occurred. When I finished, we started over again. They quizzed me inside out, upside down and back to front. I told them countless times that the hairdresser, Sandra Bishop had seen everything and that she would be able to give them a clearer description of the thieves. It was close to midnight when the police seemed satisfied and brought the interrogation to a close and let me go.
My brother Terry and my sister Mary were waiting to bring me home. When we arrived at my house my wife Melissa ran out and wrapped herself around me in a tight hug. “Thank God you’re okay,” she said over and over. After a cup of coffee and a chat about what had happened, Terry and Mary departed and Melissa and I went up to bed. I paused to look in on my daughter, Megan and the sight of her sleeping peacefully brought me over the edge. My emotions caught up with me and I spent the rest of the night crying in Melissa’s arms.
I forced myself to get up early for work the next day. I was afraid that if I didn’t go in early, I’d never go back. I kept spare keys at home, so there was no problem opening up for the day. I was kept busy that morning, organising a locksmith to change all of the locks.
Despite keeping busy, my mind was in turmoil all morning. I kept reliving the previous night’s events. I felt violated, dehumanised and humiliated. I kept thinking that this must be the same as a rape victim would feel. The robbers had stolen more than money. They had taken my pride, my dignity and my confidence. I had been forced to beg for my life.
Early that afternoon I got a call from Mountjoy Garda station. The two detectives had more questions for me. I asked my assistant manager, Jimmy Connors, to lock up for me. Then I rang Terry, who was running our Tallaght branch, and followed that with a quick call to Melissa. I explained to both of them that the Gardai had more questions for me and that I’d fill them in on the details later. Melissa suggested that I should call Harry Smith, our family solicitor and ask him to accompany me to Mountjoy. It was just as well that I did.
By the time I arrived at Mountjoy, Harry was already waiting for me. We were taken into the same room that I had been questioned in the previous night. From the moment we sat down it was clear that there was something wrong. The detectives were extremely unfriendly and glared across the table at me. With no preamble, they announced that they knew that I had faked everything, probably to collect on an insurance scam. They had a witness who had seen me get into my car and drive off last night. Their witness was prepared to swear that nothing out of the ordinary had taken place. It transpired that the witness was no other than Sandra Bishop. I laughed at this and told them that Sandra had already admitted to several people that she had seen what happened and that she didn’t call the police because she was afraid. My words fell on deaf ears. The Gardai had made their minds up and nothing I could say would change their opinion. Harry told me not to say anything more and declared that we were leaving unless the detectives were going to charge me with a crime.
Outside, I thanked Harry and headed home. I was outraged. The robbery was bad enough, but to now be the prime suspect was just too much. I stopped at the Coachman’s Inn and drank myself into a stupor. Melissa collected me just after closing time and brought me home.
Two weeks later, I was driving through Phibsborough on my way to an important meeting with Terry and our bankers. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted two men standing at a bus stop. I slowed to give them a closer look. Sure enough it was my old friends Pockface and Backseat. My first instinct was to find a phone box and ring Mountjoy. Then it dawned on me that the Gardai were unlikely to respond. After all I was still the prime suspect.
Instead, I pulled in and parked. I watched my assailants closely through my rearview mirror and eventually a bus bound for Finglas pulled in. The two lads boarded the bus and after it passed I pulled back into the traffic and followed. They got off the bus at the terminus in Finglas. Once again I parked, but this time I got out of the car and followed them on foot. I stayed a fair distance behind, making sure that I would be hard to spot if they turned around. After tailing them for about five minutes they led me into a small housing estate. They walked up a driveway where Pockface pulled some keys from his pocket and opened the front door. They both went into the house and closed the door behind them. Satisfied that this was Pockface’s home, I returned to my car, memorising the location of the estate and house.
I drove back to attend my meeting, arriving very late. Terry and the team of bankers were very understanding, considering the recent ordeal I had endured. The meeting concluded with terms agreed to finance our proposed takeover of a rival supermarket chain.
I don’t know why, but I kept my detective work to myself and over the following weeks I continued to follow the pair of robbers. Gradually, I built up a pattern of their routines. The most important thing was that they drank in a pub in Glasnevin called “The Grave Diggers” every Wednesday night. Maybe the idea came from the name of the pub, or perhaps because it was located beside Glasnevin cemetery. Anyway, I formed a plan that would allow me to exact revenge and perhaps, restore my pride.
I prepared carefully one Tuesday, a month later. I packed my Purdey shotgun, a balaclava and two shovels and pickaxes into the boot of Melissa’s car. I asked her to leave my car in for a service the next day and told her that I would have to borrow hers. I also told her that I had a late night meeting with my accountants to discuss our strategy for the impending takeover of our competitors business.
The following night I parked close to the lane that my intended victims used to reach the bus stop, for their journey home from the pub. I concealed myself in the darkness offered by some bushes and waited. A little after closing time, the lads passed by me. I stepped out of the shade and ordered them to stop and turn around. They did as they were told and turned to face me. I marched them back to my car, forced them into the front seats and climbed in behind me. I gave directions to Pockface and our journey began. We drove down to my uncle Peter’s farm in County Kildare. I had spent many happy summer holidays on his farm when I was young and knew the place like the back of my hand.
I handed each of them a shovel and pick and marched the lads across the fields to an old water tower, located near a remote pasture. Once we reached the tower, I ordered them to stop and to start digging. Both men were terrified and begged for their lives. Their pleas fell on deaf ears. I revelled in the power I had over them. Revenge was sweet.
“Please mister, we done nothing on you. For Jazus sake, don’t do this” cried pockface. His friend Backseat was just as pathetic. “I’ve got a wife and kids. I don’t even know you.” he cried.
I intended to make them climb into the graves and lie down to await their fate. I would then leave them in the same state they had left me and return to the car. Sadly for him Pockface panicked and swung his shovel at me. I slipped and the gun discharged. He took the full force of the shot to his face and died instantly. Backseat rushed at me and I shot him in his chest before he could reach me.
I buried them under the water tower, in graves they had dug themselves. I drove home with no regrets. At least, those two bastards would never harm anyone else.
The takeover proceeded without a hitch and Terry and I doubled the size of our business. I enjoyed a long holiday in the south of France with my family and the entire incident began to fade in my memory.
Months later, I got a call from the detectives. They wanted me to come in to tie up a few loose ends. I wondered if they had discovered my crime. I called into the station that afternoon. The detectives told me that they had suspects under arrest. I knew that they had arrested the wrong culprits, but said nothing. The detectives escorted me out to a viewing room to identify the men from a lineup. All I needed to do was say that I didn’t recognise anyone. That was until they pulled back the curtain. There in front of me, large as life, stood Pockface and Backseat. I had killed two innocent men.
I’m sure that the detectives were shocked when I turned and said, “No. The man with ginger hair looks a little like the driver, but it’s not him and the other man looks nothing like his accomplice.”
I drove home with a smile on my face. Clearly, Pockface was a brother of one of the men I’d killed. His entire family were probably criminal scumbags. As far as I was concerned I had new purpose in life. After all, there was plenty of room to spare, under the water tower.