Saturday 22 July 2017

Portrait of a Celtic Tiger marriage in detritus of life and death

Gardai quickly formed a view of what happened in the run-up to the killing of Celine Cawley, writes Jody Corcoran

FROM the outset, the gardai had a view on what had really happened on Howth Head that morning.

As the murder trial of Eamonn Lillis heard last week: "Burglars don't smash ladies' heads in." In a few days, then, they set about piecing together not only the final moments in the life of Celine Cawley, but also her final hours, days, weeks and months.

Suspicion "inevitably" fell on her husband.

Here was a couple living the Celtic Tiger dream.

They had met in 1991 in Kinsale, a pretty town in Co Cork, known for its undulating hills, gourmet restaurants and sailing boats -- moored gently in the bay.

It is fair to say they quickly fell in love. They married soon afterwards and, in short order, were to become parents to a baby daughter, their only child.

A good-looking young woman, a former model and aspiring actor, Celine had come from a comfortable middle-class family of lawyers and advertising executives.

Her father, James Cawley, now in his 80s, was, in his day, one of the best known and most successful lawyers of his generation. He sat at the rear of court 19 last week, a dapper man with a penchant for hats, always attentive, but occasionally upset when the evidence became too much for him.

His daughter, Celine Cawley, aged 46 at the time of her death, in the words of a garda detective, had her "head beaten in with a concrete block" on the morning of December 15, 2008.

The emergency services found her heavy-set body on a frosted and slippery patio at the rear of their home, known as Rowan Hill, Windgate Road on the Hill of Howth. A few feet away lay the concrete block -- a grey, bloodstained patio brick. It was one of two such bricks -- the other red in colour but without staining -- that were produced in court last week.

The brick used to kill Celine Cawley was taken out, on instruction, of a large brown envelope by a hesitant garda, and held aloft in court last week -- one of several exhibits lying casually on the courtroom floor ready to be entered into evidence.

The detritus of life and death, swabs of DNA and blood, also two pairs of gloves, for outdoors and indoors, and the more unassuming artefacts, a cholesterol-reducing Benecol pot, all waited to take their place in the slow, methodical unravelling of what was called a "tragedy".

The other brick, a red one wrapped in a blue and white tea towel, was found by an officer inside Rowan Hill.

Lillis told investigators he had taken it into the house a week before the killing of his wife, to use as a prop to assist in the repair of a household ornament, a ceramic bull, whose horn had broken away. He had not wrapped it in the tea towel.

It was suggested in court that Celine Cawley possessed a "ruthless" streak, which she used to get ahead in business -- a business she had set up, was the managing director of, but which also gave employment to her husband.

Toytown Productions came to list among its clients some of the best known companies in their field -- Carlsberg, Guinness, Volkswagen and McDonalds to name a few.

Between them, the couple earned €600,000 a year, which financed a lifestyle they had become accustomed to; a lifestyle that centred around many of what are, or were regarded as the finer things in life. Copious reference was made in court to branded possessions -- a Mercedes jeep, a Brown Thomas coat, Gap jeans and socks, Timberland boots, Armani, Hugo Boss, designer watches and even underwear.

Celine took home €500,000; her husband, a director of her company, a fifth of that.

In that almost two decades since they had first met, Celine Cawley had succeeded, it was suggested to her husband in garda interview, in what would normally have been the domain of men -- the production of television commercials at the company office at Windmill Lane in Dublin city centre.

The man in her life, Eamonn Lillis, husband and father of their child, is standing trial for her murder. He denies the charge.

Lillis is 52 now, in mid-life, as he would say himself. He doesn't look it. His hair may be grey, but he is still in good shape, due perhaps to a fitness regime, described in court, consisting of regular walks with the family dogs -- a Rhodesian ridgeback, a cocker spaniel and another, older dog called Molly, whose breed I cannot recall. That, and a punishing set of sit-ups in the morning. As they set about their investigation, the gardai deduced that Lillis was also, apparently, a mild-mannered man.

But it emerged in court on Friday that the finger of suspicion had almost immediately pointed towards him, notwithstanding his claim that a burglar had killed his wife, a claim he had stuck to until the opening of his trial.

"Suspicion inevitably falls on the husband," Lillis's lawyer said at one stage. "We had a very good idea what happened immediately after," a detective said later.

Lillis now accepts that nobody other than he and his wife were in the house when she met her violent death.

According to two garda detectives, in their interviews with Lillis they could find nobody to say other that he was a "decent" guy. Nobody had said he was a "nasty bloke". On the contrary, people who knew him said he was a "decent bloke", that he was "nice", even that he was "soft".

Celine Cawley was described in court as somebody who possessed an almost entirely different personality. While trying to draw a confession from Lillis, officers had suggested, based on what they

had been told, that not only was his wife "ruthlessly competitive" in business, but that she was also "dominant".

This was a description picked up on by Lillis's lawyer when he came to cross-examine a detective. It emerged that people who had been interviewed by the gardai said that Celine Cawley was "slightly on the bullying side"; that she was "opinionated"; and even that she had treated her husband as a "second citizen". They said she would regularly shout at him to "come here", to "do this" or to "do that" -- that he was, in effect, her "lapdog".

According to evidence offered in court, they seemed to live largely separate lives.

For example, his bedroom was upstairs, and hers downstairs -- an arrangement that began shortly after the birth of their child, according to Lillis.

His wife snored, he said, and she kicked out in her sleep.

But the gardai have another statement from somebody, whose identity has not yet been revealed in court. It was, this person said, a sexless marriage, an arrangement that "suited them both".

Ten weeks before Celine Cawley met her death, Lillis struck up an intimate relationship with a young woman 20 years his junior, who worked at a beauty clinic and spa. One of the luxuries both husband and wife allowed themselves was a trip, weekly for him, to Howth Haven, which describes itself as a "Yonka salon" -- priding itself on a "beautifully comfortable and contemporary design with private, warm and tranquil treatment rooms".

It was in one such room, the court was told, that a young woman in the throes of planning her own marriage manipulated the muscles of Eamonn Lillis as he lay face down on a plinth.

Jean Treacy was a 31-year-old therapist. On a day in early October 2008, as she massaged his back, he asked what was on her mind.

She took his hand and placed it on her pulse and declared: "That is what I am thinking about." On his next visit, they kissed.

And so began a romantic affair, that Lillis initially denied had occurred when he was asked about it by investigating officers, but which he eventually confirmed when he realised that she had revealed all.

Unknown to him, shortly after the news of his wife's death broke, a colleague of Ms Treacy contacted the gardai. She subsequently admitted to the affair, and provided much of the graphic detail.

She also said, in a written statement, that Lillis had said his marriage was unhappy and had even mentioned to her the possibility of divorce.

Eamonn Lillis would not be the first man to say to a mistress: "I will leave her, darling, when the kids are grown", a detective said to Lillis in a interview at Clontarf Garda Station on December 21, 2008.

The interview took place over several hours, stretching beyond, with Lillis's consent, a midnight deadline -- until after 2.15am. In that interview, Lillis denied that he had ever intended to leave his wife.

Shortly before her brutal death, both Eamonn Lillis and Celine Cawley had what might be described as a heart-to-heart. They shared a bottle of wine at Rowan Hill, and went into their relationship, according to the man accused of murder.

In this discussion, he claimed, they had worked out their problems with the help of a resolution list he had made. "I had to make a resolution about how I see myself and what I'd like to be, and I sat down with Celine and we split a bottle of wine, and, at the end, it was quite therapeutic," he told gardai.

During another interview with a detective, Lillis was asked if he had become "infatuated" with Ms Treacy. He said he had not. But the gardai, in building up a profile, established that they had been in regular contact.

He was to meet her again on the day his wife was killed. Lillis and his wife were also scheduled to meet their pension adviser later that day.

In the 10-week affair, Lillis and Ms Treacy had sex in Rowan Hill on three occasions and elsewhere -- in his car at the Pavillions shopping centre in Swords; at Newbridge House and farm, a fine Palladian-style mansion is set on 350 acres of parkland 12 miles north of Dublin city centre.

Ms Treacy, meanwhile, was keeping her own secret. She was to wed her fiance in June the following year.

When the gardai carried out a detailed search of Rowan Hill after the killing of Celine Cawley they found a note, handwritten by Lillis, on the bedside locker in the room where he slept, a note which he later claimed was the basis of a short story he was thinking of writing -- an account of a "doomed love affair".

It read: "She will get that wedding dress. She will marry Keith in June. She will send out the invites in January. You will never be with her properly. The only way to be with her is to live here. Think of the positives in the relationship. You will never take her to France. She will never share your bed. You are running out of time!!!"

When, at one stage, a detective questioned him about his affair with Ms Treacy, Lillis said that he did not want to talk about it. It had nothing to do with what had happened, he said. The detective, in a memorandum, recorded Lillis as saying he wanted to get back to talking about the "murder".

All such interviews are electronically recorded, three sets of recordings. When a transcript of this interview was examined, it emerged that Lillis had not used the word "murder".

The trial continues this week.

Sunday Independent

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