Belfast Telegraph

A lifetime of heartless cheating and thieving on an industrial scale

It reads like a film script, but the conwoman's tale of deceit is a real-life horror story for victims

By Ivan Little

Someday, someone somewhere will undoubtedly make a movie about the double-dealing life and bizarre death of Tyrone woman Julia Holmes.

But anyone who watches it will struggle to believe that the tale of the glamorous Ulster granny's astonishing tale of brazen bare-faced deceit and fraud is true - a real-life horror story for her scores of victims around the world.

The three-times married but never divorced mother from Castlederg - who portrayed herself as everything from a Bible-thumper to a pagan priestess - conned her way to a fortune during a lifetime of heartless cheating and thieving carried out on an almost industrial scale.

She didn't steal from the rich to help the poor. Holmes robbed anyone whose eye she could wipe to help no one but her selfish self, with gullible investors and even charities among her favourite targets.

The cocksure 63-year-old cheat, whose decomposing body was found in a Limerick farmhouse along with that of her 'husband' Tom Ruttle yesterday, thought she was invincible, according to police sources here and in America.

She changed her identity so often that even she misspelt her latest alias 'Croein Ruttle'.

Among the other 40 names she used were Dr Watson, Julia Parrish and Julie Greer and she even claimed to be a telepathic High Priestess Witch called Silverlight Ruttle who could stop people's hearts just by touching them

Gardai, the PSNI and the FBI, who had her on their wanted lists, had their work cut out trying to keep up with the ever inventive Holmes. But the PSNI did manage to bring her to book four years ago over a series of frauds totalling over £18,000.

However, Holmes was soon away. She jumped bail after she was charged and electronically tagged at Downpatrick Magistrates Court and a warrant was issued for her arrest by the PSNI, who also appealed to the public for help in finding her, though they thought she may have fled to Galway.

But the 2011 charges were only the tip of her devious iceberg. She had a CV of crime as long as her arm, stretching across the Atlantic from Co Down to Texas, and her 20 convictions were only the cons for which she was rumbled. She was suspected of many more.

Holmes, whose last address in the north was in Ballynahinch, had even been kicked out of America over a scam there. She told potential investors they were sinking their hard-earned savings into property she owned in rural Ireland. Which, of course, she didn't. She said she could guarantee 400% returns on their money. Which, of course, she couldn't.

Only last month newspapers here and in the Republic ran stories about Holmes and warned people not to be taken in by her smiles and promises.

One story said that neither she nor Tom Ruttle had been seen in the area around their base in Askeaton in Co Limerick for a number of weeks.

And only now has the reason for their absence become clear - they were lying dead in the bedroom of the house with a gun close to their bodies, leading police to speculate that the deaths were the result of a murder/suicide.

In April staff on the Limerick Leader newspaper were contacted by a number of people who said that Holmes owed them money for work they had done for a business she ran and others claimed they had never been paid for renovations they'd done on the Ruttles' farmhouse.

One woman was quoted as saying that Holmes was "very bullish to my husband and very abusive to me".

One businessman said the last time he met Holmes in Kinsale in Co Cork she was wearing a wig and she told him she was dying of cancer.

And though it's not clear if she was telling the truth - which police sources claim she rarely did - the businessman said he now had his doubts.

But that was the secret of Holmes' sordid success - her ability to make her 'marks' believe the unbelievable.

Investigators say she was born Cecilia Julia McKitterick in Castlederg in February 1952 and married at the age of 19, abandoning a son who was raised by his paternal grandparents and who has had no contact with his mother.

Holmes is said to have entered America illegally from Canada in 1985 and in Athens, Texas, became a member of the Republican Party, campaigning for prominent politicians and organising a memorial service after the death of Ronald Reagan. She even set up a prayer group and spoke of how her faith sustained her. For what? She didn't say.

In October 2005, however, Holmes - by now calling herself Julia Victoria Parrish after a bigamous marriage - was sentenced to 27 months' imprisonment for fraud and ordered to pay over $500,000 in restitution to her victims.

This forced her to forfeit two cars, 48 acres of land and two bank accounts.

In an interview from her prison cell she claimed it was all a set-up after she fell out with influential people.

She was freed from jail in June 2006 but her 'husband' Clyde Parrish was imprisoned for helping to conceal her activities.

Holmes unsuccessfully fought her deportation, saying she was estranged from her family in Northern Ireland and had no reason to return. However, return she did. And she soon returned to her old tricks.

But after she was charged with fraud and bailed she headed south, where she wooed another man, Tom Ruttle, who became her third bigamous husband - appropriately enough on April Fool's Day, 2011.

Their wedding pictures showed the new Mrs Ruttle posing vivaciously in a low-cut lilac dress and carrying a bouquet of lilies and roses.

Holmes travelled to Liverpool shortly afterwards saying that she was researching a book on psychology.

But her next ruse was one of her most outrageous and earned her widespread publicity in Ireland, though she clearly had no desire to hide her light under any bushels. Her scam - almost literally - was a 'sting'. Holmes re-packaged honey she'd bought in a supermarket and claimed it was wild Irish honey. Her Irish Bee Sensations honey won a series of awards and Holmes beamed happily for the cameras at several glittering ceremonies.

A video still available to watch on YouTube shows her tending to a solitary beehive in what appears to be her back garden. Whoever posted it has tagged it "tending to the bees with a criminal".

Last month Blas na hEireann, the Irish Food Awards, said it was carrying out a major review into the Irish Bee Sensations honey. Holmes' win is still acknowledged on a number of official websites that still haven't rumbled her 'honey trap'.

One of the last exposés about what Holmes was really up to came in April when the Sunday Times reported that she had tried to defraud a charity operating an ambulance service for disabled children across Ireland.

She was said to have offered to arrange a high profile cookery demonstration but the charity pulled the plug after she insisted on collecting cash from the sale of the tickets.

Yesterday's final plot twist in the Julia Holmes story - the discovery of her decaying body - has given rise to speculation as to who killed who at Askeaton.

But one woman who is in no doubt is Holmes' stepdaughter in America, Kimberly Parrish Sanders, who said the woman she knew would never have killed herself.

She said Holmes had made her life a misery and had almost broken her father, describing her as a survivor who did everything she could do to avoid any questions about her past.

Holmes will take many of the answers to her grave but people who were callously exploited by her will be eager to share their stories about the Castlederg conwoman over the next days and weeks. Hollywood will probably be watching.

Belfast Telegraph


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