Margaret Wright, 31, a Protestant, was so severely beaten that it took some hours to establish that she had also been shot through the head. She appears to have been the victim of a loyalist gang.
The discovery of her body early yesterday followed a 24-hour police investigation and search of the Protestant Donegall Road district of south Belfast. The body had been tossed over the yard wall of an unoccupied house.
Miss Wright, a single woman who did not work because she suffered from epilepsy, had been seen last close to the city centre on Tuesday evening.
The incident seemed set to rank among the most gruesome of the Troubles, recalling as it did a number of other killings of women.
In a notorious incident in the same vicinity two decades ago, a woman was beaten to death by women members of the paramilitary Ulster Defence Association because she had been associated with a married man. Three years ago, another woman died after being beaten with baseball bats because persistent loud music from her flat annoyed neighbours. In 1992, a woman who strayed into a loyalist district of east Belfast was also beaten to death simply because she was a Catholic.
It appears that, on Tuesday night, Miss Wright went, or was taken, to a hall in Meridi Street, a back street near Donegall Road. The hall is used for practice by a loyalist band, but local people said that a succession of all-night parties had been held there over Easter.
Police went to the hall after an anonymous call about 7am on Wednesday, and found bloodstains and other signs of a violent incident. The area was sealed off for several hours while the hall was searched and people questioned. The exact circumstances of the death, and the motive for it, were unclear yesterday, but police said that at one stage up to 60 people are believed to have been in the hall.
One theory was that those who killed her may have believed that she was a Catholic. Another rumour in the district was that she may have been mistaken for an undercover policewoman.
The body was eventually found several hundred yards away. It had been heaved over a yard wall. Police had to demolish part of the wall to remove the corpse. A local woman said: 'To think they must have dragged that body, or carried it and threw it over into a yard, it's awful, absolutely awful, it's outrageous. This is supposed to be a civilised country but every day it gets worse.'
Police said they have received excellent co-operation from locals. One senior officer, for whom viewing the body had been a harrowing experience, said: 'We have received great help and support from the people of the area in our investigation. 'They are obviously shocked and appalled that this crime should have happened in their area. It is horrific for them to know that it can happen so close by.'
Her family's pastor, James McConnell, said: 'She was a lovely, quiet and sweet girl, completely harmless. She suffered from epilepsy which would mean she would go into deep depression afterwards but for the last five or six months she had been in wonderful form.
'Her mother is absolutely devastated but she is a Christian lady who will bounce back again. The church is shocked. It is numbed at the moment,' he said.Reuse content