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Sunday 15 December 2019

Victims' web hunt for con woman Julia Holmes 'was closing in fast before death'

People owed thousands by Julia Holmes were closing in fast, demanding she serve time for embezzlement in the north, writes Jim Cusack

Julia Holmes' decomposed body was found last Monday
Julia Holmes' decomposed body was found last Monday

Jim Cusack

A concerted internet campaign designed to expose multiple swindler Julia Holmes may have precipitated her suicide pact with her last victim, Limerick man Thomas Ruttle, gardai believe.

Hundreds of bloggers, including victims and others who participated in the online campaign, had effectively cornered the woman who had spent the last 40 years creating multiple aliases and carrying out an array of separate frauds.

Suicide by poisoning seems to be the most likely cause of death of the couple, whose decomposed bodies were found by suspected burglars last Monday night at Mr Ruttle's home near Askeaton in Limerick, gardai believe.

Mr Ruttle's legally held shotgun was in the house but was not discharged. Gardai found no spent cartridges and the couple were said to have left suicide notes.

Julia Holmes and her partner Tom Ruttle
Julia Holmes and her partner Tom Ruttle

Holmes had been claiming to suffer from cancer in the past year but gardai and local people believe this was a ruse to evade paying debts.

Born Cecilia Julia McKitterick from Castlederg, Co Tyrone, she appears to have been alive on April 22, when she made a last entry on a social media site. There is no indication yet of the exact time of her or Mr Ruttle's death but both bodies showed levels of decomposition consistent with death taking place about a month before they were discovered.

Gardai are expected to prefer charges of trespass against the three men who broke into the house at Askeaton and then called gardai after discovering the bodies together in an upstairs room in Mr Ruttle's home.

Read more: Queen Bee's honey sting before her tragic end

The scene near Askeaton on the Rathkeale road where the bodies of Julia Holmes and Tom Ruttle were located at 3am on Monday
The scene near Askeaton on the Rathkeale road where the bodies of Julia Holmes and Tom Ruttle were located at 3am on Monday

Holmes (63) had as many as 40 aliases during her criminal career, which began some time after she left Tyrone at the age of 19, abandoning her husband and a newborn son. Last week, the son indicated he did not want to be associated with his mother's funeral arrangements and offered sympathy to Mr Ruttle's family and to the many other people his mother had defrauded and abused over her lifetime.

Holmes was wanted by the PSNI in connection with an £18,000 (€25,000) fraud she perpetrated in Northern Ireland in 2009. She absconded in 2011, while facing more charges, and is believed to have met Mr Ruttle (56), who was a separated father-of-two, via social media. Gardai now believe Holmes had effectively been cornered by victims and their relatives who had been carrying out a concerted online campaign to have her exposed and extradited back to Northern Ireland to face imprisonment.

The campaign began around the time she was first exposed as a fraudster in Athens, a small town of just 17,000 inhabitants in east Texas in 2004. By the time she was jailed in Texas, a sizeable online 'community' intent on exposing her was in existence.

It is not known how she made her way to east Texas but it is believed she first travelled to Canada after leaving Northern Ireland in 1982. It is believed she travelled through the US using a series of aliases before arriving in Texas and meeting another separated father-of-two, Clyde Parrish. At that stage she was claiming to be a psychologist and called herself 'Dr' Julia Watson. She married Parrish bigamously and adopted his surname, becoming Julia Victoria Parrish.

Undated handout photo issued by the Police Service of Northern Ireland of Julia Holmes. Photo: PA
Undated handout photo issued by the Police Service of Northern Ireland of Julia Holmes. Photo: PA

Read more: Council to face the bill for fraudster's funeral after son refuses to bury her

She attached herself to the local US Republican party, Athens being in the heartland of what is known as 'Bush' country because of its close ties to the Bush political and business dynasty.

In 2006, she was convicted of perpetrating a fraud over the sale of non-existent property rights in Ireland to Texan business people. The fraud became a federal matter, and the FBI instituted a prosecution with Holmes facing up to 20 years' imprisonment and a $250,000 (€230,000) fine. She took a plea bargain in return for a 26-month jail sentence and sequestering of property she had acquired through her scams. Clyde Parrish was prosecuted for misprision of felony - concealing information from investigators - and was sentenced to six months in prison. Family and friends in Texas maintained that Mr Parrish was manipulated by Holmes, but victims of the fraud maintained he was complicit.

Holmes was deported from the US on completion of her sentence and returned to Northern Ireland. She began using different aliases again, and became involved in multiple frauds, swindling goods and services valued at £1m (€1.4m) over a three-year period resulting in her prosecution and sentence of 21 months' imprisonment in October 2009. She was facing further charges and imprisonment in 2011 when she disappeared from her then home in Ballynahinch, Co Down.

It is not clear how she met Mr Ruttle, but she appears to have moved in with him and began using his surname around two years ago. She contracted a local builder to carry out extensive renovations of the Ruttle home at Boolaglass and is said to have refused to pay €70,000 for the work, claiming over the past year to be suffering from cancer.

Her last scam involved the repackaging of supermarket-bought honey and attempted involvement in charities including the respected children's ambulance service Bumbleance which failed to result in any fraud after the reputable charity became suspicious and demanded verification.

During her career she repeatedly insinuated herself into social and charitable groups which attracted often wealthy retired people. Her victims in Texas included a local retired doctor whom she persuaded to part with almost $400,000 as part of a bogus investment in land she claimed to own in Ireland. She appeared to have been aware of the boom in property prices at the time in the Republic, and persuaded people she had met through the local Republican Party and charities to buy into the bogus portfolio she had created.

Read more: 'She worked her magic and destroyed my life' - man conned out of €54k by fraudster Julia Holmes

Her activities in Texas sparked the internet campaign to expose her, and this was subsequently joined by many of her victims and unknowing associates in Northern Ireland, causing her to move to Limerick.

At one stage, it appears that more than 200 people were actively networking and pursuing her on various websites. The most recent activity on these sites contain considerable detail of her frauds, and messages of annoyance that she was not being extradited back to Northern Ireland to face another term in Hydebank women's prison in Belfast.

Her last attempted fraud was mounted against the Saoirse Foundation children's charity when she allegedly attempted to arrange a cooking demonstration by the unwitting TV chef Neven Maguire at €25 a head for donors in March this year in Dublin. Mr Maguire was not involved in any way with the alleged attempted fraud, and participated in the charity night.

Holmes was last using the alias Julia Croen (or Croein) Ruttle while operating what she described as her Munster-based 'artisan' honey company, Irish Bee Sensations.

She managed to persuade the Irish Food Awards to recognise her brand and the company said last month it would be conducting a review. Holmes even claimed semi-magical qualities for her honey which generally originated in eastern Europe.

At times since her release from prison and deportation from the US, Holmes delved into the quasi-mystical arena of angels, mythology and 'cures', an area frequently targeted by con artists.

Tom Ruttle, locals say, was a quiet, unassuming and lonely man who apparently fell entirely for Holmes' machinations. He had lived alone after his marriage break-up and had cared for his mother, Eileen, after his father died. A brother and sister live in England.

Mr Ruttle ran a farming contracting and repair business and was highly regarded. Local people said Ms Holmes appeared 'out of the blue' two years ago and settled with Mr Ruttle, claiming to have had their 'union' blessed by the Church of Ireland.

She began the total renovation of the house but refused to pay some bills. She recently began wearing wigs to suggest she was suffering hair loss from cancer treatment.

Mr Ruttle is due to be buried in the family plot in Askeaton. No arrangements have been made for Ms Holmes's funeral. She has had no links with her family since 1982.

Sunday Independent

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