Two nights after Christmas Day 1973 – 50 years ago next month – Thomas Niedermayer, general manager of the Grundig electronics factory outside Belfast, was asleep in bed at home when his doorbell rang twice. His wife was in hospital and the eldest of his two daughters was away on a sleepover, but his other daughter, who was 15 years old at the time, heard the doorbell from her bedroom and opened the front door. Two men told her that the family car, parked outside, had been damaged accidentally. She woke her father who went to inspect the car, wearing light clothing and household slippers. He was grabbed from behind, bundled into a car and never again seen by his family.
Seven years passed before police, tipped off by an IRA informer, discovered Niedermayer’s body, face down in a shallow grave in an unregulated rubbish dump near Andersonstown, with his slippers nearby and his skull fractured in two places by blows that a pathologist said could have been caused by the butt of a Browning pistol.
“It was impossible to say whether Niedermayer had been killed by the blows to the head, or by being suffocated, or whether he had died from a heart attack,” writes David Blake Knox in this detailed and deeply disturbing update of his 2019 book on the abduction, published to coincide with the recent documentary Face Down.
Niedermayer and his wife, Ingeborg, both survivors of separate, prolonged ordeals in Germany during the second World War, came to Ireland in 1961 when he was appointed general manager of Grundig’s first overseas plant. His disappearance opened a new era of horror for the family. Ingeborg took her own life in 1990. Daughter Renate, who opened the door to her father’s abductors, died a year later from an eating disorder. Her sister Gabriele, away overnight when her father was abducted, died by suicide in 1994.
Blake Knox contends that IRA leader Brian Keenan, a former Grundig shop steward, ordered the abduction. One of the book’s photographs is of Keenan’s coffin being carried in 2008 by former Sinn Féin Northern Ireland MEP Martina Anderson and current party leader Mary Lou McDonald.