Writer and Author

Tag: Ennis

The Devil in the Red Dress is Free at Last

So Sharon Collins is out of jail. She has served almost four years of a six year sentence for soliciting someone to kill her lover PJ Howard, and his two adult sons Niall and Robert. Today’s papers are speculated will she or won’t she reunite with PJ, who stood by her even as the emails detailing exactly what she was considering having done to him were read out in court. He never believed the case against her and was seen visiting her in jail but the camera-shy millionaire has been notable by his absence recently.

That’s all very well and I’ve nothing against a good old-fashioned romance but I’m more interested in the fact she’s out after serving less than four years for trying to have three people killed.

Now, obviously, nothing is as simple as that sentence might have made it appear. Collins was initially convicted on all six counts against her. Three of conspiracy to murder and three of soliciting someone to murder the three Howard men. Her co-accused Essam Eid, who’s currently serving a 33 month sentence for his part in an almost identical scam in resulting from another femme fatale trying to secure the services of phantom Mafioso Tony Luciano through the decidedly dodgy hitmanforhire.net. In the American case Eid was convicted of extortion. Here in Ireland the jury failed to convict him on the conspiracy charges, finding him guilty on two counts of handling stolen goods. Eid himself was surprised with that outcome. But it was that verdict that made the three counts of conspiracy impossible to stick on Sharon Collins, after all, it’s rather hard to conspire on your own. They were quashed on appeal last year.

Eid was released in 2011 and was promptly extradited back to the States to face the other charges relating to the hitmanforhire website (I’ve blogged on the lot if you take a look in the tags at the top of this post – and of course, for further detail there’s always my Devil in the Red Dress but enough plugging). He had been in jail since his arrest at the time of the Ennis debacle back in September 2006. So he would have served a little over four years.

Now Eid was convicted of handling stolen goods. The biggest thing he handled was a laptop and a computer. The laptop he used to check his email and the computer he dumped in the bushes outside his hotel but that’s a whole other story. There was also a map of Irish money that he’d just liked the look of, if memory serves me correctly.

Sharon Collins on the other hand handed over fifteen grand to see the love of her life and the two lads she had been a mother figure to for years, killed. She was quite explicit about how she wanted them killed. There were a LOT of emails between lyingeyes98@yahoo.com and Tony the hitman Luciano. They were very flirty emails and lyingeyes98 had no qualms about speculating how the three men were to die. PJ could be pushed out of a window she suggested, as she sat in the house she shared with him (let’s say). Robert and Niall could be poisoned by a good-looking honey trapper perhaps or their car could be rigged to crash on the winding roads of County Clare. She was never short of possibilities.

The jury believed that lyingeyes98 was none other than Sharon Collins and I agree with them. So that means flirting with someone who you, presumably, truly believe is a hitman and planning precisely how you want the hit carried out on three people who trust you and, also presumably, love you, is the same as handling a dodgy laptop and a poster of Irish bank notes. In fact Sharon Collins served less prison time that Essam Eid. She’ll probably serve less than Marissa Marks, her counterpart on the other side of the Atlantic, who lashed out at an ex’s new girlfriend in true adolescent bunny-boiler fashion but was quick to buckle when she was confronted with what she had done.

Sharon Collins always denied what had happened. She still does. It was all down to a psychopathic creative writing tutor according to her. The mystery woman who teams of private eyes have failed to track down – Maria Marconi.

Sharon Collins benefited for time off for good behaviour, a laudable aspect of the Irish penal system but one that also guarantees a third off the sentence for any-well behaved rapist, murderer or child molester. It makes the frequently low sentences here even lower on a regular basis.

Personally I think Sharon Collins should have served longer. Four years, not even, seems a ridiculously short amount of time for the plot she seemed to take some relish in plotting. It might not have been carried out, but she didn’t know that when she sent the emails, talked on the phone or sent the money. The fact that she ended up a patsy was a cautionary tale but not really a mitigating one.

But this is simply another case of Irish courts not handing sentences that seem the right weight. It’s something we see all the time with rape cases. Whenever I sit down to write about this issue I’m reminded of two particular cases. The first was Eamonn Cooke, the notorious paedophile and one time owner of pirate station Radio Dublin. I covered his one of his trials when I first started working in the courts back in 2006. He was convicted on rather a lot of counts of sexually abusing two little girls in the 70s. The girls in question had been six or seven when the abuse started. Because of the nature of the abuse, when it came to sentencing, the maximum sentence on each count was two years. The judge in that case, whose name unfortunately escapes me, had spent a lot of time working in the European Court of Human Rights. She said at the sentencing that she wanted to make each of these two year sentences consecutive rather than concurrent. This would have meant that Cooke would have been sent to jail for around 100 years. Of course the judge was quickly reminded that such things aren’t possible in Irish courts and the sentences would have to run concurrently after all. The judge was not happy.

The other case was rather better publicised. Gerald Barry, who killed Swiss teenager Manuela Riedo in Galway, was up on rape charges some time after his conviction. The rape was an unconnected case which had happened a short time before the killing. In that case, given the circumstances, Judge Pail Carney, sentenced Barry to life, rare enough in rape cases here, but it was his sentencing speech that was extraordinary. Judge Carney talked about this automatic third reprieve and said that while it was laudable that we should use a carrot rather than a stick to encourage good behaviour, the lack of flexibility meant that even someone like Barry had that carrot before them.

We do not have a system in Ireland where judges can recommend a minimum time served. Sentences are decided according to a strict sliding scale that will be held up to minute examination in the Court of Criminal Appeal. They are balanced by years of case law, fitted onto a complex graph of previous crimes that stipulates the gravity and weight of any individual case. But what happens when a case is extraordinary, unique. It happens more than you might think. Judges do not have the flexibility to “make an example” of someone, whatever if might seem from the press coverage. Sentences that do not fit on the rigid scale will be quickly overturned on appeal. So we’re left with a society where a husband can think it’s worth killing his wife because the sentences are so light (as was the evidence with Anton Mulder) or rape sentences of life imprisonment are so rare that it is always a cause for comment.

It’s good to have a system based on protecting the innocent man accused of a crime he did not commit. We should be wary of hanging judges and justice in name only. But we should also have a system where the victims of crime can feel that justice has been done. I’m not always sure we’ve quite got that one right.

The End of a Very Long Wait

In March last year all the principal players in the Devil in the Red Dress case gathered in the Court of Criminal Appeal to hear Sharon Collins’ and Essam Eid’s appeals. Poker dealer Eid’s appeal on his sentence for charges of handling stolen goods was upheld and he was sent back to jail.  He’s since been extradited back to the States to face more charges related to the ill-fated Hitmanforhire website.

His co-accused was another matter.  Her case was more complicated and the three judge court required more time to deliberate. Sharon had been convicted of three charges of conspiring with Eid to murder her lover PJ Howard and his two grown-up sons Robert and Niall.  She had also been convicted of three charges of soliciting Eid to kill the three men.  Since Eid had been found not guilty of the conspiracy by the jury in the 2008 trial, Sharon’s three conspiracy convictions were overturned.  But then there were the soliciting charges.

Sharon’s lawyers argued that since the conspiracy no longer stood then she could not have solicited someone she didn’t conspire with.  The judges retired to consider their submissions and we waited.  And waited.

Today, over 18 months later, the same familiar faces gathered in the Court of Criminal Appeal to hear the long awaited ruling.  Legal counsel, gardai and journalists alike all waited anxiously for the final nod.  Would Sharon walk free?  Would the final three convictions be overturned? Would there be a decision that could have far reaching consequences for future conspiracy to murder charges?

In the end it was all over in a heartbeat.  Almost half an hour after the listed start time of 12.15 the judges took their seats and Sharon was lead into the court by two prison officers.  She looked well,despite the tenseness of the situation.  Wearing a grey tweed jacket and black trousers, her face tanned and impeccably made up, her blonde hair tied away from her face in a spiky pony tail bun she looked outwardly calm, although her chest rose and fell in time with the deep calming breaths she had started as soon as she sat down.  She hardly reacted when the decision came.  In fact she looked, if anything, dazed, as if the words hardly registered.

The ruling came so quickly, a succinct no, that there was a ripple along the press bench as journalists confirmed what they had heard.  The appeal against the three soliciting convictions had been rejected.  The sentence and three remaining convictions stood.  After such a long wait things were as they had been before.  Sharon would face another year in prison, her earliest release date not until Christmas next year.  Even though, after such a long delay, the verdict cannot have been much of a surprise, hope must have shot up in spite of everything.  She didn’t look back at the court as the prison guards quietly led her back to her cell.

The 42 page ruling took some time to digest.  Outside the court, reporters pored over the few copies of the printed document trying to find a strong line to lead with.  She had appealed on 23 grounds, although two of them, relating to  the dropped conspiracy convictions do not play a part in the judgement.  The other grounds, all rejected, fall into three basic areas.

The first of these areas is to do with matters that happened in America, before the events in Ennis in 2006.  They include the so-called Royston case.  This was a case in the States, shortly before Eid and his “wife” Theresa Engle had travelled to Ireland for their inflated exploits in Clare.  The pair had been approached, through the hitmanforhire website, by a woman called Marissa Marks who wanted them to kill her ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend, Ann Lauryn Royston.  Just as they would later do in Ennis, Eid and Engle approached their victim and made her an offer they assumed she couldn’t refuse.  They told Lauryn Royston that they wouldn’t kill her if she would only buy herself out of the contract. Theresa Engle has served eight months in an American jail for her part in this escapade.  Eid pleaded guilty to similar charges earlier this month and is due to be sentenced in December.

Sharon Collins legal team had said that the prosecution in the Irish case had not disclosed all the relevant documentation concerning the Royston case and had also failed to get samples from a food blender in Eid’s house in Las Vegas that had contained a white residue, suspected of being the deadly toxin Ricin.  Ricin figured large in the Dublin trial. There had been much excitement in 2006 when a contact lens case was found in Eid’s cell in Limerick prison that tested positive for the toxin. Irish authorities had been told to look for the lens case by Eid’s lover Theresa Engle who claimed that the white residue on the blender in the Las Vegas garage was left over from a kitchen chemistry experiment, when she and Eid had attempted to brew ricin according to recipes they had found on the internet. The problem was that samples from the blender were not forthcoming for either the Irish prosecution or the defence and the minute traces found in the contact lens case were too small for the defence to conduct their own investigation.

The CCA ruled that the prosecution in Ireland had done everything in their power to access the American material but it had not been forthcoming. They therefore rejected the appeal on these grounds.

Going back to the ricin evidence, the Collins defence team had also appealed on grounds of one of the more dramatic events in the 8 week trial.  After a lengthy period of legal argument that took up much of the first three weeks of the trial, Judge Roderick Murphy, had performed a spectacular u-turn on an earlier decision to disallow all the ricin evidence.  This decision would also have meant that the star prosecution witness Theresa Engle would have been a rather damp squib, unable to share many of the more damaging elements of her testimony.  Today the CCA ruled that the judge had been correct to reverse his decision and allow the evidence after all.  Prosecution witnesses had not been available for the legal argument so Judge Murphy allowed the matter to reopened to hear the additional evidence.

The next area of appeal grounds concerns another dramatic bit of evidence.  Builder John Keating turned into rather a star during his evidence.  He had been called to provide an alibi for Sharon, who said she had been meeting him to discuss renovations of her mother’s house in Ennis at a time when she was supposed to have been sending a particularly incriminating email from the lyingeyes98 yahoo email account to Eid’s alias “Tony Luciano”. There was much confusion over Mr Keating’s diary and we were all treated to a bizarre account of a trip to England and family birthdays as he tried to pinpoint the exact date.  He also alleged that he had been threatened by one of the court gardai, although this was never proved. The CCA ruled that the whole confusing episode had been adequately explained by Judge Murphy in his charge to the jury. The Collins team had also appealed on the grounds that Detective Sergeant Michael Mulcahy had raised an incorrect suggestion that Robert and Niall Howard had both said in their statements that Sharon had been in the office of the family business at a time when the lyingeyes email account had been opened on the office computer.  Once again the CCA ruled that the matter had been dealt with adequately in the charge and there was no grounds on which to grant an appeal.

The final area is the one that had caused some consternation among gardai and journalists alike, the question of whether the remaining charges, for soliciting, could still stand.  The defence had argued that for one thing, the jury did not have an adequate explanation of the whole issue of soliciting to kill and further that since the conspiracy charges had fallen the soliciting charges should do likewise, on the grounds that one was impossible without the other.

The CCA however ruled that the judge’s charge was perfectly adequate and that he had “succinctly and correctly” explained the offence.  They also ruled that there was absolutely no inconsistency in a jury finding no conspiracy but then convicting someone of soliciting the other person to kill.  They pointed out that if Eid had all along been intending to pull a scam then there would have logically been no conspiracy to murder.  Sharon on the other hand would not have known this when she solicited Eid to kill the Howards.

There were plenty relieved faces when the judgement was announced.  I’m sure mine was one of the most relieved.  Whatever I might think of the grounds on which Sharon sought her appeal, if it had been upheld the story that I had written would have been invalid.  Even though the case affects real people, the book is always going to be my baby.  I’d love to get to visit the set of a movie based on the case, with my book credited with it’s part in that account. The rights have already been sold on Devil to producer Michael Duke. One day maybe I’ll get my set visit.

In the meantime I’ll be keeping an eye on what happens to Essam Eid in the States.  He pleaded guilty to conspiring to extort money from Ann Lauryn Royston and is due to be sentenced in December.  He could serve a maximum term of imprisonment of five years.  This is a story that just keeps going.

It’s all Digital

The last few weeks it’s been all about Devil in the Red Dress.  I haven’t written so much on the case since the book came out.  This week though has been particularly Devil  orientated.   As of yesterday the Kindle edition of the book is out.  It’s now available for download from the Kindle store for Kindle, ipod, iPad, Blackberry and Android.

It’s always seemed appropriate for Devil  to find it’s way into digital format, after all the story it tells is a very 21st Century one.  The whole story centred around the idea that you can buy anything on the Internet.  At it’s heart was a website hitmanforhire.net.  You can find a link to the cached version of the  page in the links to the right. The website itself is now owned by the production company who bought the rights to the book.  Sometime soon it’ll be reborn as film marketing but back in 2006 it promised something quite different.

Coincidentally, Essam Eid, the man allegedly behind hitmanforhire’s original incarnation hit the news again this week.  He won’t be fighting his extradition to the States on the second raft of charges coming out of the website.

The case he has to answer is very similar to the charges he faced here in Ireland.  Instead of Clare woman Sharon Collins, the alleged client in this case is a 28-year-old accountant from Pennsylvania, Marissa Marks. She was arrested last months and has been charged with paying $19,000, using three credit cards and a PayPal account, to have her ex boyfriend’s new girlfriend killed.

It’s going to be interesting to see how this arm of the story pans out.  The so-called Royston case was dangled in front of us so tantalisingly at Eid’s Irish trial.  I wrote about it at length in Devil as it’s almost impossible to tell one story without the other when you put everything together.

Basically Eid is now accused of approaching Ann Lauryn Royston, the girlfriend of Joshua Hammond (otherwise known as “Monte Carlo”) and threatening to kill her.  It’s a very similar account to the one given by Robert Howard during the Irish trial.  Mr Howard told the court that Eid had approached him at the house he shared with his brother one night in September 2006.  Eid had shown him photographs of himself and his brother Niall and another of his father, PJ Howard, on his yacht.  Eid had told him that someone wanted the three of them dead and had paid handsomely for their immediate dispatch.  But then he made the offer.  Pay up and the hit’s cancelled.  A meeting was organised with Theresa Engle, Eid’s lover, who’d made the trip to Ireland with him.

Rather unsurprisingly, Robert and Niall Howard called the gardai as soon as Eid had left and Theresa Engle and Essam Eid were arrested the next day when they came to collect the €100,000 Eid had demanded. 

It’s always beat me why Eid got involved in the hitmanforhire scams.  Up to that point he had a completely clean record and was working at the Bellagio casino in Las Vegas as a poker dealer. He’s always denied being “Tony Luciano”, the front man of the operation.  He has suggested that it was all Theresa Engle, that he never wrote any of the dozens of emails sent between the Tony Luciano email and the famous lyingeyes98@yahoo.ie address that allegedly belonged to Sharon Collins.  I’ve heard one or two theories about why Eid might have got involved in as much as taking the plane to Ireland and making that bizarre visit to the Howard boys, but none of them are proven.

But it appears it wasn’t an isolated case.  What wasn’t generally known at the time of the Irish trial was that a couple of weeks previously Eid and Engle had allegedly done almost exactly the same thing in California.  Like the Ennis case the couple apparently paid their victim a visit to demand money to cancel a hit on her.  Lauryn Royston was working as a mortgage advisor at the time and told investigators that Theresa Engle and a man called Essam had made a formal appointment to see her.  But when they arrived the man called Essam showed her photographs, supplied during the commissioning of this so-called hit and told her “someone wants your head”

According to documents from Theresa Engle’s subsequent trial the man then demanded $37,000 to cancel the deal. After a couple of phonecalls Lauryn and her boyfriend Joshua, found themselves heading to meet Theresa Engle.  Just like in Ennis. And just like in Ennis the innocent parties rang the cops.

Like I said it’s all there in my book Devil in the Red Dress.  Why not download it and read it for yourself? (Shameless self promotion over for the moment and back to the story).

What really interests me about this new trial is that I’ve heard, from sources close to the investigation, that one of the witnesses is likely to be a particularly shadowy figure from the hitmanforhire hall of fame.  “John Smith”, who also signed himself No Risk, was one of two men who filled out the application form on Hitmanforhire.net. 

The first applicant was Private Brian Buckley.  Private Buckley was one of the star witnesses in the Clare trial. He found the website looking for cheats for the Hitman computer game and filled in the application form as a joke.  He got the fright of his life when his phone rang and he found himself in conversation with “Tony Luciano”, the name behind the website.

John Smith is a bit of a different case though.  His emails weren’t evidence in the trial but there’s a couple of them in Devil.  He seems to really know his natural poisons, suggesting blowfish bladder as a personal favourite.  It’ll be interesting to see whether these emails, and John Smith’s evidence provide the kind of smoking gun that Ricin was supposed to provide in the Irish trial.  A contact lens case found in Eid’s cell had tested positive for Ricin and Theresa Engle gave evidence of a bizarre chemistry experiment where she and Eid cooked up the toxin on their kitchen stove.  It was the one thing that raised the allegations above a con and was understandably one of the most contentious pieces of evidence of the whole eight week trial.

It’s going to be fascinating to see where the story goes next.  It’s got plenty of scope to run and, as always, I’ll be watching it develop and keeping writing about it.

A Blast From the Past

November 2008 seems like a lifetime ago.  Back then I had only just started this blog and was preparing for my book Devil in the Red Dress to come out.  Since May 22 I had been eating, sleeping and breathing the story of Sharon Collins and her hitman for hire, Essam Eid first during an eight week trial and then as I picked over the six notebooks of notes as I wrote my book.  Then at the start of November Sharon and Eid were both sentenced to six years in jail and less than a fortnight later my book came out.

Today was the first time seeing the two of them again since that November day.  Both of them are appealing and today marked the start of that appeal.  The courtroom was different, even the building was different but seeing all the main players again in the flesh brought it all flooding back.

Both Sharon and Eid looked well.  She came into the courtroom shortly before 11 o’clock, wearing the familiar black trouser suit and white blouse combination she had worn throughout her trial.  She had lost weight since her sentencing and her hair was longer, twisted up into a loose French twist, her face framed in with a wispy fringe.  She was looking very groomed, with far more makeup than she had worn during the trial, we were speculating whether she had been making use of the many trainee beauticians in the women’s Dochas prison where she’s spent the last year.  She looked younger than her 46 years and very small and vulnerable.

Her elder son Gary had come to support her, he was the only one who was there for her today.  There was no sign of her beloved PJ, the man she was convicted of conspiring to kill and of soliciting Eid to kill for her.  His sons Niall and Robert were also absent, although that’s perhaps unsurprising since they obviously found the trial itself extremely wearing.  Also missing was her younger son David, a constant presence during her trial, or the boy’s father Noel. 

When his mother entered the court Gary immediately went over to her and sat beside her in the dock to exchange a few words and give her a hug.  But mother and son only had a couple of tender moments to share before the doors to the cell area opened again and her co-accused Essam Eid made his entrance.

He cut a dashing figure today.  Gone was the casual look he had sported throughout the trial, instead he was wearing a sharp dark grey suit with a snazzy red and black tie.  His hair as well had grown in jail and was greyer than it had been.  The moustache he now wore on his upper lip was pure grey.  He looked far more imposing than he had before, graver than the smiling joker who had watched the evidence mount against him with amusement, one of those observing him remarked on his “statesman-like” appearance.

The legal teams were all back in force with one noted exception.  Sharon’s senior counsel was no longer Paul O’Higgins.  This time she went with the eminent Mr Brendan Grehan, one of the countries top defence barristers.

When the three judges had taken their seat Tom O’Connell SC stood up on behalf of the DPP to make a rather surprising announcement.  He told the court that the DPP could not stand over Collins’ three convictions for conspiring to kill PJ, Robert and Niall Howard.  The problem was that the jury had failed to convict Eid, the person named on the charge as the other half of the conspiracy.  They had failed to reach a decision on the charges but the net result was that he was not convicted.  If he hadn’t conspired then logically she couldn’t have conspired with him.  The convictions were therefore “simply unsustainable” in the view of the verdict.

Eid’s counsel David Sutton SC stood up to announce that his client would not after all be appealing his conviction on charges of handling stolen goods and of extorting €100,000 from Robert Howard.  However, he would be appealing the length of his sentence.  His appeal has been put back until tomorrow to allow the three judge panel time to consider the issue of sentencing.  Eid and his legal team quietly left the court and the stage was now clear for Brendan Grehan to set the stage for Sharon’s appeal.

She will be appealing on four separate grounds, Mr Grehan informed the court.  Firstly that one of the defence witnesses, a Mr John Keating, had been erroneously treated as an alibi witness by both the defence and the judge in his summing up.  Consequently his credibility had been attacked on the witness stand and this had the knock on effect of forcing Sharon to take the stand to fight her corner.  Mr Keating had testified that he had been with her on the morning of August 16th, when she was supposed to have sent the first email to the hitmanforhire.us website to hire the services of the mysterious Tony Luciano.

The second ground on which Collins is hoping to get the soliciting charges quashed is that the judges charge did not sufficiently explain the charge of soliciting to the jury.  Mr Grehan said today that the soliciting charges had always been there as a fall back for the prosecution, the whole thrust of their case had been centred around the conspiracy charges.  He said that, given the jury’s verdict on the conspiracy charges it was unclear how they had approached the matter of soliciting.

Junior counsel Michael Bowman will handle the other two grounds.  Today he explained the third ground, that key prosecution witness Teresa Engle should never have taken the stand at all.  In the early days of the trial there was a week of heated debate over whether or not Ms Engle, Eid’s partner in crime and second “wife”, should take the stand.  Today Mr Bowman explained that Ms Engle’s evidence had not made up part of the book of evidence.  The defence had only been given her statements on May 8th 2008, less than two weeks before the trial was due to start.  She had only made a further statement on the cooking of the lethal toxin ricin in the kitchen of the house she shared with Eid and his other wife Lisa at Camden Cove in Las Vegas.  He said that the prosecution had not disclosed the information about Ms Engle sufficiently.

Mr Bowman said that Ms Engle should never have taken the stand.  He also said that given the weight of evidence that had gone to prove Ms Collins was behind the lyingeyes98 Yahoo email address that had corresponded with Tony Luciano, the same weight of evidence had not been available to prove that Essam Eid was behind Tony Luciano.  He said that because the FBI had not provided a similar forensic examination of the computers they had seized from the Camden Cove house, it was impossible to prove that Eid had been the one using the address.  He pointed out that the date of birth given in setting up the account was that of Teresa Engle not Eid and that there was evidence that suggested she had been accessing email addresses for Eid, Tony Luciano and hitmanforhire. 

Tom O’Connell objected that the defence had not raised the issue of the computers in the original trial and had simply been looking for Teresa Engle’s statements.

The fourth ground for appeal will be dealt with tomorrow, before the prosecution have their day on things.  It will concern the ricin evidence itself.  The defence complained during the trial that they were not able to independently test the samples taken from a contact lens case found in Eid’s cell at Limerick prison on the word of Ms Engle.

It’s fascinating hearing all these details again.  I’ve worked on so many other trials in the mean time that the details of this, even after writing Devil, had faded somewhat.  Today brought them right back.  The issue of the ricin is an interesting one.  I devoted a chapter of Devil to it and noted that it was strange that the FBI didn’t get more excited about the finding of a food mixer used in it’s production and still stained in a thick white silt of the stuff.  When a man was found with a couple of vials of home made ricin in a motel room in Vegas the authorites were all over it and the Justice Department even noted how pure the stuff had been in their press release.  There was nothing like that in the case of the search of the Eid home.

The suggestion that Engle could have been behind Tony Luciano is also an interesting one.  It was vaguely alluded to during the trial but the tone of the flirty emails that went between the lyingeyes98 account and Tony Luciano always seemed to fit Eid better.  Luciano also sent Lyingeyes several photos showing Eid.  one in his prized yellow sports car and another with his daughter Aya.

It’s been interesting to revisit this case.  It was always one of the most bizarre and it’s not disappointing on a revisit.

The Devil in the Red Dress Due Back in Court

On Thursday this week I’ll be back in court for the first time since the Eamonn Lillis trial came to a close.  It’ll be a different court, Criminal Appeal not the Central, but the name on the list is another headlines grabber.

Sharon Collins was convicted at the end of 2008 of conspiring to murder her partner, millionaire property tycoon PJ Howard, and his two adult sons.  She might have been successful if she had looked somewhere other than the Internet for her hitman, but as it turned out she ended up with hapless Las Vegas Poker dealer Essam Eid.

Sharon had no idea that Eid wasn’t what he said though and entered into a flirty correspondence with him, plotting all the gruesome details of the triple death.  Eid had set up a website – you can see the archived page by clicking on the link at the right of this page – but he wasn’t very good at following through.

In September 2006, when the hit was supposed to go down, he arrived in Ennis, Co. Clare with his girlfriend / wife (depending on who you talk to) Theresa Engle.  But instead of carrying out a hit they engaged in a bit of extortion instead.  Eid turned up on the doorstep of Howard’s sons house and told them what was going on, then with a devastating failure to understand the fundamentals of the con, he offered people who had nothing to lose by going to the cops, an offer he thought they couldn’t refuse.  To cut a long story short, they refused the offer and went to the cops. 

The rest, they say, is history.  The story is the plot of my book Devil in the Red Dress, so actually you can read all this is more detail by clicking on The Story Behind the Book at the top of the page.  It’s going to be very interesting to see my cast again. I got to be on nodding terms and even chatting terms with both Collins and Eid over the course of the mammoth eight week trial in the Summer of 2008.  I’ve not seen a trial like it before or since and then when I researched the book I realised the story was even more interesting than what we’d read of in court.

We don’t know what grounds either of them are appealing on but I will bet the events in a court room on the other side of the Atlantic at least get a nod.  You see, only weeks before Eid arrived in Co. Clare, he had done the exact same thing in LA and his love interest Theresa Engle arrived back in the states to face those charges not long before her former lover was sentenced to six years in jail here.  She was sentenced to eight months in jail, which she duly served and is apparently now back with her former husband who was even good enough to act as a character witness for her when she faced trial.

Here in Ireland the twisted story that was the love life of Essam Eid and his two wives was very much an after thought but researching the case I found it absolutely fascinating.  There are also some extraordinary parallels with the kinky goings on that Sharon described to the Gerry Ryan show when she wrote to them complaining about her relationship.

It’s been a while since I’ve covered this story but I will be back on Thursday for old time’s sake.  I’ll be blogging here and I’m sure updating on Twitter as proceedings go on.  It’s been a busy year so far so it’ll be nice to step back onto familiar ground once more.  I’ve never come across a case that reads so much like a Cohen brothers film and it was a fun one to write.  If you’re interested in the whole story, it’s all in Devil emails, letters and all  At the risk of a shameless self plug, it is definitely worth a read.

Appeal Date Set for the Devil in the Red Dress and her Hitman for Hire

It’s been a while in coming but the date has finally been set for Sharon Collins’ and Essam Eid’s appeal.  The pair will find out whether they are to serve out the remainder of the six year sentences they received at the end of their 2008 trial in March next year.  The two appeals will be heard on the same day and the whole procedure is expected to take two days.

If you’re not familiar with the case you can find out all the gory details here.  That’s right, it’s the one I wrote the book about…that’s Sharon Collins herself on the cover on the right.  The pair at the centre of one of the most bizarre trials to come before the Irish courts years were convicted after a six week trial last summer. 

She’s a Co Clare housewife who decided to shop for more than groceries online.  He’s a former Las Vegas poker dealer who had decided to branch out into the “hitman” business.  Needless to say it didn’t end well, although at least the plotting came to naught and no one was killed.  In the end Sharon was sentenced to six years for conspiring to kill PJ, Robert and Niall Howard.  Eid was also sentenced to six years for trying to extort €100,000 from Robert Howard and also for handling items stolen from the Howard family business.

He had already served almost two years in jail after his arrest in September 2006 so will be the first of the two to finish their sentence.  However he will have to face additional charges when he returns to the States.  His former “wife” Teresa Engle has already served 8 months for her part in a similar scam to the one they tried to pull in Clare, that the pair attempted to pull of in California shortly before their trip to Ireland.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens next.

Back From the West…

I got back from Ennis yesterday.  It was a pretty quick turn around just long enough for another round of signings and an interview with John Cooke on Clare FM.  I’ll post the interview when I get the chance.

I stayed the night with the sister of an old friend, who’s now a new friend and her lovely daughter Rachel.  It was a great night, just good food, nice wine and interesting conversation.  8-year-old Rachel paid me a massive compliment, using the presence of a real life author in the house (by which she meant me) as an excuse to stay up late.

It really made me think, talking to her about writing.  She writes stories herself and I was telling her how I had done the same when I was her age, in fact I don’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a writer.  I may have been a journalist for a decade but it’s only now I can really call myself a writer as well.

I’ve spent so long, over the years of being an aspiring writer, reading interviews with published authors talking about how they were always writing stories as children and knowing I had done the same gave me hope.  Seeing the same hope on Rachel’s face was a weird feeling, knowing that somehow over the last couple of months I’ve gone from aspiring to actual writer.

Now granted, Devil in the Red Dress is not a novel.  It might tell a fantastic story but it is one hundred per cent true.  But a story like that is easy to tell and I’ve tried to make the book the lively read it should be.  It’ll be a while yet before I turn to fiction although it’s something I have been interested in for a while.

My apologies if this post is completely all over the place.  I’ve had a raging cold for the last few days and my brain is still in a bit of a heap.  Hopefully normal service will be resumed in the next couple of days.  I’m getting a bit fed up with coughing and sniffling my way around and anyway, there’s work to be done!

Christmas Windows and Travel Plans…

I’m off to Ennis tomorrow as part of the Devil in the Red Dress push…more book signing and interviews in a quick round trip.  Last time I was there I was researching the book, this time it’s published and on the shelves.

There’s less pressure this time round but it’s still a busy enough schedule…why the train trip needs two changes I will never understand!  Plenty of people want to go to Ennis, why do they make it so awkward to get there?

Still I’m looking forward to it.  It’s a pretty little town, not to mention the fact it’s the setting for my action…I’m also taking the opportunity to catch up with some friends so it’ll be fun.

In between interviews this week I’ve been trying to make some headway into the whole Christmas palaver.  The Christmas windows have been up for the last couple of weeks and as usual they’re light years away from the fairytale visions that used to make a trip in to go Christmas shopping so much fun years ago.  It’s something that bugs me every year.

Back then you could go and look at the windows for Brown Thomas, Clerys or the Daddy of them all, Switzers and see moving puppets telling a Christmas story.  These days it’s all about making a stylish buck.  The shop owners won’t give the hard sell a rest for a couple of weeks during a season when people will always go shopping regardless.

It all changed several years ago when Switzers closed down and Brown Thomas took over.  The Switzers window used to be famous.  It would be unveiled without much pomp at around the same time as the Christmas lights went up on Grafton Street.

First look would always be at night.  I can remember stopping on my way home from a night out when I was in my twenties and the window was there in all it’s glory.  There were a few of us there and we all stopped and listened to the Christmas tunes belting out across the icy street and walked slowly along the length of the shop watching the animated story unfold in each successive window.

There were dozens of people there by the time we got to the last window.  Everyone was smiling and talking and laughing and it was suddenly just that little bit closer to Christmas and a little bit of cynicism had melted away.

Those days are long gone now though.  In these times of economic uncertainty I notice that even the more ornate displays carry price tags (once banished for the festive period).  Arnotts on Henry St has probably made the best effort with a miniature city glowing around the designer clad dummies.

Brown Thomas, where the Switzers windows used to be is this  year just a celebration of consumerism.  Maybe I’m being needlessly nostalgic but I think it’s sad that those windows are consigned to an Ireland long gone.  The Celtic Tiger has died or is at least in serious decline, it would have been nice to see shop owners do something just for the fun of it…something to make the kids happy and make it seem a little more like Christmas.

A gesture like that might even encourage more people into their shops than dangling shiny goods in front of their noses that will just put more strain on the credit card.

Now ok, this Christmas I’d rather people concentrated on buying books (I have a vested interest after all) but I miss the Christmas windows and I’d like to see them back!  Who’s with me?

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