Michaela McAreavey was strangled over a purse containing a small amount of cash, it was revealed tonight.
As the body of the 27-year-old newlywed began its journey home, detectives on the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius said the burglars-turned-killers she interrupted in her hotel room were rummaging for a purse.
The price over which the teacher lost her life emerged after police told reporters that one of the three hotel workers charged in connection with the murder had confessed.
It is understood that room attendant Avinash Treebhoowoon, 29, admitted the crime to officers after one of his co-accused and fellow room attendant Raj Theekoy, 33, made a statement implicating him and the third accused, floor supervisor Sandip Moneea, 41.
Treebhoowoon and Moneea, who are alleged to have carried out the killing, face murder charges.
Police sources believe they returned to rob the room after spotting the purse in the couple’s room while cleaning the day before.
Theekoy, who is charged with conspiracy, is alleged to have passed along the corridor outside the room in the luxury Legends Hotel while the struggle was taking place but, despite hearing screams, did nothing to stop it.
“Avinash Treebhoowoon has confessed,” said a spokesman for the Mauritian Police Force.
“Further investigations will continue tomorrow.”
Mrs McAreavey, who married husband John just 10 days before her death, was the daughter of Tyrone football manager Mickey Harte.
Two of the accused were forced to take part in a reconstruction of the crime at the hotel complex today.
A flight carrying the body of the Irish language teacher was due to leave the island tonight en route to London. Her remains are expected to be back in the Harte family home near Ballygawley, Co Tyrone by tomorrow lunchtime.
It is expected her funeral will take place on Monday at St Malachy’s chapel near the home – the same church where she wed only weeks ago.
Last night, 30-year-old Mr McAreavey described his late wife as his best friend who was the “rock” of his life.
The Co Down footballer said he shared his pain with Mrs McAreavey’s parents, Mickey and Marian, and her three brothers.
“She is a gift from God and I now have an angel,” he said.
“I can’t describe in words how lost I feel as Michaela is not just the light of my life – she is my life.”
He added: “Our hopes, our dreams and our future together are gone. I love my wife, very, very much and my world revolved around her.”
Irish Ambassador in South Africa Brendan McMahon, who is on the holiday island, said it had been extremely painful for Mr McAreavey, whose brother, brother-in-law and father arrived yesterday to support him. They were due to attend a memorial service at the hotel today.
“John is absolutely devastated. It is very upsetting. It’s not an easy situation at all,” Mr McMahon said.
The ambassador said the killing had sent a shockwave across Mauritius, with staff at the Legends Hotel stunned.
Mrs McAreavey was strangled in her room on Monday and her body – discovered by her husband – left in the bath.
It is understood skin tissue found under her fingernails could prove crucial to the police case against the accused.
DNA tests on forensic evidence recovered from her body are due to be completed by the end of the week.
The newlywed fought for her life against her attacker in her room, according to the police.
The three defendants were yesterday remanded in police custody for a week to return to Mapou District Court next Wednesday, when they are expected either to be formally charged or released.
Any future trial is expected to be held within six months.