Closing an investigation that lasted almost four years, police in the UK have captured an elusive hitman thanks in part to the fact the criminal was an active runner and participated in the Great Manchester 10K Run. Wait, what?
Mobsters, misunderstandings, bulldogs – the details of this bloody crime tale sound like the plot for a sequel to Snatch.
All the madness started in Salford, a small city west of Manchester, back in 2014. The area’s most powerful gang suddenly split, igniting a wave of street violence the city had not seen since the late 80s and 90s when the rave scene exploded and local mobsters began trafficking drugs.
The actual circumstances that lead to the division of the group are still shrouded in mystery, but the two leading theories the police are working with are as bonkers as it gets.
One theory states the feud started because one gang member sold a fake Breitling watch to another; the second proposes it all began during a night of too much alcohol and too little “etiquette” that resulted in a woman throwing a drink at a gang member’s face.
While police aren’t sure of the exact reasons for the split, one thing they do know for certain is the group broke into two factions, the “A Team” and the “Anti-A Team”.
No, really, we’re not making this up.
Paul “Mr Big” Massey was one of the most respected mob bosses of Manchester. He had a reputation for being a Robin Hood of sorts, so charismatic in his community he even ran for mayor of Salford in 2012.
The criminal, who was known for brokering truce settlements between quarrelling factions before things got violent, was assassinated because of his affiliation with the “A Team” at the doorstep of his home on July 26, 2015.
His killing was followed by full-blown gang warfare where people were hacked with machetes, smoke grenades were tossed in the middle of wedding ceremonies and various shootings took place.
Witnesses were afraid to talk, which made the case particularly difficult to crack for the police. The confrontation dragged on for three more years. In May of 2018, another high-profile mobster, 53-year-old judo expert John Kinsella, was also murdered.
Kinsella, a close associate and personal friend of Massey who had even served as a pallbearer at his funeral, was shot while taking a morning stroll with his pregnant girlfriend and his six American bulldogs across a footpath in Rainhill.
The killer had shot Kinsella twice in the back with a Webley revolver, then two more times from close range before fleeing the scene of the crime on a mountain bike.
The modus operandi of Massey’s and Kinsella’s killings were suspiciously similar. Both were execution-style shootings carried out by a man who used a bicycle as an escape vehicle.
The Police had 112 names as possible suspects, among them Mark Fellows, a 38-year-old hitman also known as “Iceman”.
While Massey and Kinsella were big shots in the underground world, Fellows was at the lowest point of the criminal pyramid. Obsessed about his fitness and health – he had an illness that left him with a colostomy bag for life – Fellows was a long-distance runner and recurrent participant in marathons and sporting events.
The local hitman’s hobby was precisely what allowed detectives to catch him.
While investigators were going over the files of each suspect, they stumbled upon a photograph of Fellows during 2015’s Great Manchester 10K Run – where he clocked 47:17, by the way – which took place two months before Massey’s murder. In the photograph, the suspect is wearing a Garmin Forerunner GPS watch strapped to his wrist, which runners often use to track distance and health stats.
The eureka moment for authorities came when they raided Iceman’s apartment and found the very same device. Police checked the GPS data and found it had recorded the wearer carrying out a reconnaissance run around the scene of the crime shortly before Massey’s assassination. The information correlated with hundreds of hours of CCTV footage and mobile phone data officers had been analysing for years. They finally had him.
According to prosecutors, Fellows was aligned with the Anti-A Team and was paid £10,000 pounds (A$18,000) to take out Massey. Fellows and fellow Anti-A Team member Steven Boyle were charged with Massey’s and Kinsella’s murders, as well as the attempted murder of Kinsella’s girlfriend.
Following a six-week trial at Liverpool crown court, Fellows was found guilty of both murders, becoming one of the 70 prisoners in England and Wales serving a life sentence.
One of the most cinema-worthy moments during the trial was when Steven Boyle snitched on his former associate, telling jurors it was “more than likely” Fellows had done it. Fellows responded with a cut-throat gesture directed at Boyle, who was sentenced to a minimum of 33 years for the murder of Kinsella.
“Whatever the background of Mr Kinsella and Mr Massey, the impact on their families of their murders has been devastating,” said Mr Justice William Davis during sentencing.
“This was execution, pure and simple.”