The Murder of Seamus Ludlow in County Louth, May 1976. Towards a public inquiry?
The Sunday World (Southern edition), 9 May 1976:
Death in a lovers' lane...
Who killed Santa Claus
Gardai call us in to help
Report: Sean Boyne
Pictures: Tom McElroy
A top detective spoke out dramatically at the weekend about the Good Samaritan work of murder victim Seamus Ludlow, the Dundalk children's Santa Claus, in the hope that anybody shielding the killers might be moved to contact the police. The eight S.A.S. men arrested last week have already been quizzed about the senseless killing last Sunday of the harmless workman, I learned reliably.
The head of the garda murder squad, Det. Supt. Dan Murphy, said if it was realised that Mr Ludlow was the man who played Santa Claus year after year to hundreds of children on a Dundalk housing estate, that some people who might not otherwise want to get involved might come forward with valuable information.
The bullet-riddled body of the popular 48-year-old bachelor was found dumped in a ditch near his home north of Dundalk at a boreen known as a "lovers Lane".
Supt. Murphy said that courting couples embarrassed about contacting the police could, if necessary, phone or write anonymously.
The S.A.S. men arrested by the gardai in the Omeath area some 15 miles from the leafy lane at Culfore where the body was found last Sunday afternoon, were questioned about the killing by Special Branch men at Dundalk garda station, reliable sources told me, but I understand that no fresh leads have emerged so far from this line of inquiry.
The Sunday World (Southern edition), 9 May 1976 (Continued):
The spot where Santa Claus died
Supt. Murphy, a soft spoken Corkman who has worked on many of the big murder probes round the cuntry over the past 15 years, told me frankly: "The position is that the investigation is in full swing but it could take weeks. We are keeping our fingers crossed to make a breakthrough."
As uniformed men and detectives, many of them drafted in from other divisions, worked on the major task of interviewing everybody over the age of ten in about 700 houses in northside Dundalk, the people of the Marian Park estate remained shocked and dumb-founded by the brutal slaying of the knndly "Santa Claus" who visited their homes every year.
"There was great sadness in the estate and many of the people actually cried," said Mr Michael Fitzgerald, 40 Marian Park, a member of the local tenants association which arranged for Mr Ludlow to make a a Santa Claus visit to all 165 houses on the estate every Christmas for many years.
"At about 1.30 pm on the Sunday before Christmas he would come into the estate hidden in a ;ittle red trailer pulled by a car. When the children gathered around he would zoom out of the box with his sack of toys and he would tell the children to go back to their homes to wait his visit.
"He would spend seven to eight minutes in each house and he would have a gift parcel for every child. he would chat to the children and warn them about the dangers of crossing the road and he would pose for pictures. He was a very kind man."
Supt. Murphy, who has been drafted into Dundalk along with eight of his men from the Garda Technical Bureau based at John's Road, Dublin, spoke to me at length about the mystery as to why somebody should want to kill a simple inoffensive man who took no interest in politics.
"Mr Ludlow was a sociable, well-liked man. He played rings, and he also played the mouth organ. Occasionally he sang a song in the pubs that he frequented. On Saturday night, 1 May, he was in pubs in Dundalk having a drink as was his usual custom.
"Some time after midnight, he was seen thumbing a lift at Smith's Garage on the northern side of Newry Bridge, just outside Dundalk. We are anxious to trace any person who might have seen him or others thumbing a lift on the Newry road.
"On Sunday, 2 May, Mr Ludlow's body was found in a lane off what's known as the 'back road' which leads from Thistlecross, on the main dundalk to Newry road, to the Carlingford road, just past the back entrance to the Ballymascanlan Hotel.
"It is known that a large number of people travelled along this stretch of road before and after 12 midnight because there are functions in the hotel. We are anxious to hear from anybody who might have heard shots, or seen anything of a suspicious nature.
"It is known that Mr Ludlow was a man with a very good nature. He liked children and assisted charitable organisations. He collected money for these organisations, and so on. Over the past number of years Mr Ludlow assumed the role of Santa claus from time to time in housing estates in dundalk town.
"The gardai believe that people who might not otherwise want to get involved might come forward when this is known. If people are reluctant for one reason or another to come forward they could send an anonymous leter or make an anonymous phone call to the gardai at Dundalk.
"It is believed that a hand gun was used in the killing and that the victim was shot at least three times at close range."
Meanwhile in the top floor murder hunt HQ at Dundalk garda station, detectives continued to sift through scores of questionaire forms completed by police on house-to-house visits, searching for leads to be followed up by the investigation section of the Murder Squad.
Mr Ludlow lived in a cottage at Thistlecross, about three miles from Dundalk, with his 80-year-old mother who is virtually bed-ridden. Also living in the house is his sister, Mrs Nan Sharkey, her husband John and their ten children.
"The funeral to Ravensdale cemetery was one of the biggest I have ever seen," said the murder victim's brother-in-law, Mr Tommy Fox. The two men worked together at a saw mill in Ravensdale.
On his last night in Dundalk, Mr Ludlow visited three public houses: The Lisdoo Arms; The Horse and Hounds, and finally The Vine. When he did not return home that night, worried relatives visited the pubs inquiring about him on Sunday morning.
That afternoon a tourist found the body thrown across a ditch, lying face upwards, jacket and overcoat thrown across his legs. It is possible he may have been killed elsewhere, and there is speculation that more than one person helped to lift the victim, who weighed about 10 stone, into the brambles.
The tree-shaded spot, with the Cooley Mountains in the background, is only about a mile from the family home at Thistlecross. Gardai are still keeping an open mind as to the motive behind what seems to have been one of the most senseless killings of all. The Provisional IRA have denied responsibility blaming a british SAS squad or sectarian killers for this calous crime.
I Top I
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Account No. 70037984