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Guns, glamour, sex and lies in bizarre plot of a real-life thriller

IT read like a cheap thriller novel or a low-budget flick.

A woman hired a hitman over the internet to murder her wealthy partner and his two sons. But the plot backfired when the would-be assassin demanded a handsome pay-off from his target to cancel the contract killing.

The move unravelled a secret web of lies and deceit and destroyed a plan by the scheming Sharon Collins to claim her partner's inheritance.

The case read more like an elaborate movie script as the 45-year-old's plan was picked apart in a Dublin courtroom.

Her partner had pestered her to have sex with strangers, she once wrote in an email to one of the country's top radio shows.

Within months she was online and using the alias Lying Eyes she set out to find a hitman to wipe out anything that got in the way of getting her hands on the family business worth €60m.

On Hitmanforhire.com, Collins made contact with Tony Luciano -- otherwise known as Essam Eid -- to whom she posted a €15,000 downpayment.

Eid, an Egyptian Las Vegas poker dealer, flew to Ireland with his wife Theresa Engels in September 2006 to kill Co Clare businessman PJ Howard and his two sons Robert and Niall. But instead he tried to blackmail €100,000 from Robert Howard to call off their murders.

Poison

Within hours, Eid was put behind bars and the deadly poison ricin was found in a contact lens case in his prison cell.

The pair were charged and for Collins a world -- which included pretending to be Mrs Howard and living in her partner's luxury lakeside mansion and his penthouse apartment in Fuengirola, Spain -- fell apart.

For seven weeks a jury at the Central Criminal Court painstakingly listened to evidence which followed a trail of 44 pages of emails and phone calls between the two accused.

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Emails were recovered between lyingeyes98@yahoo.ie and Hire_hitman@yahoo.com during which a contract was agreed to kill Mr Howard and his two sons for €66,000.

Their deaths had to look accidental, or due to natural causes, she told Eid.

It was agreed the brothers would be poisoned in their local pub while their heartbroken father would be killed shortly after hearing of their deaths. A push off the roof of the apartment he owned in the Costa Del Sol would be made to look like suicide, they agreed.

But when Eid arrived in the country he told the businessman's son he could buy out the contract.

When detectives closed in on Eid, he said he had been having an affair with Collins, while she denied knowing him.

Collins (45) of Ballybeg House, Kildysart Road, Ennis, Co Clare, denied three counts of conspiracy to murder and soliciting to murder. She was convicted by a jury of all six.

Eid (53) was found guilty of demanding €100,000 from Robert Howard and handling stolen goods -- but cleared of three conspiracy charges and burglary.

Investigations brought gardai to the US and Spain, while 12 FBI agents gave evidence at the trial.

But even as the mounting evidence against the pair unravelled, the Clare businessman stood by his former partner. But his affection, loyalty and trust were to be repaid by betrayal and the most public humiliation imaginable.

Throughout the case, Collins maintained her innocence and denied she was motivated by money or her partner's sexual preferences.

Closing the case for the prosecution, Una Ni Raifeartaigh told the jury that from a distance this may look like a cheap thriller that Collins herself may have written, but this is a tragedy for everyone involved.


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