“It all started four years ago, when my best friend died,” wrote Patrick Quirke.
In Quirke’s own words, part of a letter written to the Sunday Independent ‘Dear Patricia’ column in 2011, Martin Lowry’s death pinpointed the moment everything changed forever.
Quirke had married Imelda Lowry in 1995 and Martin, the groom’s best man, was her brother.
Both men were farmers, sons who had inherited land with ambitions to make a successful business from their lot.
As their two Tipperary farms were located near each other, the farmers pooled their resources.
They bought the best farm equipment, which they owned jointly.
They shared knowledge, sought out the newest technologies and ideas and helped each other out on the land as and when needed. It was a good friendship and partnership.
So when Lowry passed away from cancer in September 2007, leaving behind a vulnerable young widow and three sons, his friend and brother-in-law Quirke stepped up as promised.
Almost immediately, Quirke started farming what was now Mary Lowry’s land at Fawnagowan, more than 50 acres of prime agricultural land in the Golden Vale, Co Tipperary.
Quirke also offered to help with her finances, an offer she accepted, and they started sleeping together in early 2008.
Ms Lowry called this a “seedy” affair, something she was ashamed of.
She said she had not chosen to have an affair, but was “led” into it when she was vulnerable following her husband’s death.
In August 2010, Mary Lowry met Bobby Ryan. Ryan was, she said, a “breath of fresh air” and with him she no longer had to lie and hide.
He was fun, funny and full of life. They shared a passion for music and dance. When Quirke found out in late 2010, he was furious.
He took her phone and used it to text and telephone Ryan in a bid to break up the relationship, telling him, “I’m the man.”
Ms Lowry had to plead to get the phone back and later had to come clean.
Even after that, Ms Lowry did not turn her back on Quirke. She was worried about him, he seemed down and messages he sent her made her think he might be suicidal.
Ryan suggested that he might be able to help – since he had gone through a rough time when his own marriage crumbled and he "nearly became an alcoholic", according to Ms Lowry.
The three of them had a meeting at Hayes Hotel in Thurles, in January 2011.
It was "amicable", Ms Lowry claimed, and ended with the two men shaking hands.
Quirke would later tell gardaí that he enjoyed this meeting as he felt Ryan knew that he was not some “monster” out to get him. But, in reality, Quirke was unimpressed.
In February 2011, a desperate Quirke sent a ‘Dear Patricia’ letter to the Sunday Independent agony aunt complaining that he had ruined his life by starting an affair with a “family friend”.
“I fell deeply in love with her. It lasted three years and came to an abrupt end recently when I found out that she was seeing someone else,” he wrote.
That someone else was Ryan.
Mary Lowry saw the letter. Immediately, she knew who had written it.
When she confronted Quirke he told her he had nobody else to confide in.
But Quirke was not out of ideas yet. On February 4, 2011, he contacted Tusla and claimed Ms Lowry was neglecting her children emotionally and staying out late with her new boyfriend.
She had “lost the run of herself”, he said.
This attempt to scuttle the relationship also failed as Tusla found nothing untoward was going on at the Lowry home.
By June 2011, Quirke had hatched his final plan to kill Bobby Ryan, though the exact details will never be known.
What is known is that Ryan called to Ms Lowry’s at about 9pm on June 2. The following morning they awoke at about 6am and made love before he left at about 6.30am.
Three to 10 minutes later, she heard his van cross the cattle grid at the end of her drive, which, according to Ms Lowry, was longer than usual for him to leave.
At 8.30am, she saw Quirke on the farm and noted he was “hot and sweaty and bothered looking”.
It was her routine on Fridays to take her children to school and her mother-in-law, Rita Lowry, into town.
That meant there was nobody at Fawnagowan for much of that morning, leaving Quirke clear to complete his plan by placing the body in the tank and cleaning the scene of the murder.
The alarm was raised when Ryan failed to show up for work.
His daughter Michelle was immediately distraught. She knew her father had been down following the split with her mother and feared the worst. She met Ms Lowry, who was also by now deeply worried.
Michelle Ryan found her father’s car at a car park leading into Kilshane Woods that afternoon, prompting searchers to focus their efforts there.
Though they did not know it, his body lay no more than 60 metres from Mary Lowry’s bedroom.
Quirke went to a hotel in Portlaoise later that morning as a treat for his wife’s birthday. But he had already made a key mistake.
It was Breda Dwyer, an earthy, no-nonsense woman from the country, who would later blow the lid on the apparent alibi Quirke had given to gardaí.
On the morning Ryan went missing, Ms Dwyer, an artificial insemination technician, said she saw Quirke standing milking cows.
In the 15 years she had been visiting, he was always done and dusted by the time she arrived. The inference? That the small matter of a murder had held him up on June 3.
The searches went on for Ryan, his distraught family left with no idea what had happened to him.
Life went on for Quirke. He tried to get back with Ms Lowry and convinced her to spend a night with him at Fitzpatrick’s Hotel in Killiney, south Dublin, in January 2012.
She told the trial she did not want to be there, got drunk, and left early the following morning. “We didn’t rekindle our affair,” she insisted.
In March 2012, over the St Patrick’s Day weekend, Ms Lowry met Flor Cantillon and they started dating.
By now the relationship between Ms Lowry and Quirke had soured.
He began badgering her for money, insisting she should compensate him for the infection to his cattle.
In August 2012, tragedy was visited on the Quirke family when Quirke’s son Alan died in a farming accident.
Two weeks after the funeral, Quirke confronted Ms Lowry and accused her of not supporting him, complaining: “After all I’ve done for you.”
He may have been angry but he was still interested in Ms Lowry.
In December 2012, Quirke was caught on CCTV snooping around her home.
She had set up CCTV after her house alarm repeatedly went off and now here was Quirke on camera, peering in her windows, taking underwear from her line, checking her post box, and using a key to open her front door.
Gardaí arrived, reacting to the alarm, but Quirke disappeared only to re-emerge once they had gone.
Ms Lowry already believed Quirke had stolen her passport from her house, preventing her from taking a planned family holiday.
For her, this was the end.
Considering the Quirke family was still grieving, she did not want to be too harsh and asked a solicitor to invite Quirke to terminate his lease at Fawnagowan, for both their sakes.
After initially demanding compensation, Quirke agreed to just leave.
He was to be out by early July, which meant the clock was ticking.
Quirke could not leave the body where it was because the next person to farm that land might want to reopen the dairy and would almost certainly open that tank to find out if it could still be used or repaired.
On April 29, 2013, Ms Lowry had a final run-in with Quirke.
She bumped into him and called him “some c**t” and berated him for taking her “knickers” from her line. Quirke was now feeling vindictive.
The following day he staged the discovery of the body, telling gardaí he needed water to agitate slurry in one of the sheds.
He thought the old run-off tank from the dairy would contain water because a leak from the mains some weeks earlier had run into it.
He used a shovel to prise open one of the slabs just far enough so he could push through a pipe from his suction tanker.
He said he watched as the water level went down and then noticed something peculiar in the tank.
He used his hands, he said, to push aside the second slab and saw what he now knew to be human remains.
During the search of Quirke’s home in May 2013, gardaí seized computers and hard-drives.
Supt Patrick O’Callaghan, the senior investigating officer, had predicted they would find searches related to human decomposition.
He was right. On the same day that Quirke was caught on CCTV snooping around Mary Lowry’s yard, he searched for “human body decomposition timeline” and looked at various articles relating to how the body decomposes after death.
In the months prior to that, he had carried out similar searches and also looked at an article about DNA evidence and its limitations.
When gardaí asked him about those searches, he told them his son had recently died in December 2013.
But gardaí established that he had looked up decomposition prior to his son’s sudden death. Quirke’s web of lies was breaking apart.
In garda interviews, Quirke denied having any role in Ryan’s body ending up in the tank and questioned why Ms Lowry was unclear about whether it took 10 minutes or two minutes for Ryan’s van to leave her driveway the morning he disappeared.
He asked gardaí how she found his van so quickly later that day and wondered why she searched for the van on a route she had no reason to think he would have taken. He also wondered how she saw the van from the road.
“I found it strange,” he said. He further tried to point suspicion at Ms Lowry by saying she knew about the existence of the tank.
But there were bigger issues to overcome. Quirke told gardaí he had not opened that tank since 2008.
On April 30, 2013, he used a shovel to prise open one of the slabs just far enough so he could push through a pipe from his suction tanker.
He said he watched as the water level went down and then noticed something peculiar in the tank.
However, engineer Michael Reilly found the tank was porous and incapable of holding water.
That April was a dry month so there was no way the tank contained more than a few inches of sludgy water.
Also, when Quirke prised the first slab open, his view into the tank would have been severely limited.
It also became apparent that some weeks before the “discovery” of Ryan’s body,
Quirke had secretly opened the tank to check on the remains.
In doing so, he inadvertently allowed flies into the tank. They laid eggs and an entomologist would later identify larvae on the body that showed there had been a single fly infestation at least 11 days and probably some weeks before April 30, 2013.
In anticipation of his departure from the farm, the theory, not revealed in court, is that Quirke opened the tank, believing he would find a skeleton.
The intention, gardaí believe, was to move the remains to another location, perhaps his own farm.
“He had done his research on the computer,' said a garda source.
"He thought he would be opening that tank and, finding a skeleton, that he could bag it up, throw it in his jeep and take it over to his own place.”
In the end Quirke would have to revert to plan B – staging the discovery of the body and attempting to put Ms Lowry in the frame for murder.