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The Dirty Harry wannabes – Ep 18

Two unemployed friends from Dundee loved the film Dirty Harry so much they used it as inspiration to commit their own set of crimes.

The first step for the Dirty Harry wannabes was to get some guns, which directly led to one of them killing a local shop manager with 48 strikes of an axe.

Two unemployed friends from Dundee loved the film Dirty Harry so much they used it as inspiration to commit their own set of crimes.

The first step for the Dirty Harry wannabes was to get some guns, which directly led to one of them killing a local shop manager with 48 strikes of an axe.

Listen to the episode “The Dirty Harry wannabes” below:

The Dirty Harry wannabes - Killers of Gordon Johnston, manager at Gow's of Dundee - A Sublime True Crime podcast episode.
The Dirty Harry wannabes

Gow’s of Dundee

In 1860 John R Gow founded Gows of Dundee – a shop that covered both the manufacture and retail of fishing tackle as well as guns for shooting game.  Originally based on the Perth Road, it moved to Union Street where it remained until it closed its doors for the final time in 2014.

In 1952, 16-year-old Gordon Johnston had joined the company as a trainee gunsmith.  Over the following 37 years he had slowly worked his way up to become manager of the store; a position he held for over 20 years.

On Monday 8th May 1989, Gordon’s day started like any other day.  Jumping off the bus at 8.45am, it was only a short stroll to the shop where he opened just before 9am.

Locking the premises up just 15 minutes later, the father-of-two went off to pay the gas bill and make a small purchase in a neighbouring shop before heading back to his own store.

Gows of Dundee in Union Street as it looked in 1989 - Courtesy of Crimewatch UK
Gows of Dundee in Union Street as it looked in 1989 – Courtesy of Crimewatch UK

At 9.20am he was seen talking to two men at the entrance to the store but although several customers attempted to enter the store over the following 20 minutes or so, they all found it locked up still.

In fact, the store remained locked all day.  So unusual was this that somebody called the police to investigate and by 5pm the police had forced their way inside. 

Making their way downstairs to the basement, tracing a set of bloody footprints which headed up the steps, they saw a body laying at the foot of the stairs. 

The murder of Gordon Johnston

It was Gordon Johnston, curled up in the foetal position and laying dead in a pool of his own blood.

He still had his watch on his wrist and though badly damaged it provided the first clue of the investigation.  It had stopped at 9.21am.

Upon further investigation the police found that Gordon’s back pocket had been turned out, the till draw had been opened and the safe had been ransacked. 

The post-mortem revealed the horrifying details of the attack that had taken place. 

48 blows had been dealt to Gordon in the attack – the vast majority of them with an axe. 

The Scottish Conservative party conference

When an inventory was carried out at the store, it was revealed that among the missing items was £100 in cash, a jacket, some knives as well as guns and bullets had been taken.

The robbers couldn’t have picked a worse time to steal guns.

With the Scottish Conservative party due to hold the Scottish Conservative party conference in Perth, just 20 miles away, later that month, police feared that the guns had been stolen with the Tory party conference in mind.

Fortunately, the conference passed without incident, but not before police implemented one of the biggest operations in Dundee history. 

£12,000 reward

Though they were no closer to catching the killers, the police interviewed everyone who had been near or by Union Street on the morning of the murder and the shop owners put up a £12,000 reward.

What they got for their in-depth operation was reports of a young man with pointed features who was seen leaving the store at 9.50am. 

The man was said to have fumbled with the door handle as he left, before backing out of the stores, bumping into pedestrians and then running off down Union Street, pulling a hood over his head as he made off with two gun cases.

But apart from this, the police felt that they were drawing a blank.

They had considered that the perpetrators could have left the city by train, as the local station was just down the road from the store, but despite questioning hundreds of commuters and tracing people who had bought tickets using credit and debit cards. 

They drew yet another blank.

They tracked down and spoke to everyone who had used a cashpoint near the shop, all without luck.

There was even a jeweller’s shop opposite Gow’s which had CCTV installed.  The police checked the footage of that, with no success.

Union Street and the proximity to Dundee station - Courtesy of Google Maps
Union Street and the proximity to Dundee station in the Dirty Harry wannabes case – Courtesy of Google Maps

New leads from Crimewatch

Eventually the police turned to Crimewatch.

After the episode aired, it brought 100 new leads, but as each and every one was followed up, they all led to dead ends.

Three months after the attack, police were growing despondent. 

Then, seemingly when they had almost given up hope, they received a phone call. 

Gordon Johnston - Image taken as a screenshot from Crimewatch UK
Gordon Johnston – Image taken as a screenshot from Crimewatch UK

On 25th July a man who refused to reveal his identity called the police.  In a softly spoken voice, the man said the he knew who was responsible for the murder.  One of the killers was his relative. 

He then put the phone down.

Amazingly, the police managed to track down the caller.  It took them a week, but somehow they managed to identify the caller as Lucio Mario Ianetta.

When being interviewed he confessed that he had been the caller, saying that seeing the face of the victim on posters in newspapers and around town had made him feel guilty as knew information about the crime.

The face of Gordon Johnston seemed to be speaking to him, urging him to do something.

Wanting to clear his conscience, he told police how his nephew, 21-year-old Ryan Monks, had turned up unannounced at his house on the morning of the murder, agitated and carrying a bag full of clothes.

Stating simply that “it went wrong”, Monks had thrown his clothes on the floor and asked his uncle to burn them.

Pressing his nephew for more information, he eventually conceded to his uncle:

“The boy in the gunshop.  He was wasted.”

Ryan Monks

Without asking any more questions – admitting to police that he wanted to protect his nephew – he threw the pile of clothing (which contained trainers, jeans and a jacket) onto his living room fire.

Ianetta finished his revelation by saying that he only realised his nephew had been involved in a murder when he saw it reported on the news later that evening.  He was even more shocked as, by chance, he knew the man who’d been killed – his father had been a regular customer at the shop.

As he got ready to leave, he shocked the police further by teling them that a young man by the name of Paul had accompanied his nephew that day, and that he’d hired a red Rover as a getaway vehicle.

The Crimewatch episode covering the Dirty Harry wannabes

Police raids on Ryan Monks and Paul Mill

The police sprang into action.  At 7am the following morning, two armed teams raided the houses of Ryan Monks and Paul Mill, aged 22 and 21 at the time

Hoping to find evidence linking the two to the robbery and murder at the gun shop, instead the police found evidence of a far more complex plot.

The two men had concocted a plot to kidnap the elderly mother of a well-known local baker, Robert Brown.  With a proposed ransom fee of £200,000, they pair had decided that they needed guns to carry out their plan – hence the robbery at Gow’s.

Monks had previously worked for Rough & Fraser, a local bakers in Dundee which was owned by Robert Brown.  His employment there had given him a good insight into how the family operated and how much they were worth.

During the raid, police uncovered written notes detailing how the kidnap plot would be carried out. 

They also uncovered pre-written ransom notes which detailed death threats and demands of cash from Robert Brown, with some purporting to be from the IRA.

The concluded by saying that if Brown didn’t follow their instructions, he would be told where to find his mother’s corpse.

Their plan had been to tell Brown to wait by a payphone where he would then get instructions on what to do next. 

Monk and Mills had planned a route across Dundee which would throw off any police trail, making a note of how long it took to get from one payphone to the next.

At the final payphone, the plan was to cover Brown’s head with some kind of hood, handcuff him and lock him in the boot of his own car.

Their grand schemes didn’t stop there though.

The police also found various notes with details of Post Office cash delivery vans, including their routes and timetables.

They had an audacious plan to hijack a van when it stopped at the sub-post office in St Giles Terrace – just a short walk from where Monk lived.  They would seize the driver and then drive either to a lock-up garage that Monk had, or to Templeton Woods on the city’s outskirts where they would then split the money.

It was fast becoming obvious to police that the raid on Gow’s was simply a way for the men to arm themselves in order to move on with their bigger heist plans.

Gordon Johnston - Crime scene photo
The Dirty Harry wannabes – The crime scene photo from near Gow’s of Dundee. Courtesy of the Evening Telegraph.

A surprising haul

If their in-depth notes weren’t enough evidence, the police also found a haul of other incriminating artifacts, including shotguns and ammo, combat-style clothing, forged Police warrant cards, handcuffs, balaclavas, maps of Dundee with locations marked in ink and magazines detailing guns and survival methods.

When the police searched the house owned by Mill’s parents, they found in the attic parts of gun barrels and butts which had been cut into smaller pieces.

It also turned out that several days before the murder, the pair had hired a red Rover, fitted it with false numberplates before returning it after the robbery.

Friends turned murderers

Police were shocked at the sudden turn of events.  Monks and Mill had no previous convictions and without the confession of Lucio Ianetta, it’s unlikely that the police would have found the two of them.

The pair both came from respectable families, and both had settled down with girlfriends.  Monks had two kids (with the youngest being born two weeks after Gordon Johnston was murdered) while Mill was expecting his first child.

The two had been schoolfriends together growing up and though they had seemingly grown apart after leaving school, they had become close friends again after both being made unemployed.

Spending their time together watching movies and talking about guns and crimes, they soon began planning their own series of crimes.

For the robbery at Gow’s the pair had come up with a series of “bleep codes” to be used on a set of two-way radios.  The bleeps would be used for the one inside the shop to tell the other to bring the car close by, and for the driver to let the one in the shop know when the coast was clear for him to leave. 

When questioned by police, each of the two men had almost identical stories.  Though each named the other as the killer.

During a recorded interview shortly after being arrested, Monks confirmed to police that he was the getaway driver while Mill entered the shop to rob it.

He continued:

I was sitting in the car, time had passed so I left the car… and went into the shop and asked where the man was.  Paul said ‘downstairs…

Ryan Monks

He went on to say that he returned to the car and Mill joined him soon afterwards, changing his clothes in the back of the car as they made their getaway. 

Mill then passed the worn clothes to Monks who, in turn, asked his uncle to burn them.

Mill was interviewed by Detective Sergeant Edward Boyle. He initially told Boyle that he was nowhere near the shop at the time of the murder.

After being pressed about this, he changed his story, saying that he had driven the car to the shop, picking Monks up on the way.

Although he was complicit, he stated that he was not a part of the robbery.

Even after forensic officers studied the CCTV footage from the jewellers opposite, they were unable to decipher which of the two was responsible, and this was even after they had the footage enhanced by the Dundee Institute of Technology. 

All they could tell was that a Rover car containing two men had driven past the gunshop around the time of the murder.  They were unable to ascertain who was driving.

The trial of Ryan Monks and Paul Mill

The trial of Ryan Monks and Paul Mill took place at Perth Sheriff Court in November 1989.

Giving evidence, Anne Monks, then aged 22, told the court that a week after the robbery her husband had revealed to her:

“I have got some involvement and the person who was with me could put me right in it and stitch me up if he wanted to.”

Anne Monks, giving evidence.

She went on to say that her husband had told her he’d been the one to drive to the shop while Mill carried out the crime.

Danna Henderson, aged 21, who was dating Mills at the time of the robbery, revealed that she knew of his plan to rob the gun shop, saying that she tried to persuade him not to take part.

On the evening of the murder, Mill met her after work and told her how the plan had gone wrong.  Pinning the blame firmly on Monks he told her how he’d played a passive part in the proceedings while his accomplice had carried out the dirty work.

Speaking to the court she said:

“The plan had been to hit him, but not too hard, just to knock him over.  But Ryan told Paul that his head burst open when it was struck.”

Danna Henderson

On being shown two balaclavas and two pairs of handcuffs which had been found in the flat she shared with Mill, she told the court that they sometimes used them during sex. 

Ianetta also gave evidence at the trial, telling the jury how he had helped his nephew buy a set of car license plates in the days leading up to the murder, being careful to say that he was unaware of what his nephew had planned at that time.

Monks later said that his uncle handed them over to the police so that he could claim the £12,000 reward for their capture.

When it came to sentencing, the jury decided that each man was equally guilty.  After just two hours they found both men guilty of all charges.

Judge Lord Mayfield jailed each of them for life.

Mill was released after 13 years, Monks after 14.

The murder weapon was never found.

As for Lucio Ianetta, the man whose phone call to police led to the arrest of the two men, he never claimed the £12,000 reward.

Positive Steps Charity Calendar

In a weird footnote to this case, Ryan Monks caused upset after he was released from prison by posing naked and smiling for a charity calendar for Positive Steps – A Dundee based charity.

Monks, then aged 37, portrayed “Mr October”, wielding a claw hammer and with a toolbox strategically placed for modesty. 

And that is the case of the Dirty Harry wannabes.


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Credits for The Dirty Harry wannabes:

References/Further Reading:

Websites:

https://www.heraldscotland.com/news/11970054.two-jailed-for-life-after-atrocity-at-gun-shop/

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/nude-calendar-photo-of-killer-is-condemned-c2g22tkmhdk

Newspapers:

Glasgow Herald: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2507&dat=19891125&id=2DNAAAAAIBAJ&sjid=UFkMAAAAIBAJ&pg=4317,2186038&hl=en

Book: 

The Law Killers: New Updated Edition By Alexander McGregor – Affiliate link: https://amzn.to/2Si3WhD

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Music sourced from Opsound
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Music used in this episode:  All music used is sourced from http://freemusicarchive.org/ or http://www.opsound.org/ and is used under an Attribution Licence (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/)

Playlist Tracks:

free music from Pablo Perez

Pablo Perez – Pyromaniac (Arsonist edit). Email Pablo by clicking here.

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