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CSI wife killers Ireland

THEY are Ireland's most notorious wife killers -- men whose murder trials gripped the nation and whose evil crimes sent shock waves through the spines of the public.

Brian Kearney, Eamonn Lillis and Joe O' Reilly are all banged up in jail for killing the women whom they shared their lives with.

Kearney and O' Reilly are serving life terms for murder while Lillis was ultimately convicted of his wife's manslaughter. These three criminals share some things in common, but the complex cases that senior gardai built against them were varied in many different ways.

But in cracking these cases, detectives relied hugely on innovations in technology and forensic science to succeed. There can be little doubt that just two decades ago it would have been almost impossible for the gardai to secure convictions in these investigations.

Advances in forensic science, CCTV and the fact that information can be obtained from mobile phones and email mean that gardai are now better equipped to solve serious crime.

There has never been a murder case that received so many column inches as the horror killing of Rachel O'Reilly by her husband Joe at their family home in The Naul, north Co Dublin, in October, 2004. In the weeks after Rachel's murder, the investigation intensified and O'Reilly started to make big mistakes.

Most notoriously, he appeared on The Late Late Show and gave interviews to a number of national newspapers including the Herald.

While O'Reilly tried to play the media, in the background gardai were building a massive case against him. As the media circus continued, officers made 7,000 different enquiries, conducted 5,000 interviews and viewed thousands of hours of CCTV footage.

For the first time, mobile phone and email evidence played a crucial role. O'Reilly had admitted his affair with Dublin advertising executive Nikki Pelley, but claimed this was over at the time of the murder.

Mobile phone evidence would later show that there was a total of 18 communications between Nikki and Joe on the day of the murder, including 58 minutes and 25 seconds of actual talk time -- not the actions of a grieving husband.

More importantly detectives were able to establish that O'Reilly's phone had bounced a signal off a mobile phone mast at 9.25am and 9.52am half a mile from his home -- this was around the time Rachel was murdered.

Previously O'Reilly had told gardai that he was at the Phibsboro bus depot during the time which experts have now placed his phone in north Co Dublin.

And crucially, O'Reilly had also told gardai that his mobile phone was in his possession at all times on the day of Rachel's murder.

Ultimately when the case went to trial, an O2 engineer was able to show the jury what parts of the city Mr O'Reilly was in when he had communicated on his mobile phone, which included being at the Naul when he said he wasn't.

Speaking about the mobile phone breakthrough when the case was finalised, retired senior garda Martin Donnellan said: "This has been a landmark case in relation to the use of mobile phone evidence in a criminal trial.

"It has now been accepted by the courts that mobile technology is tried and trusted and found to have been accurate.

A series of hate-filled emails that he sent to his sister Ann in the months before the murder also revealed the pure contempt that O'Reilly felt towards Rachel.

Gardai got the emails when they seized his laptop, just days after the murder. Included in these emails was Joe's admission that his marriage was effectively over. "Me + Rachel + Marriage = over!!!", he declared in one mail.

In a bitterly sarcastic tone, he called his late wife "The World's Greatest Mum", and even used abusive language such as "c**t" in relation to her.

O'Reilly was truly caught in a cyber trap and gardai knew they had their man and the investigation was also helped by CCTV.

The main result from the CCTV investigation showed a car matching the description of O'Reilly's Fiat Marea near the family home on the morning of the murder.

Eamonn Lillis was jailed for just under seven years in January, 2010, for the manslaughter of his wife Celine Cawley.

Lillis had told gardai that a burglar had attacked his wife and fled through the back garden of his home.

The truth, however, was far more grisly.

Wannabe writer Lillis had killed his wife after the troubled couple became involved in a violent struggle outsider their plush home in Howth, north Dublin, on a frosty morning in December, 2008.

The investigation into Celine Cawley's murder involved a number of key components -- apart from getting and comparing witness statements, gardai also trawled through CCTV and carried out a detailed forensic examination of the house in which Lillis and his family had lived.

Lillis had told officers that he had visited the Summit Stores in Howth to buy a newspaper on that fateful morning and the investigation team made a key breakthrough when they obtained CCTV footage from the shop.

The footage was unusually clear and it showed Lillis wearing a dark sweater, dark runners with a white strip along the sole and of jeans at 8.35am after he had dropped his daughter Georgia home.

Significantly when gardai arrived less than two hours later, Lillis was wearing different clothes.

The big question was why?

A crucial development happened three days after Celine Cawley was killed when gardai searched his family home and found a black suitcase in the attic which contained Lillis' bloodstained clothes in a refuse bag.

A black jumper showed heavy contact staining on the front, there were blood stains on the front of a pair of jeans, and there were light spots of blood on a pair of blue and white striped boxer shorts.

A pair of black outdoor gloves were also heavily blood-stained on the right glove and a pair of blue latex gloves were heavily stained.

All the items tested positive for Celine Cawley's DNA after testing by forensic scientist, Dr Linda Williams.

Dr Hillary Clarke of the Forensic Science Laboratory, who carried out tests on items of clothing and swabs taken from the scene, found the blood and DNA samples had matched Eamonn Lillis and Celine Cawley and no third-party DNA had been found.

The case against him was strong and when gardai analysed mobile phones connected to Lillis, they came across a motive -- they discovered he was having a passionate affair with a masseuse -- a woman called Jean Treacy who originally came from Nenagh, Co Tipperary.

Investigations established that Lillis and Ms Treacy exchanged more than 200 text messages and almost 90 calls in the fortnight before his wife's death.

As gardai built up a full picture of Lillis' infidelity and also studied the forensic evidence which they gathered as well as comparing witness and CCTV evidence, they were also furnished with a post mortem report by Deputy State pathologist Michael Curtis.

He found that she died after suffering three blows to the head -- two of which were dealt as she lay unconscious and face down on the ground.

Lillis was charged with murder but after a controversial and dramatic trial, he was convicted of the lesser charge of manslaughter.

Brian Kearney murdered his wife Siobhan and then staged it to make it look like a suicide at the unhappy couple's home in Goatstown, south Dublin, in February, 2006.

The behaviour of Kearney and the reaction of Siobhan's family to his attempts to paint himself as a grieving husband aroused the deep suspicions of gardai.

But they would need more than suspicions to build a murder case.

The investigation focused on a number of different strands, including examining the marriage, the couple's financial situation and disproving the theory that Siobhan had taken her own life.

Detectives analysed a laptop recovered from the house in Goatstown and discovered Siobhan had been searching websites for the Irish Law Society and the subject free legal aid was accessed from the laptop -- indicating she wanted a divorce.

Other emails showed that Siobhan's frame of mind was far from suicidal just 12 hours before her body was found.

Gardai enlisted the services of a forensic accountant to examine the couple's financial affairs.

She discovered that even though Kearney had a considerable number of assets and on paper he was worth a substantial amount of money, he was in a difficult position in that he was overstretched on borrowing -- divorce would have destroyed him financially.

Perhaps the most important input in the case was that of a mechanical engineer who carried out tests on the flex of the Dyson vacuum cleaner that was discovered on Siobhan's body and established that it could not have held her weight for more than five to seven seconds.

This proved that it was highly unlikely that she committed suicide by hanging herself and backed up the result of the post mortem which showed that three breaks in her neck were consistent with strangulation.

Kearney was ultimately found guilty of the murder of his wife Siobhan at their Goatstown, Dublin, home in February 2006.

He was jailed in 2008 after a jury accepted prosecution evidence that he strangled his wife to death before attempting to make it look like a suicide.

Crime Scene Ireland, published by Paperweight Publications, is available in book shops from tomorrow and retails at €9.99