Locals in Limerick recall ‘quiet’ beekeper who met grim end

Colm Ward


Colm Ward

Grim end: Julia Holmes and Thomas Ruttle
THE funeral of Thomas Ruttle is likely to take place in the coming days after gardai officially confirmed the identity of the 56-year-old Askeaton man who was found dead alongside his partner Julia Holmes earlier this week.

THE funeral of Thomas Ruttle is likely to take place in the coming days after gardai officially confirmed the identity of the 56-year-old Askeaton man who was found dead alongside his partner Julia Holmes earlier this week.

His body will now be released to family members and he is expected to be buried in the family plot in St Mary’s cemetery in Askeaton.

Doubt remains, however, over the fate of Ms Holmes’ remains with next of kin reported as being unwilling to claim her body. Gardai and the PSNI are currently liaising with her family in the North.

Meanwhile, as the community attempts to piece together the events that led to the grim discovery of the two bodies in an isolated farmhouse on Monday morning, locals have been recalling Mr Ruttle, the quietly spoken beekeeper who became the unlikely partner of notorious conwoman Julia Holmes and who was found dead by her side.

A member of a well-known Church of Ireland family with roots in the area dating back to the arrival of the Palatines in the early 18th century, the 56-year-old kept a low profile but was described by those who knew him as quiet and unassuming.

Liam Arrigan, treasurer of the Limerick Beekeepers Association, knew him through his involvement with the association.

“He was a quiet kind of lad. He was involved with the beekeepers for a good few years but for the last couple of years he hadn’t been coming to the meetings,” Mr Arrigan recalled.

Indeed, Mr Ruttle was well known throughout the Limerick beekeeping community. A former chairman of the association, he ran beekeeping courses at a number of locations around the county, including in Crescent College. He also ran a small business supplying beekeeping equipment for a number of years.

“He was very popular and he had a great passion for beekeeping,” Mr Arrigan said.

Like many people, he finds it difficult to reconcile the memory of the quiet country man he knew with the grim picture that has emerged this week. And, like many, he believes that Tom Ruttle may have been easy prey for the manipulative Julia Holmes.

“It’s a terrible sad finish for him anyway,” he added.

Mr Arrigan described the Ruttles as “straightforward Church of Ireland people”, well-respected in the area.

Tom’s father Edward, who ran an agricultural contracting business, died several years ago and it is understood that Tom lived with his mother until her death some years ago. He is known to have previously worked on the Aughinish Alumina plant and was also considered a skilled mechanic. In recent months he had signed up for a Community Employment Scheme in Askeaton. However he never showed up for work on the scheme and attempts by local staff to contact him were fruitless.

It is unclear how he became involved with the woman known as Julia Holmes, though locals believe she came on the scene around 2011.

What seems certain is that she quickly exerted her influence on him; the couple had a marriage blessing ceremony in April of that year and shortly afterwards she told a number of people that she was pregnant, despite being 59 at the time. She later claimed the baby had died.

Soon after she moved into the old Ruttle home at Boolaglass, between Rathkeale and Askeaton, the couple carried out extensive renovation works, believed to have cost in the region of €75,000. Many of the local tradesmen who carried out this work never got paid.

One local woman whose husband was owed over €15,000 described how Julia Holmes became “very bullish and abusive” towards her any time she phoned to seek payment.

However, she describes Mr Ruttle, whom she had known for several years, as “a quiet sort of fellow”.

“I would never have thought he would harm anyone,” she said.

“It is very shocking and very sad. Nobody should end up like that,” she added.

Church of Ireland Minister in Askeaton Rev Keith Scott described the events as “a terrible tragedy”.

He was called to the scene at Boolaglass on Monday morning and performed a blessing on the two bodies after they were brought out of the house in bodybags.

“All of the family are very deeply shocked, terribly shaken and upset,” he said. He described Mr Ruttle as “just a local guy working around the area”.

The picture that has emerged of Tom Ruttle could not be more different from that of Julie Holmes, born Cecelia Julia McKitterick in Co Tyrone in February 1952.

The full extent of her fraudulent activity is still coming to light, but it is known that she was sentenced to 27 months in prison in the United States for a property fraud in which she swindled over $500,000 from a number of people. She was deported to Northern Ireland in 2006 after serving time in prison and in 2009, she pleaded guilty to 22 fraud charges and was jailed for 21 months.

The PSNI has confirmed that she absconded in 2011 after being charged with additional frauds totalling €18,000.

Last month, the Limerick Leader revealed that she was living in Askeaton with Tom Ruttle and operating an award-winning organic honey business Irish Bee Sensations.

Their products won a Blas na hEireann award and the couple were pictured accepting their prize at the awards ceremony.

It has since emerged that the ‘organic’ honey had in fact been bought in supermarkets and repackaged under their own label.

During her time in Limerick, she also posed as a ‘psychic reader’ and conducted readings at a shop in Newcastle West.

At the time, she was operating under the name Julie O’Neill - one of over 40 pseudonyms she is known to have used over the years.

One local businesswoman who dealt with the couple in that time described Holmes as a very plausible character.

“She was a very good con artist because I am fairly astute and good with people, but she was very dynamic and charismatic and I never suspected a thing,” she said.

Of Mr Ruttle, however, she said: “Tom was a gentle person and people who knew him apart from her would only speak highly of him”.

“He was a gentleman who just got hooked into her bulls**t and her lies,” she added.