In April 2020 — less than a month after the introduction of lockdown — a man was shot dead in the garden of a house in Ardoyne in north Belfast.
obbie Lawlor was, at the time, the most notorious gangster in Ireland.
The 36-year-old gangland boss had ordered a murder so horrific it shocked the nation.
The remains of 17-year-old Keane Mulready-Woods were found in different locations in Dublin and Drogheda after his family reported him missing on January 13, 2020.
A child runner for a rival drug gang, he had been abducted and taken to a house in Drogheda where he was murdered and dismembered.
Lawlor was gunned down as he tried to flee out the front door of a house in Etna Drive in Ardoyne.
Two people from Belfast are currently charged in connection with his murder.
That Dublin gangland criminality had migrated across the border to this once staunchly republican area shocked many.
Southern criminals had for many years avoided involving themselves directly in the drugs trade north of the border due to the control of paramilitaries in most working-class areas.
They may have been happy to supply drugs and guns for the right price, but they certainly didn’t want a turf war with organisations that had hundreds of members and a history dating back decades.
As more of the details about Lawlor’s involvement with Belfast-based criminals came to light, it transpired he had been staying in the city for some time. Drinking in the trendy Cathedral Quarter bars and restaurants.
The key suspect in the case was quickly identified as Warren Crossan. On paper, Crossan was a car dealer but he was also heavily involved in criminality, including drugs.
His father was Continuity IRA boss Tommy Crossan, who was shot dead on Good Friday, April 2014, as he sat in a hut at his fuel business off the Springfield Road in west Belfast.
Warren was particularly close to his maternal family who were members of the Traveller community from Limerick.
He used southern connections to broker a deal with Lawlor’s enemies to have him murdered for a considerable sum of money.
Crossan would have been aware that those loyal to Lawlor could potentially now target him.
But his death was to come not at the hands of Lawlor’s teenage foot soldiers but the same people who murdered his father six years previous.
In June 2020, retribution for his association with Dublin drug lords came in a deadly way.
Twenty-eight-year-old Crossan was devoted to his mother and visited her on the same day every week.
As he approached his mother’s house he spotted the two masked gunman and ran for his life but they hunted him down and shot him dead in the streets of St James’ — one of the oldest districts in west Belfast.
A year later on December 18 2021, Mark Hall — an associate of Crossan — was also gunned down in St James’ as he visited his mother. Big in bulk and stature, he had been Crossan’s enforcer, who used him to threaten anyone who didn’t pay up.
Without his boss, 31-year-old Hall was vulnerable. Despite this, he had been stating publicly that he intended to avenge his boss, more than likely this was just bluster, but it was enough to cost him his life.
He was in his family home in Rodney Drive, when just after 4.30pm, two gunmen approached the house and fired shots through the front window.
Hall was hit and died later in hospital from his injuries.
Their deaths were a warning to those who would consider the potential lucrative benefits of involvement with the Dublin based drugs gangs.
Crossan and Hall appeared to have been set up by a friend who was able to inform their killers of their exact movements, dates and times they could be expected in west Belfast.
There is little loyalty among criminals as those close to Jim JD Donegan demonstrated shortly after he was gunned down by the same hitman in west Belfast in December 2018.
Donegan was flash with his wealth when he was shot dead outside his son’s school in front of horrified onlookers.
He was sitting in an £80,000 Porsche — it was not the kind of car you’d expect to see on the school run in west Belfast.
He had an attractive new wife who he had married in a lavish ceremony and was in the process of building a dream home, with much of the building work being paid for in huge bundles of cash.
He was one of the ‘Marbella Crew’ a gang of drug dealers from west Belfast and the Short Strand area of east Belfast who liked to flash their wealth in the Spanish resort that was known for its association with the Kinahan cartel.
Last month, Spanish police arrested alleged gangster Johnny Morrissey and his wife Nicola in Marbella.
Gardaí believe Morrissey — described by Europol as one of the continent’s biggest money launderers — was cartel boss Kinahan’s and his associates’ main man in Europe.
Donegan fancied himself as the next Daniel Kinahan, but his flash lifestyle attracted the attention of dissident enforcers.
He was said to be paying up to £10,000 a month in protection money to one dissident group but this didn’t protect him from the ‘freelance’ hitman.
His killer has links in the past to both the INLA and Oglaigh na hEireann.
Following his death many of Donegan’s associates asked for meetings with the dissidents. They traded weapons and information on their criminal pals in return for their safety.
Sean ‘Foxy’ Fox was Donegan’s closest ally. After Donegan’s second wife Laura left Northern Ireland for a new life in Spain, he moved into their Lisburn home.
He also took over what was left of Donegan’s car rental business.
On Sunday, he was shot dead in front of a packed bar full of people watching a Premier League football match.
A former Irish league footballer himself, he was once celebrated for his skills on the pitch.
In death he becomes known as the latest victim of Northern Ireland’s most prolific hitman.