Wednesday, 6 April 2011

'Stranger Than Fiction' by Abigail Rieley

Back in May 2008, during the trial of Sharon Collins & Essam Eid, it was a running joke among journalists and court staff that it wouldn't be long before Hollywood came knocking. It was clear from the time the jury was selected that this was going to be a trial unlike any that had come before the Irish courts in a very long time. When one of those accused is an Egyptian-born poker dealer, who had been working, until his arrest, at on of the most famous casinos on the Las Vegas strip you know the story is going to be special. When the prosecution barristers outlined the facts of the case, with a lurid murder plot, seedy sexual allegations made to RTE's Gerry Ryan Show and home made Ricin poison, there was no doubt this was going to be good, very good. This was always a case with literary aspirations. Sharon Collins, the Clare woman accused of hiring Eid, through the website to kill her partner PJ Howard and his two sons Robert & Niall, had always talked about the mysterious Maria Marconi. Marconi, according to Collins, offered Internet writing classes but Collins found herself on the receiving end of a nasty blackmail plot. Maria Marconi has proven illusive, to say the least. The FBI found no trace of her, no official paper trail proving birth, marriage, taxation or home. Several private investigators sent by the ever faithful Mr Howard have also drawn a blank. The only thing certain is that Sharon Collins has the writing bug. When I told her during the trial that I was writing The Devil in the Red Dress she told me she too planned to write her experiences down.Eid seemed more content to be the inspiration. During the trial he used to joke that he wanted Al Pacino to play him in the big screen version of his story. We all used to play at who would play who in the movie. Well now it's a game everyone can play. I was delighted to hear that Michael Duke Productions have bought the film and drama rights for Devil in the Red Dress. The company has bought the infamous domain to use in any future marketing. The story itself has further to go. Eid is set to take centre stage in the near future. Extradition proceedings have started to send him back to America to face charges for another internet hit scam. This time the “femme fatale” is an accountant called Marissa Marks. She's also facing charges of hiring Eid through the website. The case has already been picked up by the American media, so I'll be watching where it goes from here with interest. I can't help wondering whether American court reporters who turn up for the first day of Marissa Marks' trial in LA will have the same reaction I did when I heard heard the details of the case. I wrote about Marissa Marks and her “victim” Anne Lauryn Royston in the book. By the time I was writing, Eid's former lover and partner-in-crime Theresa Engle was already serving her eight month sentence for her part in that case. Court documents tell a tale just as bizarre as the Irish arm of the story and once again, no one was physically hurt. But despite the convoluted details of both cases it was a short lived crime spree, with only a couple of weeks between the two so-called hits. There were times writing the book when I almost forgot I was writing a true story. It's definitely one where the truth is stranger than fiction. Seeing Eid in the dock again has a strange air of unreality, as if my characters have come to life. But that was always the case, even when the first trial was going on. By the time it came to an end prosecution barrister Una NĂ­ Raifeartaigh felt it necessary to remind the jury this was not for entertainment. It's easy to forget when chuckling over the more lurid facts, that three people's lives were threatened and two families have been torn apart. I know that the plan with the film is to use my book as the basis for a fictional retelling of the story. I'm looking forward to the day when I can sit in a darkened cinema and laugh at the absurdities along with everyone else.

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