Northern Ireland news

IRA murder of businessman Thomas Niedermayer set off tragic chain of events

Ingeborg Niedermaye at the grave of her husband

THE IRA abduction and murder of Thomas Niedermayer, the German manager of the Grundig electronics plant on the outskirts of Belfast in 1973, set off a tragic chain of events that would see his entire family wiped out.

The political climate at the time and the influence of the IRA leader suspected of ordering the kidnapping has now been examined for the first time by acclaimed author David Blake Knox, in the recently released Killing of Thomas Niedermayer.

Niedermayer was seized from his west Belfast bungalow on December 27 1973.

The IRA had planned to use the businessman - who was the Honorary German Consulate - to try to negotiate the transfer home of sisters Dolours and Marian Price, jailed in England for their part in a bombing campaign in London.

IRA leader Brian Keenan, who had worked at Grundig's factory in Dunmurry, is thought to have planned the kidnap.

German businessman Thomas Niedermayer

"It came at a time when the IRA were pursuing an anti-capitalist phase, targeting businesses and businessmen. I believe this was Keenan's strategy, he was determined to disrupt the Northern Ireland economy and he carried great influence at that time," the author said.

Two IRA men were sent to the home of Niedermayer late at night, claiming to have hit his car, and when he came out to investigate he was abducted.

The media and the businessman's wife Ingeborg and two daughters waited in the following days for the kidnappers' demands, but none came.

Mr Blake Knox said this gap allowed for wild rumours to take hold.

One suggested Niedermayer may have been killed by international arms traffickers, while another speculated he could have been murdered over an affair.

Ingeborg Niedermayer with her daughters Renate and Gabriele

This all added to the distress of Mrs Niedermayer, who had grown up in what was then known as East Prussia during the Second World War and fled the Red Army.

"Moving to Northern Ireland was meant to be a new start for the family, they believed they were neutral and therefore safe," said Mr Blake Knox.

Ingeborg refused to leave the family home in case her husband returned but in 1978, she purchased a burial plot in the Church of Ireland cemetery in Derriaghy and erected a headstone.

"She would go to the cemetery and talk to her husband over this empty grave."

Niedermayer became one of the 'disappeared', with the IRA denying any responsibility.

However, in 1980 an informant revealed the location of the body to the RUC, hidden beneath a rubbish dump just a few hundred yards from his family home at Glen Colin forest park.

Police posing as workmen spent a month clearing thousands of tons of rubbish before discovering the remains.

He had suffered severe head injuries but because of the passage of time it was not possible to determine his exact cause of death.

"When his body was discovered it was distressing for Ingeborg to know he'd been so close to where she and her children were living and often walked past. Grundig stopped paying the rent on her house and she was forced to return to Germany," Mr Blake Knox said.

In June 1990, Mrs Niedermayer returned to Ireland, booked into a hotel in Bray, Co Wicklow, and walked into the sea. Her body was found washed up on a beach a few days later.

Her daughter Renate, who had opened the door to her father's killers and woken him from his sleep, moved to South Africa and within a year of her mother's death, she had also taken her own life.

Gabriele, the elder of his two children, also died by suicide, while a few years later her husband took his own life.

"The issue of legacy is a vexing one - I don't have the answers, but I did want to tell this story," Mr Blake Knox said.

"It took six years of research on and off, it's a story that really highlights the forgotten victims, a couple who survived the hardship of WW2, a family totally annihilated by the events of that night in 1973.

"I wanted to record that, because while Thomas Niedermayer's death was pointless his life was not without meaning."

The Killing of Thomas Niedermayer by David Blake Knox is published by New Island Books, priced £13.99.

The killing of Thomas Niedermayer is on sale now

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