The many lives and strange death of an Irish conwoman

Bodies of Cecilia McKitterick and ‘husband’ Tom Ruttle were found in Limerick this week

 

Tom Ruttle is to be buried in his family’s plot in Boolaglass, the townland near Askeaton, in Co Limerick, where he was brought up. His body was discovered this week alongside that of Cecilia Julia McKitterick, in the farmhouse that the couple shared in Askeaton.

The Ruttle family plot contains a heart-shaped plaque erected to commemorate the death of a baby named Annabella Clarinda Ruttle. An inscription claims that the baby died on December 2nd, 2011, and that she was the “treasured baby daughter” of Tom and Croéin Ruttle, one of Cecilia McKitterick’s dozens of known aliases.

Garda sources say McKitterick claimed to have prematurely given birth to the child, who she said died. We now know that at the time of the claimed birth, McKitterick would have been nine weeks short of her 60th birthday.

It is just one more strange and inexplicable aspect of McKitterick’s life.

Although Tom Ruttle had been estranged from his two adult sons during his relationship with McKitterick, the sons have now claimed him for burial. On Friday McKitterick’s body was lying unclaimed in the morgue of University Hospital Limerick. It appears nobody wants the woman with 40 names.

McKitterick conned people north and south of the Border, and on both sides of the Atlantic, for more than three decades. She continued to deceive up to the time she was last seen alive. Her past had been catching up with her. She faced financial ruin, public exposure and likely imprisonment.

From Tyrone to Texas

Donegal

In 1971, at the age of 19, and still living in the North, she married her first husband. She gave birth to a son the following year but abandoned him when he was an infant and left him to grow up with her parents.

Little is known of McKitterick’s life in her 20s, although some Garda sources say they believe she spent time in London.

In 1982, aged 30, she decided to start a new life in the United States, and entered the country illegally from Canada. She initially settled in Texas.

In 1983 McKitterick married Clyde Parrish, a printing-company owner and recently divorced father of two young girls. The marriage was illegal, as she had not divorced her first husband in Northern Ireland. She moved into Parrish’s home within weeks of meeting him and presented herself to the community of Athens, Texas, as Dr Julia Watson, a psychologist.

She integrated herself into the local community, especially Republican Party politics. She met President Ronald Reagan and was also involved in the Lone Star State Women’s Republican Club.

During most of McKitterick’s relationship with Parrish they sold mobile homes together; he also continued his printing. She also claimed to the Parrish family that she had become pregnant and miscarried twice, although members of the family say Clyde had a vasectomy during his first marriage.

Her relationship with his daughters from that marriage became strained, and the couple moved house more than 10 times. Parrish’s parents once hired a private detective to find them when they moved state, to Arizona. They eventually returned to Texas, where McKitterick canvassed for local Republican politicians. When Reagan died, in 2004, she ran a commemoration service.

Defrauding friends

If they made an initial payment McKitterick would convince her victims that other investors had withdrawn, creating an additional opportunity for them to increase their share of this “lucrative deal”.

To those who questioned her she sent lulling emails, assuring them that they could withdraw at any time and that any delay in receiving the return on their investment was down to short-term problems – and that, besides, the longer they waited the more they would profit.

In 2004 she was convicted of wire fraud, linked to the bogus emails. Legal documents from the United States District Court for the eastern district of Texas show she was convicted and jailed for the frauds and that her husband was also jailed for helping her and for failing to raise the alarm when he became aware of her crimes.

According to the documents the frauds began around July 2002 and continued until December of 2003. They involved five victims, both individuals and couples. Dennis Rose, a doctor, invested $392,000. The four other victims invested a total of $125,000.

McKitterick was sentenced to 27 months in jail, Parrish to six months. She was ordered to pay back the money she had stolen and make good her victims’ losses, and her assets were confiscated to help. The seized belongings included two tracts of land, totalling 48 acres, in Henderson County, Texas, and the contents of a savings account and a current account at the First National Bank of Athens in the name of Victoria J Parrish and Clyde T Parrish.

The Parrishes also forfeited a new Toyota Tundra pickup worth $30,000, a three-year-old Lincoln Town Car – a model popular with limousine companies – a John Deere tractor, a ride-on mower, a tractor-towed rotary grass cutter, and a plough. An aircraft engine and parachutes were also seized, including one attached to a flying go-kart, plus two Rolex watches and a Texas state senate chair that McKitterick had bought at the annual “cattle barons’ gala”.

Cancer, honey, Neven Maguire

Northern Ireland

When she got home she moved to Ballynahinch, Co Down. In late 2010 she met Tom Ruttle – described as a “quiet country man” from a “respectable” Church of Ireland family in Limerick – online. After a brief relationship she moved in with him in early 2011. The couple had a “marriage blessing” in Askeaton on April 1st, 2011.

Having become co-owner in 2012 of the house she and Ruttle died in, McKitterick led their efforts to sell the property at the end of last year. As the sale was being readied, however, they were unable to produce a marriage certificate – because McKitterick was a bigamist. She was also unable to produce a PPS number.

She was facing fraud charges in Northern Ireland when she left. A warrant was issued for her arrest in January 2011, after she failed to turn up at a hearing of Downpatrick magistrates’ court.

She also assumed the name Julia Greer and began posting as a high priestess or witch on Pagan Facebook pages. She told people she was a psychologist and author.

In September 2012 the Police Service of Northern Ireland appealed for help to find her, saying they believed she had been spending time in Galway. It generated some media coverage, and McKitterick began to wear a blond wig, which she explained by saying that she had advanced cancer and was having chemotherapy.

She used the cancer claim in other ways also, recently telling a local builder about a terminal disease in the hope that the company would accept only part payment of a €70,000 bill for renovations at the house in Askeaton.

Shortly after starting her relationship with Ruttle she developed an interest in his bee-keeping. This would prove her undoing. She created a company named Irish Bee Sensations, producing what she said was wild-heather honey from the couple’s bees. Although the honey’s provenance is now in question, the product won a series of prizes, including the Pride of Ireland grand-champion award for “product service and promoting others”. McKitterick was now going by the name Croéin Ruttle (sometimes spelling it Créon or Croén).

In September 2014 the couple attended a black-tie ball at Mansion House in Dublin, where they won an Irish Quality Food Award. Photographs show McKitterick wearing the ill-fitting wig. In some of them, thick black hair protrudes from under it.

They won three more prizes at the Blas na hÉireann Irish Food Awards a few weeks later.

By this time people she had met and tried to defraud in Cos Galway, Clare and Limerick had heard about the PSNI appeal and told the Garda about their suspicions.

The Blas na hÉireann organisers said on April 17th that the awarding of its prizes to Irish Bee Sensations honey was under investigation.

That story appeared alongside reports that McKitterick had tried to dupe Bumbleance, a charity that provides child-friendly ambulances for sick children through its parent organisation, the Saoirse Foundation. She offered to organise a fundraiser in March with the chef Neven Maguire, who she dishonestly claimed was a friend. When the charity stepped in to run the event, and made it clear that McKitterick would not be allowed to collect the money from ticket sales, she disappeared.

The organisation went to the Garda, prompting more reports that clearly put her under pressure; the internet allowed previous victims to expose her to the new people she was trying to con in the final weeks of her life.

She had, for example, offered to sell her organic honey to McCambridge’s delicatessen in Galway. As the relationship grew she bought hampers from the company on credit; she never paid for them.

In February this year, shortly after closing her Bee Sensations social-media accounts, she started a new event business, claiming via Twitter and Facebook to have experience of organising bespoke corporate events.

It’s unclear when McKitterick and Ruttle were last seen alive, and the postmortems have yet to establish a clear date for their deaths; the Garda hopes to use her social-media accounts to establish when she was last active online.

One woman has claimed that she was blocked from a Twitter account that McKitterick ran as recently as April 22nd. On April 6th McKitterick updated a new Facebook page that she operated under the name Julia Ruttle. She had six friends at that point, all of them apparently members of one family from Australia.

The Relationship Status slot read, “It’s complicated.”

Initial reports of the deaths of Cecilia Julia McKitterick – widely named in the media as Julia Holmes – and Thomas Ruttle said they had died in a suicide pact or in a murder-suicide. Later stories said that Ruttle appeared to have shot McKitterick, before killing himself, using a legally held rifle that was found by the bed the pair were found dead in. These were incorrect.

The rifle, which was one of two licensed firearms found in the house, had not been discharged, and there was no sign of gunshot wounds to the bodies or of any physical trauma.

A theory reported since then is that the couple died by poisoning; containers discovered in the bedroom of the two-storey farmhouse were said to be full of poison. Postmortems on the bodies, which lay undiscovered for weeks, have so far failed to establish a cause of death.

The Garda team investigating the case is also exploring if the couple died of deliberate carbon-monoxide poisoning.

A series of handwritten suicide notes found in the kitchen of the farmhouse have led detectives to believe their deaths were the result of a suicide pact. “If you find us don’t revive us,” went one of the messages found among 20 handwritten Post-its and other notes, many signed by the dead couple. Another requested that the contents of the notes be read out at the couple’s inquests.

It appears that McKitterick and Ruttle, who were trying to evade the Garda, the PSNI and duped businesspeople, were simply not noticed to have gone missing.

The alarm was raised only when burglars broke into the house last Sunday night or early on Monday. The gang contacted the Garda and gave directions to the house, which had no heating or electricity.

Murder or suicide? How the couple might have died

Initial reports of the deaths of Cecilia Julia McKitterick – widely named in the media as Julia Holmes – and Thomas Ruttle said they had died in a suicide pact or in a murder-suicide. Later stories said that Ruttle appeared to have shot McKitterick, before killing himself, using a legally held rifle that was found by the bed the pair were found dead in. These were incorrect.

The rifle, which was one of two licensed firearms found in the house, had not been discharged, and there was no sign of gunshot wounds to the bodies or of any physical trauma.

A theory reported since then is that the couple died by poisoning; containers discovered in the bedroom of the two-storey farmhouse were said to be full of poison. Postmortems on the bodies, which lay undiscovered for weeks, have so far failed to establish a cause of death.

The Garda team investigating the case is also exploring if the couple died of deliberate carbon-monoxide poisoning.

A series of handwritten suicide notes found in the kitchen of the farmhouse have led detectives to believe their deaths were the result of a suicide pact. “If you find us don’t revive us,” went one of the messages found among 20 handwritten Post-its and other notes, many signed by the dead couple. Another requested that the contents of the notes be read out at the couple’s inquests.

It appears that McKitterick and Ruttle, who were trying to evade the Garda, the PSNI and duped businesspeople, were simply not noticed to have gone missing.

The alarm was raised only when burglars broke into the house last Sunday night or early on Monday. The gang contacted the Garda and gave directions to the house, which had no heating or electricity.

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