James Norris is remembered as one of Ireland’s most notorious killers

James Norris, who killed his wife and four daughters when he lit their Dublin home on fire in 1987, has died of cancer.

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The Irish Sun reports that Norris, who is the only person in Irish criminal history to plead guilty to five murders, died of cancer in Bray, Co Wicklow last week.

On July 8, 1987, Norris set his Clondalkin home ablaze when he set fire to the sofa in the home’s living room. Inside the house at the time were his wife Mary, 29, and their daughters Catherine, 12; Sabrina, six; Fiona, four; and Deirdre, 1, who all perished in the fire.

Norris’s son Jason was the only person in the home who managed to escape the horrific event when he jumped from a window.

Pat Bane, a former detective who originally worked on Norris’s case, told The Irish Sun that Norris had “almost committed the perfect crime.”

“Norris stood in the garden and watched his house go up in flames knowing his family were inside - this is the type of man we are dealing with. His reaction to the slaughter of his wife and children was to smirk and smile.”

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Bane said that Norris was an alcoholic who would drink about 30 pints a day. When it was closing time at the pub, Norris would order six pints before returning to the family home and beating his wife. According to Bane, Norris “had no problem” hitting his wife in front of other people.

“When the fire happened some of my colleagues initially thought it was an accident and there was even talk of a collection for him. But my old boss John Courtney had a feeling something wasn’t right for the case and asked me to delve further into it.”

Norris initially told authorities that he had escaped from the burning house through a window by the stairs, but the Fire Service negated that story when they revealed they had broken that window.

"Once the evidence was put to him, he made the confession,” said Bane.

“Norris showed no emotion when he was charged, never showed any remorse and thought his wife was beneath him. He nearly hood-winked us all but we got there in the end.

"Mary didn’t have much of an education and was just focused on her kids and Norris thought she was less of a human being than he was. He was an extremely arrogant and manipulative man.”

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Prior to his deadly attack on his family, Norris had been linked to three other arson attacks, which authorities believe he may have committed in order to be re-housed. His wife Mary had also reportedly gone to social services about her husband’s violent behavior, but he was never questioned.

Once Norris was convicted, he was sent to Cork Prison after claiming that he would likely be killed in Dublin’s Mountjoy and Portlaoise Prison. Norris was temporarily released from Shelton Abbey Open prison last May after serving more than 30 years for his crimes. The criminal was receiving cancer care at Atlanta Nursing Home in Bray when he died.

Brendan Masterson, the former Garda who took Norris’ signed confession, said the criminal never apologized for his heinous murders: “He never showed any remorse for slaughtering a mother and her children but, in the end, we got justice for Mary and for those innocent children.

“We got great support from the community at the time and thousands of people lined the streets for the funerals to pay their respects. My heart goes out to that poor family and those lovely young children who were robbed of a future.”

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One of Mary’s relatives told The Irish Sun: “Mary was a wonderful person who was slaughtered by a monster. She stuck by him for the kids and it ended up costing her, her life.

“Her family are delighted that he’s dead and they know he’s now with the devil. Mary and the girls can now rest in peace knowing that he’s dead.”