A teen murder victim’s heartbroken sister has spoken of the moment her sibling ‘vanished off face of the earth” before her 16-year-old killer staged a cynical plot to ‘discover’ the body.
In 2004, Megan McAlorum, aged 16, went missing after a night out with friends in Belfast, Ireland. Her mutilated body was discovered the following morning in the hills above the city.
Her killer, Thomas Purcell, also 16, sadistically lured Megan into a stolen car before killing her – and then created an elaborate alibi to cover his tracks.
Purcell even returned twice to where he left Megan’s semi-naked body the next day. The first time was to drag her remains into a ditch; the second was to pretend to discover the body and report it to the police.
At court, Thomas Purcell was handed a life sentence and ordered to serve a minimum term of 15 years.
In tonight’s episode of Britain’s Deadliest Kids, which airs on discovery+, Megan McAlorum’s sister Lynne reveals the grief she and her family felt at being told that Megan’s body had been found.
‘There were two police officers, and my Mum was sat there. They just said, “it’s your daughter,” she emotionally recalls. ‘That was very hard. It was unbelievable, seeing my Mum and Dad. My family was just never the same afterwards.’
In 2004, Megan McAlorum (pictured), aged 16, went missing after a night out with friends in Belfast. Her mutilated body was discovered the following morning in the hills above the city
Thomas Purcell (pictured) was handed a life sentence and ordered to serve a minimum term of 15 years
Growing up in Belfast, Megan was the second youngest of seven siblings. As she got older, she and her friends spent their free time hanging out in West Belfast, and it was here that she would meet her killer, Thomas Purcell.
Despite being in his teens, Purcell was already a hardened criminal with multiple convictions.
‘He had a criminal record that spanned two jurisdictions,’ local journalist Allison Morris notes.
On the 12th April 2004, Megan’s parents awoke to discover that she hadn’t returned home.
‘We didn’t realise until the early hours of Easter Monday that Megan hadn’t returned home,’ her sister Lynne recalls. ‘It was like she’d just vanished off the face of the Earth.’
Murder victim Megan McAlorum’s sister, Lynne (pictured), has spoken of the moment her sibling ‘vanished off face of the earth’ before her 16-year-old killer staged a cynical plot to ‘discover’ the body
Megan’s murderer, Thomas Purcell, also 16, sadistically lured her into a stolen car before killing her – and then created an elaborate alibi to cover his tracks
Recalling the moment the police revealed they had found her sister’s body, Lynne (pictured) said: ‘That was very hard. It was unbelievable, seeing my Mum and Dad. My family was just never the same afterwards’
While a missing person’s report was filed, police responded to reports of the body of a young woman being found in the hills above Belfast.
‘She was covered in a paramedic’s blanket,’ Detective Chief Superintendent Raymond Murray remembers. ‘You could see that there had been a catastrophic head wound or head wounds.’
There was also evidence that she had been sexually assaulted.
Comparing the body with the details of the recent missing persons report, police quickly identified the young woman as Megan McAlorum.
For Megan’s best friend Leanne, the news was met with utter disbelief.
‘I just sort of remember falling and then thinking, “no, what?” I still at that point didn’t think anybody had murdered her,’ she recalls.
Megan’s body had been discovered by three youths – two girls and 16-year-old named Thomas Purcell.
‘Purcell had been driving his van up in that area, and whilst up there he had stopped the van and said to one of the passengers, “I think I see something, I think I see a body.” Almost immediately, Purcell’s story raised suspicions.
For Megan’s best friend Leanne (pictured), the news was met with utter disbelief. ‘I just sort of remember falling and then thinking, “no, what?” I still at that point didn’t think anybody had murdered her,’ she recalls
After building a clearer picture of Megan’s movements in the hours before her murder, police were able to identify that Purcell had been driving in the same area of West Belfast where Megan had been with friends.
And, after discounting Purcell’s claims that he had spent the night in A&E, police had their lead suspect and were able to piece together what had happened in the early hours of 12th April.
Purcell had lured Megan into his car at around 3am before driving off. Following a confrontation with drinkers and a vehicle swap, Purcell had bludgeoned Megan to death before staging the discovery of her body the next morning.
As DCS Murray reveals, the extent of Megan’s injuries were a severe shock to her family.
‘The autopsy revealed that the death was from blunt force trauma from a number of very severe injuries to Megan’s head,’ he explains. ‘We never located the weapon; we believe it may have been as basic as a large rock.’
For DCS Murray, it was the callousness of Purcell’s behaviour in staging the discovery of Megan’s body – just hours after brutally murdering her – which caused the biggest shock.
‘I think one of the things that certainly hit myself and hit the staff around me was how cynical it was to stage the finding of her later on that day and take two young girls with you to do that,’ he says.
With enough evidence accrued by police, Purcell was charged with murder and, despite pleading his innocence, a court date was set for 2006. But at the last moment, Purcell changed his plea to guilty.
For DCS Murray (pictured), it was the callousness of Purcell’s behaviour in staging the discovery of Megan’s body – just hours after brutally murdering her – which caused the biggest shock
DCS Murray, however, is sceptical that Purcell’s plea change was made out of remorse.
‘I think the guilty plea entered at that time was very much routed in him looking after himself, thinking “right, I need to get some discount in my sentence,” he explains. ‘I don’t think any aspect was relating to sparing the family or a genuine demonstration of remorse.’
Adding to this, Lynne recalls how a stony-faced Purcell showed no emotion in court.
‘He never showed any remorse, he sort of looked as if “what am I doing here?” A bit of an attitude. But he never showed compassion or anything towards Megan’s family at all.’
When asked why he had killed Megan, Purcell only offered one explanation.
‘He claimed that she made a comment about the fact that he was a traveller, that was his only justification for killing Megan. He’s never offered anything else,’ Allison Morris says.
Purcell’s guilty plea was welcome, but it didn’t lessen the pain of the McAlorum family’s loss.
‘That victory is fleeting because it doesn’t bring her back,’ DCS Murray continues. ‘You have to prepare her family for that.’
For Megan’s mother Geraldine, Purcell’s sentence is a poor reflection of the loss that her family felt.
‘Even in the court he smirked,’ she says. ‘She meant nothing to him, he didn’t know her. She meant nothing to him, but she meant the world to us.’ In April 2021, Purcell was released from prison in England on licence.’
Britain’s Deadliest Kids is available to stream now as a boxset on discovery+, with episodes also airing weekly on Quest Red