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Tag: Devil in the Red Dress (Page 2 of 7)

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.

An Issue of Privacy

The big legal story of the day is definitely the action being taken by convicted serial rapist Michael Murray to safeguard his privacy.

49-year-old Murray, who raped four women in a six day period in 1995, says he has been hounded by the press since his release from prison last year.  He says he can’t take part in any meaningful rehabilitation programme when there are snappers hiding in the bushes wherever he goes and can’t even stay living in the same place.  They say the public has the right to know where a serial sex offender is living.

Today was only the first day of the case so there’ll be a long wait to see what the court rules.  It’ll be a judgement that anyone who covers the courts or crime will be watching with interest.  Crime stories are big news in Ireland.  Covering the big trials over the past few years I’ve grown used to seeing scrums outside the court after a verdict that would rival those usually reserved for Hollywood stars.  Certainly a lot of the more paparazzi shots that appear in the papers are to do with crime lords rather than movie stars. 

I’d be out of work if that interest wasn’t there but when it comes to privacy there’s a whole different can of worms.  When photographers chase musicians or actresses they’re chasing people who signed up for the chase.  Sudden celebrity might come as a shock but if you do something that requires you to perform in front of (hopefully) large crowds it kind of goes with the territory.

Those who commit crimes don’t tend to do it for an audience.  They might crave some form of notoriety through their actions but it’s not really the same thing.  Yet once they’ve been identified and especially once they’ve been caught and tried, they become a rather magnetic news story.  This newsworthiness isn’t something that will fade with their looks.  Once they’re convicted they are indelibly linked to their crime.  If the crime was awful, tragic or extravagant then public interest in it will remain and so will journalistic interest.

Take Wayne O’Donoghue for example.  Convicted in 2006 to four years for the manslaughter of his 11-year-old neighbour Robert Holohan, O’Donoghue was released from prison in February 2008 after serving three years.  It had been a trial that hit all the front pages and passed into legal history when his mother Majella made certain allegations in her victim impact statement. Because of these comments this is a trial that tends to be raised any time there’s a discussion about victim impact statements and it remains fresh in the public mind.

Wayne O’Donoghue left the country after his release but as recently as this January the Sunday World ran a story about his new girlfriend.  Joe O’Reilly’s girlfriend Nicki Pelley has been a regular tabloid fixture, photographed every now and then because she stuck by the man who was convicted of the brutal murder of his wife Rachel.

As long as the names of those convicted sell papers when they appear on the front page the press will keep their interest.  That’s how newspapers work.  When Sharon Collins, the subject of my first book Devil in the Red Dress, is released from jail the photographers will be waiting to see if her proposed victim PJ Howard is waiting to whisk her off to some Spanish villa.  When Eamonn Lillis (subject of the latest book) has served his time there’ll be those wanting to see what he does next.  There’ll probably also be those who are curious to see whether his former mistress Jean Treacy gets the Italian wedding she was planning while she was cheating on her fiancé with Lillis.  The list goes on and on.

This is the nature of news.  If something’s a story it’s a story.  It might not be pleasant for those caught in the crosshairs but that’s the way it works.  It may seem sordid or even rather repellent but these stories have been filling newspapers as long as there have been newspapers.  But however you feel about the examples I’ve given what about those who have committed the really, really bad stuff…like Michael Murray, who raped four women in less than a week and whose own counsel describes as an “abnormal risk to the community”? 

He served time for his crimes, his debt to society as decided by the courts.  Is he entitled to privacy?  A quick Google throws up some of the stories that obviously caused offence, stories of day trips to Bray, security alerts.  When you look at the results Google throws up it certain gives the impression that he has had very little time since his release when he wasn’t being watched by a press posse.  He’s not the first to receive this treatment but depending on the outcome of this case he could be one of the last. 

These are the stories that lead to calls for a sex offenders register, for the public to have more, not less information about who lives close to them.  But privacy is the right of every individual and that causes a problem.  It’s going to be very interesting indeed to see how the Michael Murray case works out.  I’m sure it won’t be the last time I post on the subject.

Postscript to a Brutal Story

Sean Keogh was sentenced to four years in jail today.  He was convicted earlier this month for his part in the murders of Polish men Pawel Kalite and Marius Szwajkos in Drimnagh in February 2008.  His co-accused in that trial, 19-year-old David Curran, is already serving a life sentence for the murders.  Curran was the one who wielded the screwdriver that left both men brain dead within seconds.

Throughout the trial it was obvious that Keogh was very much the afterthought in this trial.  His part in the attack was really little more than a henchman and it wasn’t until the very end of the trial when the DPP dramatically introduced a new charge of assault which Keogh instantly pleaded guilty to.  He had admitted himself that he had kicked Pawel Kalite in the head and face as he lay on the pavement outside his house, fatally wounded.

Whenever there’s a co-accused whose part in proceedings is relatively cut and dried they will always appear to be something of an after thought in the trial.  It was the same with Essam Eid during the Devil trial.  It was always Sharon Collins’ legal team who stood up to fight every legal challenge.  She had a lot more to fight for.  Eid had been caught red handed.  So in this trial Curran was the one who had been seen with the screwdriver.  He was the one who had done the deed.  Even when he was charged with murder Keogh was never really cast as anything more than a tagger on, a follower, nothing more than a henchman to Curran’s brutal villain.

Fighting a murder charge on “common design” or “joint enterprise”; the legislation that allows the get away driver to be charged with robbery even if he never set foot in the bank, is always a tricky one.  In the case of Keogh it was certainly a tricky one to convince a jury on.  And in the end they weren’t convinced.

It emerged today that Keogh had a much longer record than Curran.  Keogh had been a regular of the children’s courts and the circuit and district courts, racking up 75 previous convictions.  They weren’t major crimes, mainly the kinds of charges you hear for a habitual joy rider.  He’s someone who’s drifted from one misdemeanour to another until his out of control path led him into real trouble.  This was a trial that shone a spotlight on the lives of some teenagers in sink estates all over, brutal, senseless and frequently brief.  A life filled with drink, drugs and petty crime with little or no respect for life, their own or others.  A depressing view but an all too common one in the daily business of the criminal courts. 

Sean Keogh kicked the head of a dying man – hard enough to break his teeth – yet it’s all too easy to dismiss him as the hapless henchman.  His crime is after all one of assault, not of murder.  But the sheer, depressing brutality of this case is going to stick.  Even if it’s a horribly familiar tale.

Ricin in the News Again

Lat week in the UK a father and son were jailed on terrorist charges.  They were by all accounts a nasty pair – neo nazi thugs who planned to overthrow the Government.  But what made me pause as I was flicking through the news headlines was the method they had decided to wreak havoc with…that favourite of extremists and conspiracy theorists…Saddam Hussein’s biological weapon of choice…the third most lethal toxin known to man…RICIN.

I know more than I would ever wish to about this particular poison thanks to the research I did when I was writing Devil in the Red Dress.  The toxin had formed a crucial part of the prosecution case against both Sharon Collins & Essam Eid, it was the one thing that raised Eid’s involvement to more than a rather unsuccessful con artist.  In the summer of 2008 we spent days in a rather stuffy courtroom in the Four Courts listening to the details of how ricin was found in Eid’s cell in Limerick prison and how the army were scrambled into action and the services of an elite lab in the UK were drafted in to test the microscopic traces found in a contact lens case under Eid’s bed.

It was only when I started researching the book that I realised what a thorny issue ricin is.  Ever since UN weapons inspectors found that Saddam Hussein had been stockpiling the stuff it’s been popping up in newspaper headlines with an infamy it hasn’t enjoyed since it was used to off Bulgarian writer Georgi Markov in a memorable piece of cold war skulduggery.  The assassination using a rigged umbrella as Markov was crossing Waterloo Bridge has passed into the popular consciousness and has appeared in countless spy movies over the years.  What people don’t tend to remember is that another Bulgarian dissident was attacked at around the same time and lived.  Ricin has it’s problems as a method of assassination and hasn’t been used as often as you might think.

This hasn’t stopped the countless ricin recipes from cropping up on the Internet.  They would have you believe that the production of ricin is nothing more than a simple home chemistry experiment, barely more complicated than the old adding a mint to a bottle of cola to cause a plume of fizz several feet high (and don’t try that one at home children, it might not be life threatening but it certainly makes a hell of a mess).  It’s the ease of production that makes ricin so attractive to your average nut.  There aren’t many chemical weapons you can cook up in your kitchen after all.  That’s certainly what Essam Eid thought when he cooked it up using a coffee filter and a blender in his Las Vegas kitchen and it seems that’s what appealed to Ian and Nicky Davidson when they were looking for something to get rid of “Zionist” politicians.

But it’s not as simple as that.  This is one of those cases where what you find on the Internet might not be what it appears.  Certainly the most common recipe, the one that appears on most of the right wing forums (like I said, been places researching that book that would turn your stomach – I’m sure I’m on some form of security watch list at this stage (if I am then  – Hello Boys, do say Hi sometime.)  I ended up spending way too long on the ricin research portion of the book.  Not because I found it overly fascinating but because it’s so difficult to find straight answers and I’m not a bio chemist.  You see the most common recipe was actually written by a fifteen year old.  You can tell by the spelling and the confusion about basic chemistry.  I’m not going start linking to the recipes, before you start wondering.  I’ll get to the why later.

Now this first recipe that I’m talking about goes back to the newsgroups in the early days of the Internet.  It doesn’t make ricin.  At best it makes castor bean mash (castor beans are the main ingredient in ricin recipes – even the ones that actually work).  Castor bean mash has been used as a fertiliser by American farmers since the 1950s.  It contains about 2% ricin, slightly more than the beans do in their natural state.

Then there’s the so-called Al Qaeda recipe which has cropped up in another high profile terror trial. Except in that ricin trial there actually wasn’t any ricin.  There is a recipe floating around on line that is supposedly written by Muslim extremists but this also doesn’t actually make ricin, at least not the kind of pure stuff that you’d need for chemical weapon purposes or any other purposes.  It makes a good fertiliser though.

Ricin is arguably the big bad wolf of the Internet.  Recipes are easy to find but don’t deliver what they claim.  The press and the authorities will periodically lament the ease with which such a deadly toxin can be made and the nutcases take notes and get onto Google.  Don’t get me wrong, ricin is a very nasty substance indeed.  If it kills you it will do so almost cell by cell and the death it brings will be truly agonising.  It’s one of the three most deadly toxins known and is more deadly gram for gram than anthrax or arsenic.  But as a murder weapon it’s less than impressive, which is probably why Markov has the distinction of being the only high profile, provable ricin assassination.  Ricin is also a pretty lousy weapon of mass destruction.  There are all kinds of problems with getting it out there, although apparently Saddam had his weapons guys working on that one.

What ricin does have is the instant fear factor.  It doesn’t matter that the vast majority of cases that come to light were making use of these bogus recipes or that the white powder they had made was once again little more than fertiliser.  I’m being deliberately vague in this post.  The recipes I’m not going near because despite their uselessness there are still deluded souls out there who cook them up with murderous intent and I cover trials, I don’t want to end up as evidence in one.  I’m also not going into detail to back up my argument because – well – it’s all in the book, there’s a whole chapter on this and I’ve no wish to repeat myself.

But seeing a trial like the Davidson one brings home the draw this stuff has and how many people believe it really is that easy to make.  It was almost impossible when I was doing the research to get anyone official to talk dispassionately about the whole ricin thing.  I understand why.  It is a scary substance and there’s always the chance that someone, somewhere will one day make it right. And as long as they’re cooking up ricin they’re not making something that actually kills.  For all the times ricin has appeared in the news over the past few years it’s always been because the means of making it was found never because it’s killed anyone.  But it’s always irritated me that this wooliness exists. 

It might not matter in the long run whether the nuts cooking up castor beans in their kitchens are on a hiding to nothing, what probably matters in the end is that they think they are making one of the most deadly poisons known to man and they intend to use it.  But I can’t help thinking that it should be reported right and the media at least shouldn’t just accept the deadliness of the white powder in a case.  You very seldom see the actual percentage of ricin in a sample made public, if it was ever tested for in the first place.  Most tests check for the existence of ricin, which you will have if you have castor beans.  What would be more useful is if they had the percentage of ricin.  Then you could tell if the guy in the dock was just a rather dumb crackpot or someone really dangerous.  But then, the guy in the dock is usually the dumb guy, the one whose plan had the fatal flaw that led to his capture.  The really clever ones don’t tend to end up in the dock.

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.

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.

And Now For Something Completely Different!

For the past couple of months I’ve had my head buried in Word as I worked on finishing my second book.  As the end approached I got more and more tunnel visioned and consequently my updates here have been sporadic to say the least.

Well today I sent the finished opus off to my agent.  Changes have been made, characters further developed and endings tweaked until I was as happy as I was ever going to be.  I’m not saying that I will never write another word in that particular manuscript – there may be changes suggested along the way from agent or, eventually a publisher – but I am now stepping away and saying enough.

It’s been a long journey with this particular book.  The opposite experience to last summers frenzy to get Devil in the Red Dress finished so that the book could be released as soon as possible after the sentencing in the trial.  The new book is not a trial book.  It’s fiction, fantasy fiction at that.

It comes from an idea that had it’s seeds in my childhood.  The manuscript I sent to my agent today might have had very little in common with the story I wrote on my mum’s manual typewriter at the kitchen table one winter when I was about 11, but that was the genesis.  One or two of the characters share names with the earlier attempt, a few bear a passing physical resemblance but the story is a totally different animal.

I’m happy with my finished draft.  I think it can stand up on it’s own but ultimately it doesn’t matter what I think.  From now on it’s on it’s own.  I’ll be open to suggestions with any last minute tweaks but the story I wanted to write has now  been written and it’s time to start something new.

For the past couple of chapters in the edit I’ve been thinking ahead to what comes next.  This book will have a sequel, a few chapters of a preliminary draft already exist.  Then there’s the world that this blog and Devil belong to.  Mainly concerned with crime and courts.

The courts are back in a couple of weeks and I’ll need to check the diary and plan what to do next.  I’ve also started thinking about a follow up to Devil but that’s a story for another day.

One thing I’ve learnt about writing over the past year or more is that it never stops.  You’re either writing  something or you’re thinking about writing something.  There is no time when a little part of your brain isn’t looking and noticing and filing away anything that might be useful.  This is just the way the mind works in this kind of job, it’s a nervous tick, a habit you get into.

I’ll miss the characters I’ve spent the summer with.  They were my first, old friends who I know as well or better than people I see on a regular basis.  I’ll never work with them in the same way again and that’s a little sad but I’m excited about what comes next.

It’s been a long time since I’ve explored the thrill of the blank page.  I’m looking forward to the blocking and the researching and the roughing that must all come before I’m back to the polishing.

So tomorrow I’ll get up and start that something completely different.  The notebooks will be unearthed from their summer resting places and I’ll be back dealing with reality.  There’s a couple of weeks to get organised before the courts are back and I’m raring to go.

So I’ll be writing here more regularly from now on.  The summer’s over and normal service has been resumed!

An Honourable Mention

I was absolutely chuffed a couple of weeks ago to be asked by Chapters Bookstore here in Dublin to do a Q&A for their blog.  They have a regular post in which writers answer 5 questions.  My answers went up today.

I was honoured to be asked.  Ask anyone in Dublin who loves to read and they will tell you that Chapters is the best book shop in town.  That’s not to say there aren’t other great ones but Chapters is the largest independent book shop in town and is always a treasure trove of both new and second hand finds.

Anyway, I just wanted to let you know and I am now going to go and try and shrink my head a little!

A More Fictional Kind of Murder

Today I realised one of my characters has to die.  It’s a surprising realisation to come to, so late in the editing process but the more I think about it, the more it makes sense.  It’s a sad conclusion to come to though, as this character is one of the few who’s survived since the earliest incarnation of this story.  There’s even a picture of him, drawn by a family friend, an illustrator, on the back of the earliest draft of the germ of an idea back when I was only 11 or so.

All the characters feel as real as distant friends.  I know their likes and dislikes, their moods, their faults.  In the early days of planning I would pick out their favourite music, favourite books, favourite films.  It was the same process as new friends or lovers go through…except that I was providing both answer and question.  It sounds nuts, certifiable maybe, but I don’t know any other way of getting to know a character as if they are real.  When it works then, once the story starts rolling, it can feel as if the characters take control and guide what direction a scene takes.  Those are the days when the writing really flows.

But the axe has to be swung.  It works for the plot, gives other characters more passion and is generally a good idea.  I’ll miss this one but the time has come so now I’m going to have to play at murder.

The problem with the day job is that murder is something I’m rather familiar with.  I’ve sat next to quite a few people who’ve killed, over the past couple of years, even spoken to a couple.  As I prepare for my fictional murder a wealth of details present themselves.  Do I use blunt object trauma? Strangulation? A weapon – knife, axe, slash hook?

It sounds callous, ghoulish even, but when you spend a lot of time listening to evidence in murder trials it can be difficult not to sift through the details like a connoisseur looking for the juiciest chunks.  You become desensitised to the horror of forensic details.  As a journalist you look at evidence in terms of the hook that will snare your reader down past the first paragraph.  As a writer you look at the details, the relics of someone’s life and death as components to be filed away for future reference.

So now I’m planning my own murder from the pick n’ mix of details, real and fictional.  It’s impossible to think of a knife attack without memories of dozens of post mortem accounts, the length of the blade, the angle of thrust, the difference in slicing or stabbing gestures.

If poisoning is the option do I go with historical methods – take inspiration from the Borgias perhaps – or do I tread a more familiar path – look into the poisons mentioned in the emails between the Devil in the Red Dress herself, Sharon Collins, and her Internet “hitman” Essam Eid?

I’m fond of this particular character.  It’s a long and interesting association.  I want the death to be a fitting one…the sacrifice will make a better book.  I’ll plan the murder carefully so that it satisfies both the journalist in me and the storyteller.  And then I’ll raise a glass to the fallen character and get on with the rest of the book.

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