The day debonair McArthur got life for murder

Malcolm McArthur's arrest at the home of the then attorney general 20 years ago was one of the biggest sensations in recent Irish…

Malcolm McArthur's arrest at the home of the then attorney general 20 years ago was one of the biggest sensations in recent Irish history, writes Jim Cusack

Malcolm Daniel Edward McArthur, now 56, has served 20 years of a life sentence for the murder of Nurse Bridie Gargan, who was bludgeoned to death as she sunned herself in Dublin's Phoenix Park during a work break. Three days later he murdered a farmer, Mr Donal Dunne, in Co Westmeath.

Most memorably, McArthur, a debonair man-about-town in Dublin in the late 1970s, was arrested at the home of the State's most senior legal officer, attorney general Mr Patrick Connolly, at Pilot View apartments in Dalkey, Co Dublin, on August 4th, 1982.

McArthur's arrest for the murders of Nurse Gargan and Mr Dunne was famously described as the culmination of a "grotesque, unbelievable, bizarre and unprecedented" set of events by the then taoiseach, Mr Charles Haughey.


The set of adjectives was quickly shortened to the acronym "GUBU" by Mr Haughey's leading critic of the time, Mr Conor Cruise O'Brien. The term came to be used as a catchphrase for the series of political scandals that beset the State at the time.

McArthur was an acquaintance of Mr Connolly, who invited him to stay at his apartment while he was on holiday, unaware that McArthur was the subject of the Garda's largest manhunt.

However, Mr Connolly's decision to leave for a further holiday in the US the day after the arrest added fuel to a controversy that continued until his decision to return to Ireland, tendering his resignation on his arrival.

Mr Haughey, who was holidaying on his private island off the Kerry coast at the time, also came under tremendous political pressure. At one point, McArthur's lawyers threatened to have the taoiseach committed for contempt after a press conference in which he said the Garda had caught the "right man".

On Sunday, July 25th, 1982, three days after murdering Nurse Gargan, McArthur travelled by bus to Tullamore, sleeping under a bridge that night. The next morning he telephoned Mr Dunne, a local farmer and clay-pigeon shooter, about a classified ad he had placed in the Evening Press, offering a shotgun for sale. Mr Dunne collected McArthur and drove him to the shooting grounds in Edenderry. He showed McArthur how the gun worked before handing it to him.

McArthur turned the gun on Mr Dunne and shot him dead at point-blank range, stole his car and drove it back to Dublin.

For reasons never fully explained, the DPP decided not to charge McArthur with Mr Dunne's murder. At his hearing on the charge of murdering Nurse Gargan, McArthur pleaded guilty and no evidence was heard.

McArthur has served the bulk of his sentence in Mountjoy, but a few years ago was sent to the adjoining St Patrick's training unit, giving rise to speculation that he was being prepared for release. However, he was later sent to Arbour Hill prison from where he will be moved to an open prison.

McArthur never had stable employment. He was born into a landed family who owned a farm near Trim, Co Meath. His parents separated when he was a teenager and he was said to have been a lonely child. In 1963, aged 17, he went to live with his uncle in California and returned to Ireland some years later and lived on the family farm until his father's death in 1974, at which point he came into a sizeable inheritance.

Over the following five or six years he managed to squander the £70,000 inheritance, mostly through drinking and high living in Dublin. He met his partner, Ms Brenda Little, in 1974 and for a while lived in Tenerife, where his inheritance finally ran out.

During 1982 he became increasingly erratic and began plotting robberies to raise cash. He appeared unannounced in a number of houses in the south Dublin area, apparently intent on stealing antiques.

He may have killed Nurse Gargan simply to get money from her handbag. Mr Dunne was killed so that McArthur could obtain a shotgun with which to carry out more robberies.

Gardaí were alerted to his presence in Mr Connolly's apartment by neighbours worried about a strangely dressed man coming and going at odd hours. When the gardaí, led by current Deputy Commissioner Noel Conroy, burst in, they found Mr Dunne's shotgun and clear evidence that McArthur was planning more violence.