Eamonn Lillis hit the front pages again today. The Sun were running a story about the letters he’s allegedly been receiving in jail. It seems extraordinary that there are women out there who would set their cap at a man convicted of killing his wife but I don’t know why I’m surprised. It’s an age old story.
Lillis is actually one of the better prospects out there. He was convicted of manslaughter so he’ll be out in a few years and when he gets out he’ll be returning to a €2 million nest egg from his share of the sale of the company Celine Cawley set up, Toytown Films and his wife’s estate. But the fact remains that he killed his wife, and he was cheating on her at the time of his death. He’s hardly the kind of guy that makes prime marriage material. He was described during the trial as a lap dog, a meek and mild mannered man who was very much in his wife’s shadow. He’s not the obvious sexy bit of rough, the romantic bad boy that stops women in their tracks. Sitting in court watching him on the stand, his lips primly pursed, his delivery clipped and almost mousily quiet he faded into the background of the court.
Granted we were told during the trial that he could be a charmer when he wished to be, we all saw his mistress Jean Treacy sashay the length of the courtroom to give her evidence, the much younger women who told of racing pulses and passionate trysts in supermarket carparks. We had all seen the pictures of his wife when she was a young model, a stunning brunette who could have had any man she chose. But the Lillis we saw in court wasn’t a romantic charmer.
He was a grey little man who nervously bit his lip when the evidence seemed damning; whose “excuse me” when faced with a gaggle of hacks at the end of the day was almost a whisper; who had to be told repeatedly while giving his evidence to raise his voice as the jury couldn’t hear him. The image of the man who wasn’t there is born out by school friends who describe a quiet child and even his close friends speaking at his sentencing described his strength as his ability to listen. So not the Byronic tortured anti hero then, at best the worm that turned. Yet there are those whose desire has been awakened who will write him love letters to read in his prison cell.
These aren’t letters from an existing paramour, we’re not talking about the continuing devotion of a mistress, like Nicki Pelley’s faith in convicted wife murderer Joe O’Reilly, or even the ever faithful PJ Howard, the stoutest champion of the Devil in the Red Dress herself, Sharon Collins, despite the fact she tried to hire a hitman to off his and his two sons. No, Lillis’s admirers have probably never met the man they fancy. They’re that strange breed who court convicted killers.
Maybe it’s the sparkle of celebrity that makes them want to get close to the man who spawned so many headlines, maybe they’re danger seekers who want to grab the tiger by the tail, maybe it’s another reason, sadder and darker altogether, that this is the best they can hope for, a relationship indelibly tainted before it’s even begun.
We’ve all seen the stories from the States, the death row weddings, the sacks of mails for serial killers. We don’t have those kinds of killers here. Murder in Ireland tends to be a much more domestic affair so maybe Eamonn Lillis is the best of a bad lot. I’m sure he’s not the only high profile wife killer to get these letters and he certainly won’t be the last. As a species we are fascinated with death – I would be out of a job if that wasn’t true. The high profile murder trials always attract the largest crowds, this is just an extension of that. I spend too much of my time sitting in courtrooms to share the fascination though. I wonder what Lillis thinks of the letters. We’ll probably never know.