Writer and Author

Tag: Teresa Engle

The Final Curtain Call

I might be apt to look to endings at the moment but it was with a curious sadness I saw that Marissa Mark had been sentenced to six years for hiring Essam Eid to kill her ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend. You see, Mark’s sentencing is the absolute final act in the story I’ve been following for the past four years, the story that gave me my first book and the story that was just the best story of any trial I’ve followed in six years of the courts.

If you haven’t heard about the bizarre story of Essam Eid, would-be Internet hitman and hapless conman, then take a look at the page The Story Behind The Devil in the Red Dress on this blog. It still amazes me that Eid managed to hook not one but two femme fatales with his hitmanforhire.net website – the link to a cached version of the now defunct site is over to your right. Not only did he manage to hook two clients with that piece of flim-flam but he also got two idiots applying for work!

Eid is currently serving a 33 month sentence for the Marissa Mark case. He was sentenced in December on a single charge of conspiracy after finishing his sentence for the Irish leg of his escapade. I feel kind of sorry for the guy, even though he was so spectacularly inept at a life of crime (he tried it twice and got caught twice). He was hoping for a non custodial sentence and time to rebuild his life and reconnect with his daughters. At his appeal last March he asked for early release to attend his daughter’s graduation. He always did seem to be an exceptionally proud dad – he even incriminated himself during the Irish trial by pointing out his beautiful daughter to the jury. I admit it, I always had a soft spot for Eid – as a character I couldn’t have made him up!

It’s a little strange to think that all the sentences have now been handed down in this case. Nothing’s pending any more. This has been a very long and drawn out story to cover. By the time Mark is released from jail, assuming she serves the full six years, she will be more than twelve years away from the break-up that drove her to try to get her ex’s new girlfriend killed.

Even though on paper, Marissa Mark has a lot in common with Sharon Collins when you look at the facts of their individual cases there are some stark differences. Sharon was a mature woman who was considering killing three people for financial gain.  She flirted back and forth with Eid in an extraordinary series of emails and phonecalls and mused about the best way to kill her partner and his two grown up sons. When she is released from prison next year all eyes will be on whether she is whisked away to foreign climes by her number one victim, the staggeringly faithful, although increasingly on and off, PJ Howard.

Mark on the other hand will be deported when she gets out of prison, to Trinidad and Tobago where she was born and which almost all her family have now left. She pleaded guilty, unlike Sharon who cooked up a fictional blonde writing tutor called Maria Marconi as an alibi and still maintains her innocence. Mark also called off the hit – although Eid and his girlfriend Teresa Engle turned to the victim, Anne Lauryn Royston, in an attempt to get more cash.

Mark financed her dealings with Eid and Engle from Paypal and three credit cards she fraudulently accessed from her work in an insurance firm. Her legal team described her actions as “an absurd whimsical plan” and noted that Eid was clearly more of a scam artist than a hardened criminal.

At her  sentence hearing she told the judge “That’s not part of my personality. That’s not part of my character. That’s not who I am at all.”

Nine members of her family spoke for her at the hearing. They described her as “kind, thoughtful, loving, with an infectious laugh”, the “kind of person who would give you her last dollar”. Mark followed her mother to America when she was 10 and since then has been climbing towards the American Dream. After a brief youthful wander off the tracks she had graduated college and gone on to get a good job in New York.  She owned her own house and car and had a dog called Angel who waited at the door for her every day.

It does seem harsh that she will now be sent back to the country she left as a child although, unlike many of her family, she had never obtained US citizenship. At the sentencing, US District Judge Gene E.K. Pratter noted that there was a strong need to deter others from trying something similar. She told the court “Society needs to see that a person who uses this impersonal device to put another person’s well being at risk will be punished.” It’s hard to argue with her point. If this case has shown one thing it’s that too many people believe you really can buy anything online.

While I was researching Devil in the Red Dress I learnt more than I ever want to about the kinds of things that people offer online. It’s too easy to assume that what you do from your computer, sitting in your living room, study or bedroom, has no consequences. Whether it’s bullying people you can’t see or trying to buy something you never would face to face, just remember that it’s still real people, real money, real laws, still real life. Just because you’ve never left your house doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

Still I’m going to miss the unfolding of this virtual story. While I know I won’t have heard the last of it this particular story arc has finished. It’s going to be a long time before I find another story quite like the story of the devil in the red dress and the poker dealing Egyptian “hitman for hire” from Vegas.

A Postponement & A Refusal

So Essam Eid will not be going to his daughter’s graduation.  The three judge Court of Criminal Appeal today refused his bid to have his six year sentence reduced to allow him to be present when his daughter Aya graduates from college in Chicago in May.  Instead he’ll have to wait until March next year to get out of jail.

Despite the valiant attempts of his barrister David Sutton SC to paint him as a buffoon, an “eccentric middle aged man” who had played the part of the hitman in the trial that went “from the souks of Cairo to the gaming halls of Las Vegas, via the Queens Hotel in Ennis”, the judges could not see past the fact that Eid had demanded a considerable amount of money with significant menaces.

Eid may have been one of the most incompetent criminals to pass through the Central Criminal Court in recent years, with a record of being caught on the two occasions he tried to break the law, but when he demanded €100,000 from Robert Howard to drop a hit on the lives of Robert, his brother Niall and his father PJ, Robert believed the threat was genuine.  The brothers were undoubtedly shaken by their ordeal and their Victim Impact Statement spoke of continuing feelings of fear. 

Eid never came across as anything other than a rather charismatic joker during his trial.  even after his appeal was turned down today he still went back to his cell laughing with the garda that led him out of the court in handcuffs.  He’ll go back to his poker school in Limerick prison, apparently he’s been teaching everyone to play poker but the former Las Vegas dealer is still too good for them.

There might be an edge of steel behind that jocular persona perhaps, certainly his former paramour Teresa Engle told a psychologist ahead of her trial in the States that he was a Machiavellian sex fiend who kept her trapped in the house, apart from the odd trip to Ennis to shake down the Howards.   Mind you, the sex slave aspect of their relationship went unnoticed by both Eid’s other wife Lisa and Aya, both of whom were living in the house at the time, although Lisa did agree there had been the odd threesome.  By all accounts the 54-year-old had lived a very complicated romantic life before he ran into trouble.

We were reminded today how much Eid had lost by his involvement in the whole hitmanforhire.us set up.  He had lost his house in Las Vegas, his boat, the bright yellow sports car he sent email pictures of to Sharon Collins, the Devil in the Red Dress.  He had also lost the love and companionship of every one of his women.  Certainly Teresa’s back with her ex-husband Todd, who even gave her a character reference when she stood trial for her involvement in the other shake down she and Eid carried out.

The so-called Royston affair featured large over the past two days.  This was the case in Los Angeles a few weeks before the events in Ennis.  Lauren Roysten was the woman who Marissa Marks had hired Eid and Engle to bump off to free up her ex boyfriend.  The similarities between the two cases are striking.  Both Marissa Marks and Sharon Collins approached the hitmanforhire website looking for an answer to their problems.  And both times Eid decided to shake down not the women who had something to lose if their murderous intent was revealed but the innocent parties who, predictably went straight to the cops.

Until the ill fated website Eid had a clean record, he wouldn’t have got the job in the Bellaggio casino on the famous Las Vegas Strip without one.  We were told today that there was a matter in Canada but we were not told what it was and it was not taken into account for the purposes of today’s appeal.

I’ve always enjoyed the saga of Essam Eid but it was indicative of the general attitudes towards the case that once we were told that the fate Sharon Collins’ appeal would not be announced until the new term after Easter, there was a mass exodus as quite a few of the hacks who had turned up for the appeal went to file what they had and ignored Eid.

As I said yesterday it’s been odd going back to a story I know so well.  When I wrote Devil in the Red Dress I was totally immersed in the story but so much has happened since it’s taken a bit of dredging to find the finer points of the case.  Anyway, the book is available in good bookshops and on Amazon if you want to read the whole thing.  There’s the whole story there, as well as all the emails between Lyingeyes and Hire_hitman, otherwise known as Tony Luciano as well as the people who filled out the website’s application form.  OK plug over for the time being.  Links to all the websites mentioned in the trial are on the right and there’s also the potted story of the trial in the The Story of the Book tab.

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.

Only Two Days to Go!

It’s only two days until Devil in the Red Dress is launched.  It should be on the shelves by the weekend.  Every time I walk into a bookshop I imagine how it’ll look on the shelves.  Now I don’t have long to wait to see if I’m right.

I’m concentrating on the book this week so I won’t be blogging about the current trials in the Four Courts.  I’ll be finding out about what happens in the Dane Pearse trial the same as anyone else – on the news.  It’s rather nice not to have to sit through another lot of post mortem evidence, even though after a while they become just data and facts.

A couple of us on the press bench were talking last week about the effect that following the courts has on you.  There was a general consensus that we’re generally speaking a cynical bunch.  Day after day seeing the worse side of humanity tends to have that effect.

One of the things that attracted me to the story of Sharon Collins and Essam Eid was the fact that with this trial there were no post mortems.  I’m not saying it wasn’t a harrowing experience for those who received a visit from “Tony Luciano” but the fact is that both Sharon Collins’ plot to kill her millionaire partner and his two grown up sons and Essam Eid’s scam to approach the “marks” and demand money to cancel the “hit” ended up miserable failures.

During the closing speeches in their trial, earlier this year, it was pointed out that, even without a body count, people had still been hurt.  Certainly listening to the victim impact statement given by Robert and Niall Howard at the sentence hearing it was clear that they had suffered immensely, living in fear since the incident and their relationship with their father seriously damaged by his refusal to give up on the woman who had plotted to have them killed.

But even taking their pain into account, this was still “light relief” compared to trials involving a violent death.  As I researched Devil the sheer breadth of farce in this plot kept taking me by surprise.  On this blog I have links to the websites that featured in the case…take a look, tell me, do these look like legitimate businesses?

Whoever happened upon hitmanforhire.net and thought they’d found the answer to all their problems was at best gullible, at worst deluded.  The fact that Sharon Collins admitted to buying a Mexican proxy marriage certificate from proxymarriages.com, even after receiving an email from the Mexican embassy telling her that double proxy marriages did not in fact exist in Mexico, is rather a strong indicator that her radar for a good Internet buy is a bit skewed.

I feel for the Howard brothers, as well as Sharon’s own two sons Gary and David Collins.  Even Eid and his co-conspirator Teresa Engle have children who do not deserve the humiliation of a connection with a case as ridiculous as this.  Sharon’s partner, P.J. Howard had to put up with the shame of having lurid sexual allegations made about him in court, allegation that he has since strongly denied.

But for an outsider’s point of view it’s an incredible story and despite all that humiliation, a comparatively victimless crime. Ricin may have featured but it was never actually called into play – if it had been we may have had a completely different story.

It might be a rather bleak and black comedy but it’s easy to see it as a comedy none the less.  Many have compared the plot to the Cohen brothers and it certainly would make a good companion piece to Fargo.  I hope that anyone who reads my book will get a sense of the story that reads like a movie plot.

It remains to be seen if it ever ends up on the silver screen but if it does, they won’t have to change a thing!

An Extraordinary Day

So Sharon Collins and Essam Eid will both be serving six years in jail.  The sentences when they were finally handed down after a long day of evidence and pleas for clemency.  Then there was reaction to gather and copy to file.  It’s been a long day.

So finally the story has an ending – at least until Sharon’s legal team get an appeal underway, as we were informed that they would do by her solicitor Eugene O’Kelly at the obligatory scrum outside the gates of the Four Courts.

The sentence hearing itself was particularly well attended.  It’s hard to believe that in the early days of the trial, when people were still finding it hard to grasp just how extraordinary this trial was going to be, that there was room for any hacks to have their pick of seats.

Today was a different case entirely.  What seemed like half the Bar descended like a flock of black crows, jostling for seats with the grannies that seem to multiply every time you look the other way.  There was a particularly animated crowd of onlookers today, all taking their seats early for what did turn out to be one of the liveliest sentence hearing’s we’ve seen in a while.

Right from the off there was gathering excitement when word got round that PJ Howard, Sharon’s number 1 victim and simultaneously number 1 fan club had left his Spanish hideaway to support her in Court.

He took his seat beside his sons in the space they had occupied in the early days of the trial, two benches behind the barristers for the various parties.  Sharon had also arrived with plentiful support.  Her mother Bernadette was by her side, looking frail and tense.  Her former husband Noel was there as well as he had been before to support the mother of his two sons.

And of course her boys were there.  Gary and David as stalwart as ever sitting by their mother’s side, although today a prison officer sat between underlining her new status.

Essam Eid was last to take his seat.  He was wearing a brown striped jumper with a lilac shirt, a deviation from his standard court uniform, and a dark suit.  Sharon, in her usual black trouser suit had also chosen a mauve blouse – the first and only time they had coordinated during the long and eventful trial.

She had lost the few pounds that had been added to her birdlike frame at her previous court appearance and her hair looked freshly done, though still longer than it had been before her conviction.  Her face was almost free of makeup and the tension was showing.

We started off with a run through of the well known facts.  Chief Inspector John Scanlon took the stand and guided us through the investigation and the famous plot between Lying Eyes and Tony Luciano (see The Story Behind the Book).

Once we’d gone through the facts it was time for the victim impact statements.  Robert and Niall Howard talked about their trauma and shock at such a plot so close to home and their embarrassment at being irrevocably in the public eye.

Then all the heads in the press benches came up as we discovered that not only was PJ going to take the stand but had hired his own counsel and had come to court with a solicitor.  This could only mean one thing…that whatever he had to say was something that the DPP were not going to be madly happy about.

Sure enough, it wasn’t long before we heard that PJ had prepared a victim impact statement of his own but the DPP weren’t happy about it being read in court as they said it went somewhat beyond the bounds of these kinds of statements, being basically a character reference for the woman he was refusing to give up on.

So we were treated to a spat between PJ and the Gardai, in which PJ said no one had told him he could make a victim impact statement and the gardai said he had known that perfectly well.  PJ took the stand to tell how he had been left out in the cold.  Then Detective Sergeant Michael Moloney took the stand after a brief moment where he passed PJ on his way out of the witness box that showed the businessman’s animosity towards the authorities who had locked his partner away.

As they passed PJ leaned in and growled something under his voice at the Sergeant.  There was obviously no love lost there.

He was eventually allowed to give his statement and read it from the stand.  He sang Sharon’s praises and asked for her to walk free from the court on a suspended sentence.  His pleas would not be successful.

Sharon had a lot of support today, there were character references from the Bishop of Killaloe and the Mayor of Ennis, not to mention an ode to her parenting abilities from her husband Noel.

Ultimately it would all come to nothing though.  She still got six years, only one year less than the infamous Black Widow, Catherine Nevin herself.

Her co-accused Essam Eid, as always somewhat neglected in proceedings in which he had joint billing, had no such support but fared equally.

We heard that the dapper 53-year-old had a serious heart condition and needed long term medical supervision for that and his diabetes.  He was isolated in prison we were told, spending his time alone in his single cell and swapping his poker for Solitaire.

Even so he’s also been given six years, although since he’s been locked up since his arrest in September 2006 he’ll be going home considerably sooner that the Devil in the Red Dress herself.

Sharon was dry eyed when the sentence was handed down but her fingers played with a button on her suit jacket which she held closed protectively over her stomach.  Her bottom lip only began to tremble noticeably while she listened to her co-accused’s fate.

Afterwards there was the usual flurry of reaction and the press pack were rushing around the Four Courts trying to get every piece of the story covered.  A group of use followed PJ to the Law Society photocopier where he provided copies of his statement for our eager hands.

Sharon’s views came through a statement from her solicitor and with them an apology to PJ for the scandalous letter to the Gerry Ryan Show that had been read out in court.  It was incomplete and out of context she said, but stopped short of saying it was a tissue of lies.  PJ for his part had angrily refuted every allegation as part of his statement.

It’s an unfortunate fact that none of that family will ever fade fully into obscurity.  Their proximity to the story has lent them a fascination that will take a long time if ever to dull for the press.  There was a lot of criticism from Sharon’s side about us today.  She pretty much complained that she felt everyone was looking at her – which of course they were today.

So the next thing for me is to finish the book.  It’s nice to see the finishing line in sight at long last, even if I’m going to be contributing to keeping this story alive when the book hits the shelves.  But then – do stories like this ever really die – no matter how much those involved would like them to?

On Being a News Subject rather than Reporting It…

Well Devil in the Red Dress has had it’s first public outing.  Yesterday’s Sun and today’s News of the World both talk about a “sensational new book” on their front page – when I first saw the trail for the News of the World got all excited and wanted to know who had written it!

It’s odd reading material from my book as a news story.  I’m so used to being the one reacting to the the news it’s weird being the news myself.  Writing a book puts you in a bubble where it’s easy to forget about the outside world.  You concentrate so much on telling the story that everything else melts away for the duration.  Now we’re getting close to publication it’s all about changing gear and getting out there and selling my tale.

To be honest I’m looking forward to it.  The more I looked into the details set out in the trial the more interesting I found Sharon Collins and Essam Eid.  I spent eight weeks of the day job covering Sharon’s trial for the national and local media, I knew all about the emails, the letters to the Gerry Ryan Show (one of the most famous talk shows on RTE, Ireland’s national radio service), the fact that her lover, one of her three potential victims was standing by her and proved as much by planting a kiss directly on her lips as he left the stand.

At the Central Criminal Court, Sharon was very much the leading lady and there were many days when her co-accused faded into the background, a “patsy” bobbing along in the wake of the great white defendant as his defence counsel put it in his closing speech.  It wasn’t until I started researching The Devil in the Red Dress that I came across the details of another leading lady on the other side of the Atlantic.

Teresa Engle’s trial for extortion in California yielded evidence just as lurid as that in the trial I sat through.  Arguing that she had been pushed into her involvement with Hitmanforhire.net and the subsequent attempts to extort money from the unfortunate “marks” she painted her “husband” Essam Eid as a kinky sadist who made her do all manner of depraved things in bed.  It was news to me, for example, that Eid had neglected to tell his first wife Lisa that he was in favour of polygamy even when he moved wife number 2 into the family house.  Teresa was always referred to as his wife in the Irish courts because that was what she called herself.

I’m looking forward to talking about the weird symmetry that I found looking through the evidence against these two convicted women.  Both of them got involved with a dodgy marriage  – Sharon ordered a Mexican proxy marriage online while Teresa claimed she married Essam bigamously in a Vegas wedding.

Both of them accuse the partners they were so keen to snare of all kinds of sexual perversions (although the only claim that has had any evidence to back it up was the fact that Eid was in the habit of having threesomes with wives 1 & 2 – it was the one thing the wives agreed on in their statements to the FBI).

Finally both women had a staggering determination to get what they wanted. Sharon Collins would trawl the Internet to find someone to bump off her lover and his two sons when he refused to marry her and give her and her own two sons a claim to his millions.  Teresa Engle on the other hand was so desperate to have a baby that she left her husband (who hadn’t told her he’d had a vasectomy), took up with a raging drug addict for a decade with whom she had the longed for baby, then dumps him and goes back to husband number 1, who was a better financial bet to play the kind of happy families she had always wanted to.

It’s a bizarre symmetry but one that gives the ballad of Lying Eyes and Tony Luciano an easy narrative flow that real life doesn’t often have.  Maybe if Sharon Collins had met Teresa Engle under different circumstances (other than when Teresa turned up to give evidence against her) they could even have been friends.

When gardai first heard Sharon’s alibi, a woman called Maria Marconi who she claimed had been teaching her to write a novel but may have really been dating her blackmailer, they thought she and Teresa could have been one and the same.  The description Sharon gave the gardai matches Teresa in all respects other than her hair.  Sharon would tell of her friendship with Marconi rather wistfully…perhaps she could have found it with Teresa Engle.

When I start publicising Devil properly I’m looking forward to telling people about these two mirrored lives and everything else I found out when I researched the story behind the Hitman trial.  But it’s not the same as reporting news.  It’s telling a story certainly but it’s something that other people will report.  It’s all a change of perspective and one that I’m looking forward to.  It’s a great story after all…and one that’s been great fun to write about!

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