A notorious conwoman from Northern Ireland and her innocent partner found in a carbon monoxide-filled farmhouse died in a suicide pact, a coroner in the Republic has ruled.
The badly decomposed bodies of fraudster grandmother Julia Holmes (63) and her partner Thomas Ruttle (53) were found by a group of Travellers.
They claimed to have discovered the two corpses in the Co Limerick farmhouse’s bedroom while looking for scrap metal.
The discovery of the bodies lying side-by-side on a double bed was outlined at their inquest yesterday.
A pathological report into the couple’s deaths could not confirm exactly how they died, but Coroner Antoinette Simon said she accepted all of the evidence pointed to a “suicide pact”.
Holmes, from Castlederg, Co Tyrone, was wanted by the FBI and the PSNI for a series of property frauds, and had served time in jail in the US.
Holmes, who was married to two other men when she tried to marry Mr Ruttle, had returned to Ireland and later settled with Mr Ruttle in his farmhouse near Askeaton in Limerick.
The bigamist, whose last Northern Ireland address was in Ballynahinch, Co Down, ran up debts of €70,000 with builders in West Limerick.
Mr Ruttle had no involvement in any of the crimes committed by Holmes, who had falsely claimed she had cancer.
The coroner said she was satisfied Holmes and Mr Ruttle both died of “an asphyxia type death due to carbon monoxide poisoning”.
Sergeant Gearoid Thompson, gave testimony that members of a Traveller family had told him they had been “looking for scrap metal” at the Ruttle farmhouse but instead they “found two dead bodies”.
State Pathologist, Professor Marie Cassidy said there was no evidence of any injuries or trauma.
However, she said that due to the length of time the bodies had lain in the house, any samples were unsuitable for analysis for carbon monoxide.
However, she said no third party was involved and the circumstances of the couple’s deaths were consistent with carbon monoxide poisoning.
Mr Ruttle’s sister, Jane Gardner, wept as she listened to the details.
The coroner said it was “the most tragic of circumstances and saddening of situations”.
Suicide notes left at the house were not read out.
The parents of Mr Ruttle’s former partner later described the details of his death and that of Holmes as “horrific”.
Ted and Pauline Knight — grandparents of Thomas Ruttle’s sons and parents of Thomas Ruttle’s ex-partner Lian Knight — opened up outside Newcastle West coroners court.
Ted Knight described Holmes as a “vile, vile person”.
Pauline Knight described Mr Ruttle, who had worked for her husband for many years, as “a gentleman”.
“He was a very nice man. A great carpenter, great with his hands... brilliant,” she said.
Ted Knight said his former employee had been “a wonderful man”.
“He was a quiet, unassuming man,” he added.
Mr Knight said yesterday’s verdicts meant some form of closure for the family, especially for Mr Ruttle’s two sons, who he said had “went back into themselves”.
“At least now they understand things a little bit better than they did, I think.”
“I think they (have been) in shock. Today I think, clarified a lot of stuff for them.”
Mr Knight said, the last time he saw Mr Ruttle, “he was in great form”.
“He was a lovely guy to be with, a very quiet man, unassuming, no problems...a great man.”
Mr Knight disagreed with any suggestion that Mr Ruttle was a gullible man who was easily taken in by Holmes.
“No. He was his own man. He did his own thing, and he was a lovely chap.”
He said he never met Julia Holmes, “thanks be to goodness”.
Born Cecilia McKitterick in Co Tyrone in February 1952, Julia Holmes used more than 20 aliases as she moved around.
The three-times married but never divorced mother was accused of fraud in Canada, Australia and America, where she spent two years in a Texas jail for defrauding local businessmen - including one of her husbands - out of $500,000.
She was deported from the US after finishing her sentence and returned home.
Holmes faced more charges in 2011 but moved across the border. She met Limerick man Thomas Ruttle online and they tried to marry in 2011, despite her not divorcing her previous husbands.
One of her last scams was passing off shop-bought honey as an artisan product. Bizarrely, her Irish Bee Sensations 'organic' honey won a series of prizes.
In a letter to her solicitor, Holmes asked to be buried beside Mr Ruttle in the Ruttle family plot in Askeaton. No one claimed her body and it remained in the morgue for a week. She was eventually cremated and her ashes were returned to Askeaton by a mystery mourner.