How IRA’s murder of one man connects to four other deaths

Granddaughter of Thomas Niedermayer - the focus of new documentary Face Down - wants the multigenerational trauma to stop

The book Lost Lives records the names of 3,636 people who died in the Troubles in the three decades between 1969 and 1999.

Among those names was Thomas Niedermayer, the general director of the Grundig plant in Belfast. He was abducted from his home by the Provisional IRA on December 27th, 1973.

For seven years his family did not know what happened to him until his body was found in 1980 in a rubbish tip near where he disappeared.

The Lost Lives book does not record those who died of a broken heart, or prematurely due to trauma linked to Troubles-related violence.


If it did, it would include the name of Thomas Niedermayer’s widow Inge who took her own life in Bray, Co Wicklow in 1990. Two years later the couple’s daughter Renate, who had opened the door to her father’s kidnappers, also died by suicide. She had developed an eating disorder after her father died.

In 1994 her sister Gabrielle took her own life, followed five years later by Gabrielle’s husband Robin Williams-Powell.

Having lost their mother and father, Tanya and Rachel Williams-Powell are determined that the intergenerational trauma stops with them. They have given powerful testimony in a new documentary, Face Down, about the kidnapping and murder of Mr Niedermayer and its aftermath for his family. It is based on a book by the journalist David Blake-Knox about the kidnapping.

Rachel has moved to Adelaide in Australia to be as far as possible away from the trauma and the “constant reminder of the pain we had gone through”.

Her older sister Tanya stayed behind and still lives in Devon near where she grew up with her sister. Now 46, she made the startling admission in the documentary, “my family don’t live beyond 40 – achieving my 40th birthday was a celebration so to speak in itself”.

Her grandfather Thomas was an innocent victim of the Troubles. He was the general manager of a factory that employed Catholics and Protestants at a time of political turmoil and sectarian strife.

He was kidnapped by the IRA with a view to holding him hostage in return for the Price sisters, Marion and Dolours, being returned from jails in Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

The man responsible for the kidnapping was Brian Keenan, the IRA godfather in the Belfast area, who had once been a shop steward in the Grundig factory.

At first the IRA denied having anything to do with his abduction and planted stories that it was carried out by loyalist paramilitaries.

Two IRA operatives, Eugene McManus and John Bradley, later admitted to having killed Mr Niedermayer accidentally when he tried to escape.

Tanya said she participated in the documentary to learn more about her family – though it was always in the background it was never explicitly spoken about – and to “let other people know that the cycle of grief can stop.

“I was very clear that when I was first approached about the documentary that if it could help people, I was willing to participate. If others can take something from it that is positive, that was the reason for doing it.”

Tanya has two children and her sister one.

“This is not going to affect their lives the way it has affected ours. They should be aware of it and they should have some understanding, but it will not define their lives the way it has defined ours,” she told The Irish Times.

“I have taught them to be empathetic, confident children who have questioning minds. They are kind and aware of other people, emotionally intelligent and understand their emotions which was not something we were taught.”

Inge Niedermayer had already experienced trauma in her life before meeting her husband. She had been born and brought up in East Prussia and had fled from the advancing Russians towards the end of the second World War. She eventually ended up in Dachau concentration camp as a German refugee at the end of the war. It was while living in Bavaria that she met her husband.

She would most likely have experienced trauma from her early life circumstances, but the choice of Bray to end her own life was deliberately chosen. It was where the Niedermayer family went to escape the Troubles.

Gabrielle wrote letters before she died to her two daughters apologising in advance for taking her own life.

“I just want to you know that I love you very much. Please grow up to be ladies. Let nothing stand in the way of your chosen careers and above all be happy. Remember I will be with you always.”

Gabrielle’s death affected her husband so profoundly that he took his own life. “He is just as much a victim as the rest of the Niedermayers,” said Tanya.

The IRA has never apologised to the Niedermayer family for what happened.

“I do believe victims have a right to know what happened to their family members. I find it very difficult to comprehend in my mind how people can admit to committing heinous acts and not expect some kind of consequences for committing those crimes,” she said.

“I would like them to publicly acknowledge what had happened. It is part of the thing with the Amnesty bill, do we want truth, do we want justice and that’s a very tricky balance to be made?

“With us highlighting this one case, we are showing there are so many victims and stories that could well be similar to ours. We hope that this might open people’s eyes that this can’t happen again.”

Face Down is in selected cinemas nationwide.

The Samaritans can be contacted on freephone: 116 123 or email:

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times