By David Raleigh
Gardai have confirmed members of a criminal gang who broke into a farmhouse and discovered the decomposing corpses of a fraudster and her partner, are not likely to face charges of breaking and entering until the investigation into the couple's deaths is concluded.
The Askeaton gang, who have carried out a string of burglaries across West Limerick, illegally entered the house of Thomas Ruttle in the early hours of Monday morning.
However, the terrified gang alerted Gardaí when they discovered Mr Ruttle's remains and that of Julia Holmes, a con woman wanted by police in the US and Northern Ireland.
This morning, Superintendent Tom O'Connor, who is leading the probe, described the three-man gang as "witnesses" in the investigation into the couple's deaths.
When asked if the men would face charges for breaking and entering, Supt O'Connor said: "That's a thousand miles down the road."
"They are witnesses in this case first and foremost," he added.
Mystery still surrounds how the couple died.
It was first thought they sustained gunshot wounds, when a rifle licensed to Mr Ruttle was found near their bodies, however post mortems ruled this out.
On Tuesday, it was revealed the pair may have died from poisoning and bottles containing liquid and other exhibits were removed by Gardai for forensic analysis.
However, further mystery now surrounds how long the bodies lay at Mr Ruttle's farmhouse at Boolaglass, Askeaton.
Initial reports said suicide letters dated in March were found in the house.
However, responding to reports today that Gardai have ascertained Mr Ruttle made contact with a man in mid-April, Supt O'Connor said: "That's not totally confirmed yet. We are following everything up."
Also, Julia Holmes' cover photograph on her personal Facebook account was updated on April 3, meaning either the 63-year old convicted fraudster was either still alive at the time, or someone else was accessing her account after her death.
Gardaí have still not officially identified the bodies found at the house. However, the families of the missing couple have been told to prepare for the worst. Toxicology tests are still being conducted on the remains, which were found decomposing in an upstairs bedroom at the house.
Meanwhile, the organiser of the charity Bumbleance, which provides a children's ambulance service, said it had a "lucky escape" after Ms Holmes approached the service to organise a cookery demonstration at a school with a celebrity chef.
Tony Heffernan, said: "We did get lucky. It was simply a case, where with our limited resources we did the best we could, and the suspicions arose when we wanted to sell tickets online via the school only."
"When we forced the issue (with Ms Holmes) and wanted our paperwork back, there was a bit of fall out, and that's a mild way of putting it. We were lucky," Mr Heffernan added.