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Saturday 25 November 2017

'Headhunter' dies on day deal finalises

Jerome Reilly

Jerome Reilly

A Canadian collector of macabre objects who bought the purported head of St Vitalis of Assisi -- the patron saint of genital diseases -- at an auction in Co Meath earlier this year died suddenly on the day the sale was completed, it has now emerged.

The decapitated head was sold by an Anglo-Irish family from Co Louth to Billy Jamieson, a TV personality and tribal art collector, based in Toronto, who paid €3,500.

Mr Jamieson died on July 3, the same day the cheque paying for the artefact arrived at the offices of Duleek Auctioneer Damien Matthews.

Mr Jamieson was due to front an upcoming series on the History Channel in Canada called Headhunters.

He died suddenly on his 57th birthday at his home.

During a life of exploration he went on frequent expeditions to the South Pacific, collecting rare artifacts, oddities and curiosities -- most notably real human shrunken heads.

He also worked as a consultant for the National Geographic Society on their educational series about headhunting, human sacrifice and cannibalism.

His condominium in Toronto was a museum of macabre artefacts, and he was known for throwing Halloween parties -- though he was respected as a scholar.

In 1999 he bought the Niagara Falls Museum, which had fallen into disrepair but featured nine Egyptian mummies.

After selling the artefacts on to a museum in Atlanta, Georgia, it was confirmed that one of the mummies was that of the missing Pharaoh, Ramses I. The artefact described as "priceless" was later repatriated back to Egypt.

Mr Jamieson bought the severed head believed to be that of St Vitalis after a Sunday Independent story on the sale attracted international attention.

St Vitalis of Assisi was an Italian Benedictine monk from the 14th century who was said to have lived an immoral and licentious youth before turning to religion.

In an attempt to atone for his early sins, he later undertook pilgrimages to shrines throughout Europe, eventually entering the Benedictine monastery at Subiaco.

After leaving the monastery, he lived the remainder of his life as a hermit near Assisi.

He died in 1370, and word of his sanctity soon spread due to reports of miracles performed on those with bladder and genital disorders.

Auctioneer Dermot Matthews, who sold the artefact to Mr Jamieson, said: "He was a great guy. After he bought it we spoke on the phone a number of times. He was a fantastic character.

"The cheque arrived on July 3 and I found out later that was the day he died. I have spoken to his widow and we are trying to sort out what to do with the head of St Vitalis. It is still here," he said.

Sunday Independent

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