GUBU, or The Wild Crime Spree That Rocked Ireland In The 1980s

GUBU, or The Wild Crime Spree That Rocked Ireland In The 1980s

Welcome back to Cracked’s Wikipedia Deep Dive, a.k.a Wiki-Walking: The Life Of Never Leaving Home. We’ve already looked at the Devil’s Swedish party island, history’s deadliest minions, and the tyranny of Preserved Fish, while today we’ll be looking at Ireland’s fiendish GUBU.

Back in 1982, Ireland was still a fairly sleepy little country, to the point that they had only recently stopped letting farmers drive massive herds of cattle through the center of Dublin to market. So nobody was prepared when the country suddenly fell prey to a terrible GUBU. The Irish Times actually declared Ireland “the land of the GUBU,” while the Evening Herald warned that the country was sure to be terrorized by more “GUBU-style antics.” The term was even picked up by English newspapers, prompting one Irish columnist to complain that the Brits would “take everything away from us, even our very own GUBU.” 

the land of the gubu

The Irish Times

“Come out ye Black and Tans/Wrest the GUBU from my hands...”

Despite sounding like a clothing brand sold exclusively from a Dragonball Z beach towel unfolded in the Kmart parking lot, the GUBU was actually one of the weirdest political scandals to ever hit a non-Italian country. The name itself is an acronym for Grotesque, Unbelievable, Bizarre and Unprecedented, which was the phrase used by the prime minister to describe the strange sequence of events that led to the country’s most wanted serial killer being discovered hiding out in the attorney-general’s spare bedroom. Which is kind of like if Ed Gein had been found while subletting J. Edgar Hoover’s pool house.

The “year of GUBU” all started with Malcolm MacArthur. The heir to a wealthy Irish family, MacArthur had been a well-known socialite in 1970s Dublin, known for his lavish lifestyle and flamboyant bow ties. But by the early ‘80s, MacArthur had run through his entire inheritance and found himself flat broke. Instead of getting a job, or at least selling some of the bow ties, MacArthur decided that his only option was to stage a daring robbery. And you might think that’s what caused the trouble, but MacArthur actually floundered trying to even get that far. Instead, he would embark on a deranged crime spree while trying to get robbery equipment for the crime he actually wanted to do. 

a crowbar

Juha Kämäräinen/Wikimedia Commons

“Step One: I’ll need to rob the crowbar store. Thank god I have this crowbar.”

To carry out his heist, MacArthur decided he would need a gun and a car. Unfortunately, he had zero dollars and had taken to sleeping under rural bridges, still in the goddamn bow ties. In July, he attempted to steal a car belonging to a Dublin nurse named Bridie Gargan. When Gargan fought back, MacArthur beat her to death with a hammer. Unfortunately for him, the assault was noticed by a nearby gardener, who raced over and began hitting the car with his belt. MacArthur drove away in a panic and probably would have escaped successfully had he not been noticed by a nearby ambulance driver, who saw Gargan’s hospital parking sticker and the blood spattered all over the car and concluded that MacArthur was a doctor driving an injured patient to the emergency room. The ambulance promptly turned on its siren and escorted the panicking MacArthur all the way to the hospital, where he abandoned the car and fled on foot.

Shortly afterward, MacArthur called on a local farmer who had advertised a shotgun for sale. The farmer asked for £1,000, MacArthur countered with his life savings of £0, and an altercation ensued, which ended with MacArthur shooting the guy dead with his own shotgun. Still without a car, he decided to go through with his planned robbery and hitchhiked his way to the house of an American diplomat. Tricking his way inside by claiming to have been entranced by the view while attending a party at the house, MacArthur pulled out the stolen shotgun and demanded money. Fortunately, the diplomat was able to use all his diplomatic skills to come up with a brilliant escape plan. Specifically, he offered to go into the next room to get his checkbook, then just left the house by the back door.

a checkbook

Virrage Images/Shutterstock

Wait, the robber was going to take a check?

It was at this point that MacArthur made his biggest mistake. He telephoned the police, identified himself by name, and tried to claim that the robbery at the diplomat’s house had been a prank. Which seems silly, but actually 90 percent of all criminals are caught when they mail the cops a copy of their driving license and a note reading “it was just a prank bro.” The police quickly connected the well-spoken caller with the unidentified posh man responsible for the recent murder spree. Unfortunately, they had no idea where to find MacArthur. And with all Ireland living in fear, their boss, the attorney-general, wanted the killer found as soon as possible. And that’s when the really bizarre twist happened. 

Acting on a tip, the police eventually discovered MacArthur in the attorney-general’s house, where he had been living since the failed robbery. As it turned out, the AG was an old buddy who had been happy to let MacArthur crash in his spare room for a few weeks, apparently blissfully unaware that his guest was the target of the manhunt sweeping the city. He finally caught on when 12 armed police officers stormed his home.

Naturally, he treated the situation with the seriousness it deserved -- by leaving for New York on a long-scheduled holiday the next day. With the country in a frenzy, he was essentially fired in midair, while the flustered Prime Minister described the situation as grotesque, unbelievable, bizarre and unprecedented, causing the press to dub the whole thing the GUBU incident. 

In the years since, the GUBU has remained one of Ireland’s most notorious crime sprees, having been immortalized in everything from podcasts to rock operas (our two greatest art forms). And it’s good that it’s been remembered, since it provides a valuable lesson to all politicians: If they find Ted Bundy in your attic, maybe postpone your trip to the Statue of Liberty. It’ll still be there next week! 

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Top image: Simon Jhuan/Shutterstock


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