Monica Butler: ‘They killed him over a bag of chips’

After the killings of her son and brother, and her husband’s suicide, Monica Butler wants justice, writes Liz Dunphy.
Monica Butler: ‘They killed him over a bag of chips’

A picture of Monica Butler with, from left, husband John, son John and her brother Frankie. Picture: Eddie O’Hare
A picture of Monica Butler with, from left, husband John, son John and her brother Frankie. Picture: Eddie O’Hare

After the killings of her son and brother, and her husband’s suicide, Monica Butler wants justice, writes Liz Dunphy

Fading photographs and precious memories are all Monica Butler has left of her son, brother, and husband after seeing her family shattered by two of the most callous murders Cork has ever witnessed.

Now, the graveyard is where she visits her brother, Frankie Dunne, whose headless and partially dismembered body was found in

December, allegedly after an argument over €80 escalated into a savage murder.

Her only son, John Butler, was shot at point-blank range by a masked gunman minutes after an argument over a €2 bag of chips in 2002.

And her grief-stricken husband John, unable to cope with their son’s death, took his own life in 2006 as Monica tried desperately to save him.

But while gardaí are working to solve Frankie’s brutal murder, which Monica said the family is still reeling from, no one has been held accountable for her beloved son’s death. She is now begging for that file to be re-opened.

The trial collapsed after a key witness claimed memory loss in 2006.

But Monica is appealing for people to come forward now with new information. And she believes that her son’s murder file still holds crucial evidence which could help secure a conviction.

She said that she will not rest until justice is done.

“People know who did it,” said Monica. “The guards know who did it. But the killers are just out there, walking around.

“And the snakey way they did it. They gave him nowhere to run. They have no conscience, no remorse.

“They wanted to take a life that night, so they did. They’re just empty inside. It’s been almost 18 years, but gardaí are catching up on murders going back years. They’ve got some going back 20 or 30 years before the courts, so there is some hope.”

Just hours before his death, murder seemed un-imaginable as John, 20, laughed with fiancée Rachel Thornhill as they watched men dressed as giant babies spill out of “prams” in Cork’s famous Pram Prix annual charity fundraiser.

They lined the street with friends and neighbours as men dressed in drag pushed their giant “babies”, long wigs swinging above stuffed bras and tight dresses as they pelted down Blarney St.

But when the couple stopped in a chipper on the way home, the festive mood darkened after an argument broke out over alleged queue-skipping to buy chips.

John and Monica Butler. ‘He was a good lad, he worked until the day he died. He was never in trouble.’ Picture: Eddie O’Hare
John and Monica Butler. ‘He was a good lad, he worked until the day he died. He was never in trouble.’ Picture: Eddie O’Hare

Minutes later, as they walked home on Gurranabraher Rd, a masked gunman ran out at the young couple from a side road. John flung his arms out to protect Rachel, the mother of their then-three-year-old child, and he was shot in the chest at point-blank range.

He lay dying in Rachel’s arms before an ambulance rushed him to Cork University Hospital where he was pronounced dead.

“They killed him over a bag of chips,” Monica said, still in horror over her son’s senseless murder.

“They went away, came back with a car and when John was walking up the hill, they were already at the top. One was saying: ‘Come on, come on’ and the other was waiting behind a wall.

“He had nowhere to run, they didn’t give him a chance. It was the snakey way they did it.

“And yet, they got away with it.”

’I just had no clue that he wasn’t coping’

Despite a major Garda investigation, no one has been convicted over John’s death.

Although two men were initially charged with his murder, they were acquitted after a key witness said he suffered “memory loss” and could no longer remember what had happened that night.

“It would eat you up inside,” said Monica.

The effects of John’s murder, as with every murder, continue to ripple through the years, taking their toll on the lives of the families left behind.

Unable to cope with the grief of his son’s death, and the injustice that his killer was still roaming the streets, John’s father, John Snr, took his own life one Sunday night at their own home.

Monica tried to save him, but she said that he was determined to die.

“It’s so, so sad,” she said, her voice breaking. “He was a kind man. He didn’t mean to hurt me the way he did. I just had no clue that he wasn’t coping.

“I was getting help from doctors, psychiatrists, friends, and family because I really couldn’t cope with the grief. But I was so sick myself that I couldn’t see through him and realise that he wasn’t that great either.

Monica Butler today. Pic: Eddie O'Hare.
Monica Butler today. Pic: Eddie O'Hare.

“He had been the sensible one. He’d tell me: ‘Come on Monica, pull yourself together.’ He said he was getting on with things. I had no clue that he wasn’t.

“John’s killers have his blood on their hands. John’s friend took his own life afterwards too, so they took three people’s lives that night.

“And they took everything away from me. I only kept going for John’s son. And to fight for justice. His son can Google his dad’s death now, and he wants answers too. But where can I send him? The justice system messed up the case, so where do you go?”

`

‘I wished him back to life’

John’s room, still decorated with Manchester United posters, is where Monica now sleeps.

“I never changed his room,” she said. “It feels peaceful there. I’m in the Knocknaheeny housing regeneration scheme, so I have to move soon. There are so many memories in this house. It will be very emotional leaving it behind. But I’ll take those memories wherever I go.”

Remembering her son, Monica said: “Every day with John was my favourite. Every breath he took was my favourite.

“He was a good lad; he worked until the day he died. He was never in trouble. He had a baby when he was 17, he knew his son needed him and he did his best for him.

“He was a good footballer too. He played with Temple United and he was everyone’s friend.”

Monica was minding John’s then three-year-old son the night of the killing.

“One of my nephews came down and said: ‘John’s in hospital, come up.’

“I hadn’t got a clue. I brought John’s son up to the hospital with me. John had already died, but his cheeks were still pink. I told him to give his dad a kiss and he gave him a kiss on the forehead.

“Someone took the baby off me then. I just couldn’t believe he’d be in hospital dead. I gave him mouth to mouth, I wished him back to life. But he was dead, God love him.”

Now, Monica is pleading with gardaí to give her their files on her son’s death.

“We all want answers. It would eat you up that someone’s got away with it. You could be walking the streets of Cork and bump into the person who ruined your life, who took your whole life away from you. Your husband, your son, and his friend.

“I think about it a lot when I walk around. I could be standing next to them. It’s very, very hard.

“I know we can’t bring John back. But it would give peace of mind to know that there is some justice there.

“I’ll keep pushing it. I’ll keep his memory alive, if nothing else.”

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