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 email@example.com 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.