Writer and Author

Tag: Lying Eyes (Page 4 of 4)

The Story is About to have an End…for now…

Well, tomorrow is the day that Sharon Collins, Essam Eid…and me have been waiting for.  Tomorrow, Mr Justice Roderick Murphy will decide how long they both need to serve in jail and my book will finally have an ending.

It should be an interesting day.  Sharon could be looking at ten years in jail for soliciting Eid to kill PJ Howard and his two sons while Eid isn’t much better off despite the fact the jury failed to reach a decision on the conspiracy charges he was facing.  The extortion he was finally found guilty of carries a pretty hefty sentence itself.

The big question today is whether or not PJ appears to take the stand tomorrow but whether he does or not it’ll be a lively day.

The trial seems so long ago now even though this has been one story that hasn’t left me alone all summer.  Once we know what sentence the two of them get then I can finally write my final chapter and put the thing to bed.

This is one trial that has had never a dull turn and it’s exciting to think what they’ll throw at us tomorrow.  Both defence teams have been preparing medical reports of various types.  Eid has needed examining for a raft of medical conditions while Sharon Collins needed to be seen by two psychiatrists.  It’ll be interesting to see what they both throw up.

After such a long trial and the month’s delay in the sentence it’s a relief to know that there will finally be an end to this – at least until the appeals come around.  But first things first and tomorrow is going to be a very busy day…

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!

What’s in a Name? Part 2

When I was in college one thing that used to confound me was headline writing.  It always seemed impossible to find that combination of words that sounded snappy enough, pithy enough and apt enough to sit at the top of my article.

When I wrote my first book (currently sitting in a drawer of my filing cabinet gathering dust) I sat for days with a dictionary of quotations on my lap flicking through it for inspiration.  I never had any problem with content – maybe something to do with the fact that I’ve always been able to talk the hind legs off a whole ark of donkeys and assorted livestock – but actually committing to something by giving it a title!  That was always the tricky bit.

Of course, these days, if pushed I can suggest several passable possibilities off the top of my head but there’s always the nagging feeling that I’ve missed the perfect phrase.  The Devil in the Red Dress (my soon to be published first book) kind of named itself.  The title is taken from a phrase in one of the emails between Lying Eyes and Tony Luciano (for more details on what the hell the book’s about have a look at The Story Behind the Book).  It suits the story and it’s been in the headlines before.

But tonight I’m trying to think of a title for this blog.  While the main purpose, granted is self promotional, and so naming it after myself makes sense I just can’t get used to seeing my name as a headline and want to get it back to byline size.  Of course, if you’re reading this once I’ve found the perfect phrase you won’t have a clue what I’m talking about but right now my name is just too big.

Of course, if I can’t think of a blog title then you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about and you’re probably thinking I’m rather big headed by now. But I am trying to find the perfect title that sums up why I’m here and what I’m about – and that hasn’t been used before.  Titles are the hook that draws you in and frequently the first thing that lodges in your mind.  A memorable title can enter the terminology of popular culture (not that I’m particularly aiming for the Zeitgeist here).  I’d like it to be my words not anybody else’s

It’s only when I sit down and try to work out what to call this thing I realise my distressing tendency towards pretension (well I might have had an inkling, I’m sitting listening to moody 60s French music as I write this although does it stop being pretentious if you actually like it but probably starts again when you draw attention to it – ah well.)  I’ve lists of rejected choices (Compost of the Mind was a serious contender for about ten minutes)

It’s ridiculous though, on a daily basis I send out copy that doesn’t have and doesn’t need a headline, other than for purely informative purposes.  If I write a book the title can be changed by the publisher at any stage.  But a blog is different.  It’s mine and only mine and so the pressure to name it right suddenly reaches monumental proportions.  I didn’t think this hard about naming the cat!

But as I say, this is a rather moot point.  If I find the perfect phrase this post stops meaning anything and if I don’t I’m just highlighting an irritating weakness.  After all this is a blog, not a diary…must resist slipping into confessional mode to the vastness of the Net…these things are dangerous!

The Date is Set

The finishing line is finally in sight.  Sharon Collins and Essam Eid will be sentenced on Monday November 3rd, four weeks away.  So know we know when the end begins and the story finds it’s conclusion (until the appeal comes around of course).

Court 1 was full this morning, the confusion over whether today was to be the actual sentence or not ensured the press pack gathered and the tension built just in case the information was wrong and they were going to sneak in a sentence under everyone’s unprepared noses. We heard how both the Courts Services and the Department of Justice had seen to it that Sharon was psycholigically assessed.  When her defence team stand to speak in her favour they will have plenty of material to pick from all due to this confusion they were keen to point out.

But to some relief it turned out the law is more civilised than that.  Eid’s legal team had not quite gathered all the medical reports they were looking for so it was only a couple of minutes business while a date in four weeks’ time was found.

Both of them were sitting in their old seats.  Eid smiling at the prison guards up near the judge, while Sharon waited for her boys in the alcove under the stairs in the reception area.  While she waited she chatted earnestly to a prison guard, her hands fluttering underlining her points as her eyes flicked towards any figure passing towards the Round Hall.

After three months in prison her hair is longer now and she no longer has the groomed look she wore throughout the trial.  A prison diet has added pounds to the skinny frame she once used heavy duty obesity medication to maintain.  Weeks of worry and misery inside had deepened the lines on her face and darkened the shadows under her eyes.

Eventually one of her son’s turned up.  David, the younger of her two boys, 22 years of nervous energy sitting beside his mother sharing a moment of rare semi privacy.  As always during the trial he took his seat before his mother, insulating her from her co-accused.

Today they were relegated to the back row of the benches that serve as a home to the accused when they are on trial.  The press had spilled into her usual perch, staking their claim now she was a convicted felon who didn’t need to be stepped around.

So it’ll be November before everyone gathers again.  The first Monday is when it all kicks off.  In a way it’s nice to get the break but it would be nice to draw a line under this book and give it an ending.  Still four weeks isn’t that long.

What’s in a Name?

I’m not with Shakespeare on this one, a name is everything when it’s the first thing people see on the skinny spine of your book.  The one thing in bold enough letters to stand out amongst it’s neighbours.  A title can be the first hook that makes someone pull the book out of the shelf and open it to read on.

According to the Internet I seem to have two titles for my book.  When it’s published my story of Sharon Collins and Essam Eid will go by the name The Devil in the Red Dress but that hasn’t always been the way.  For most of it’s gestation it went by the working title Lying Eyes, a reference to the email address Sharon used to correspond with her online “hitman”.  The Devil title came later once the book was more fully formed.  It also comes from the screeds of emails sent between Sharon and the ridiculously chatty “Tony Luciano”.

That’s the title that will be on the cover of the book and is listed on my publishers website and on Amazon (I still get a kick out of being able to look myself up on Amazon but that’s just totally by the by).  But the other title’s still out there.  It’s still in the page title of the Amazon listing and there’s a load of Norwegian sites that are listing the old title (never thought there’d be a market for Irish true crime in Norway, you learn something new every day).

It’s a minor thing but it just brings home how much stuff lingers around in cyber space after you’ve finished with it.  We live in a world now where all the detritus of our lives can find it’s way into the public arena via the web.  Throw away comments and affiliations made in college now have a half life that lingers for anyone with access to a search engine to find.

In the course of writing the book I’ve been so aware of what can linger on line and what can be lost.  The Internet has changed the practices of journalism to such an extent.  We can do so much from the comfort of our desks without even having to pick up a phone these days.  Sharon Collins would have done well to remember how much things linger in cyber space.  The bulk of the case against her was the scraps left behind from a life online, emails recovered from the hard drives of computers she’d had access to, an email account that wasn’t nearly as anonymous as she had thought.

Following in her footsteps this summer I was able to look at web pages she had visited, that had been mentioned in her trial, as they had looked when she had visited them.  Some of the websites are now long since defunct.  Hitmanforhire.net itself was taken down once people started coming out of the woodwork with tales of Tony Luciano’s approaches.  But thanks to the wonders of the Internet you can travel back in time and look as web pages as they used to look.  OK so it’s not magic, but it’s still reasonably cool, except when the thing hanging around is a discarded title.  Ah well, as long as Devil in the Red Dress makes it’s own impression…

Getting Started…I Hope

Well the blog should be up and running now.  Any more technical glitches will just have to wait until I get home.  I know that once we set foot back in Ireland it’ll be back to madness.  The Courts are back on October 6th so I’m back in the day job.  Sharon Collins and Essam Eid will be putting in an appearance on the 8th and that’s when the circus will really get started.

There have always been high profile cases through the Irish courts but since Joe O’Reilly was sentenced in July 2007 there has been one after the other.  Anton Mulder, Brian Kearney, John O’Brien all came before the Collins, Eid trial and all can still sell papers today months after their various convictions and acquittals.  We have moved without noticing it into a time where criminal trials are hyped almost as much as Hollywood films in the Irish media.  I should know.  To a certain extent my job depends on it!

Collins and Eid is a special case though – and I’m not just saying that because I’ve written a book on it.  The fact that no one died and proceedings had more than a tinge of farce to them meant that this was less of a guilty pleasure than the family tragedies that normally hit the headlines.  That’s not to say that people weren’t hurt as a result of these proceedings, it’s simply that we didn’t have to listen to the post mortems of their grief in quite the same way.

There’s also been a delayed conclusion.  With a murder trial there is only one possible sentence on conviction.  As soon as that verdict is handed down whoever’s in the dock knows they are about to start a life sentence and an appeal will be formally refused.  With conspiracy to murder there is a need for a separate sentencing as no fixed penalty has been set out.  So we will all gather on October 8th and wait with Collins and Eid to hear their fate and there will be headlines and TV programmes and books and some people will wonder publicly whether the whole things has perhaps all got a bit too much.

But in the meantime, I’m on holiday.  When I was a student in Bordeaux I always daydreamed of returning one day to work on a book.  Now as I sit by the window in our rented apartment gazing out of the window onto all the old yellow stone leaving it to the very last moment before I get ready to go out to dinner with the husband I’m conscious of how close I came to that.  The book may have actually been written in Dublin but I still don’t have an end for it, and won’t until that sentence.  So I’m technically still writing it.  Looking back over this post though, the sun’s playing havoc with my syntax and sprouting flourishes in every clause that probably shouldn’t even be there.

There’s a church here called St Pierre, not far from our apartment.  It’s a quiet little church, all vaulted ceilings and candles.  To the right of the door there’s a statue of a saint I’d never heard of – Ste Expedite.  The statue is of a very pretty Roman legionary holding a cross that says Hodie, the Latin for hello and stamping on a crow that’s cawing Cras meaning tomorrow.  He’s big in Chile and New Orleans apparently.  He’s also the patron saint of procrastinators, and computer hackers.

I discovered all this when I googled him after we’d wandered in to avoid the heat of the afternoon sun.  There’s also some doubt about whether he actually existed or whether he was simply some random bones that had been labelled expedis, basically First Class Post, when they were shipped out to some French speaking nuns for cataloguing.  But Rome decided to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Ste Expedite seems a very appropriate saint for this current endeavour.  I’ve certainly done my fair share of procrastinating and I like the idea he may or may not have existed, rather like Sharon Collins’ alibi, Maria Marconi.  There’s even computer hackers in there as well.

Well I’ve rambled enough.  There’s an evening going on out there that I’m ignoring and the husband is looking a little irritated.  I should probably try to focus on actually having a holiday before there’s no more time for procrastination.

Hello world!

I’m always reading that writers should have a blog, somewhere where they can maintain their presence on the Web and hopefully embed their names into the brains of the unsuspecting book buying public.  I’ve hovered around the edges of cyberspace for a few years now, dipping an anonymous toe in the water and failing miserably to get any attention whatsoever.  Now I actually have a book on the horizon and I’m not just one of those annoying people who tells all and sundry about the opus they have stuffed under the bed, I thought maybe it was time to try and do things properly.  I can’t promise I’ll never raise the opus under the bed again but for the next few months I actually have a real, proper actual book to publicise so I’d better focus.

You’ll see in the bottom right hand corner a rather fetching book jacket.  That’s mine.  It’ll be out before Christmas and (shameless plug warning) that pretty little JPEG links through to Amazon – just in case you feel the urge…

By the way, the book is about a trial that recently hit the headlines in Ireland and around the world.  It was pretty quirky as conspiracy to murder trials go…a Co Clare housewife who saw red when her millionaire boyfriend wouldn’t marry her and hired a hit man over the Internet to kill him and his two sons.  The only problem was that the hit man she picked was a particularly inept Egyptian poker dealer who had a slight problem with following through.

To cut a long story short (and it is a very long story) the poker dealer turned up at the sons’ house and offered them a chance to buy themselves out of the hit.  He demanded €100,000, they called the gardai.  Once the investigation started it discovered that the poker dealer and his girlfriend had tried the exact same scam in California a couple of weeks before they touched down in Ireland.

The trial went on for eight long weeks this summer but the most extraordinary thing about it was the correspondence between the hitman and the housewife.  She called herself Lying Eyes, while the Nevada side went by Tony Luciano.  In July Sharon Collins was found guilty of both conspiring to kill P.J., Robert and Niall Howard but also soliciting someone to kill them.  The poker dealer, Essam Eid, was found guilty of extortion.  They’ll both be sentenced in October.

Anyway that’s quite enough plugging.  There’s plenty of time for that later, this is just the practice!

It’s going to take a while to really get this blog up and running so I suppose this is just a taster while I get on with messing around with themes and widgets and extra pages.  Once I’ve got that sorted I’ll settle down to trying to make this something other than just another author blog…although to be honest that’s exactly what it is.

If you’re visiting now, come back in a week or so, I promise the site won’t look quite so bare.  And I promise next time there won’t be quite so much hard sell!

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