On the morning of December 15, 2008, the upmarket area of Howth, Dublin was rocked by the news that a successful business woman, Celine Cawley, had been killed at her plush house in Rowan Hill. Public sympathy was immediately directed towards her husband, Eamonn Lillis, and their teenage daughter, Georgia. From early reports, it was a case of a burglary gone wrong, a family tragedy. However, it soon came to light that all was not as it seemed, especially not of Lillis, the man whom Cawley loved and adored, the man who was ultimately responsible for her brutal and callous death.
Lillis met Cawley when they both worked at Windmill Lane Studios together. Lillis was an advertising copywriter at the time and had been described by colleagues as being an “oddball” and “withdrawn”. After dating for just over a year, Lillis and Cawley got married and soon after, Cawley fell pregnant with their first and only child, Georgia.
Cawley set up her own production business called ToyTown Films and Lillis became her partner on this venture. However, he was very much seen as the silent partner in the dealings within the company.
They seemed like the perfect family – both were very successful and they lived together in a luxury €3 million mansion in Dublin. However, the picture portrayed to the outside world was very different to what happened behind closed doors.
It emerged that Cawley and Lillis slept in different beds from very early in their marriage. The domestic bliss façade was very much just that. As the Christmas season of 2008 came upon the Lillis household, Cawley and Georgia were getting excited for the coming few weeks of family gatherings, celebrations and future memories being created.
In the background, Lillis was leading a secret life. From phone records found, Lillis had been texting his mistress, Jean Treacy, with whom he had been engaging in an affair with for the previous eight weeks. The ironic part of this love triangle is that Cawley had introduced Lillis to Treacy. After numerous back complaints, Cawley suggested that Lillis see Treacy who, at the time, was a beauty therapist and masseuse. After two years of treatment and meetings, Lillis and Treacy began a lustful and illicit affair which began in the family home.
In court, Lillis blamed the affair on a “mid-life crisis” that he was enduring. He was a 51-year-old man indulging in an affair with a woman 20 years his junior. Both Lillis and Treacy were very careful with both purchasing secret phones and sometimes sending each other blank text messages when informing the other that they were safe to talk. It became evident that this was a relationship that was never supposed to be revealed to the public domain.
Throughout their affair, Lillis and Treacy exchanged over 200 text messages, several phone calls and meetings together. One must not forget that Treacy was also engaged at the time and Lillis was very much aware of this. A note was found amongst Lillis’ belongings in his home which showed his concerns about Jean’s relationship with her fiancée, specifically the concluding line: “You are running out of time.”
On the night before Cawley’s death, Lillis and Treacy had arranged to meet the next day, exchanging texts at 10.57 pm. Who knew that December 15, 2008 would be the day that all of their lives would be irrevocably changed? Of course, it must be noted, before continuing, that the following account is from Lillis’ memory as there were no other witnesses on that fateful morning.
As the sun rose on December 15, all seemed fine in the Lillis household. At 6.45 am, Lillis did his usual 15 minute exercise routine. At 7 am, he made tea for his daughter Georgia and brought Cawley tea in bed. They chatted for a short while before Lillis showered at 8 am. At 8.20 am, Lillis drove Georgia to school, and then briefly chatted to a childhood friend of his.
At 8.35 am, CCTV at the local Summit Stores shows Lillis buying the Irish Times. In the frame of the recording, Lillis was wearing a dark jumper and jeans. This was crucial evidence which pinned Lillis as the killer. He then went home and took the dogs for a walk while Cawley took a shower. Upon returning from the walk, Lillis put out some rubbish bags that Cawley had left out into the main refuse bin before going inside. In the kitchen, Cawley was cleaning ice trays. From here, an argument began which quickly became very heated.
According to Lillis’ account, it was a very trivial matter that caused the confrontation. During this period, insults were thrown at each other before it escalated outdoors. It was there that it became physical. It was a long scuffle, with both Lillis and Cawley being pushed around.
At 9.30 am, a neighbour heard screams coming from the area of Rowan Hill and it is at this stage that it is believed Cawley was attacked. She suffered three blows to the head which, according to a post-mortem, could have been treated but due to the time lapse and the period that she was outside bleeding, a sad, lonely and frightening death ensued.
After beating her with a brick, Lillis was overcome with fear and knew that he had to cover up his actions. He quickly changed out of his bloody clothes into a white shirt and new trousers before hiding his dirty clothes in the house. During a search of the house, gardaí found these clothes and when examining CCTV evidence, the bloodied clothes matched the ones that he had worn earlier at the newsagents.
After attempting to cover his tracks, Lillis went to check on Cawley 30 minutes later but found that she was unresponsive. He proceeded to dial the emergency services, claiming that a burglar had attacked her and fled via the back garden. However, it became clear that Lillis had lied throughout the investigation and he was charged with fatally assaulting Cawley.
An important point to note is that lying and deceit had become part of Lillis’ psychology – he had covered up an affair and he had lied to authority figures in the form of police officers. This tells us that lying was almost akin to a coping mechanism of Lillis’, it was the way in which he seemingly dealt with matters that could prove dangerous for him.
Five days after the assault, Lillis was arrested on suspicion of killing his wife. He was taken to Clontarf Garda Station where he was questioned overnight. He appeared in Dublin District Court on suspicion of murder. He then spent two weeks behind bars in Cloverhill Prison while awaiting bail.
One year later, in January 2010, Lillis reappeared in court on trial for murder. On February 6, Lillis was formally charged with the manslaughter of his wife. He was jailed for six years and 11 months in Wheatfield Prison, just short of a seven year term due to spending one month in Cloverhill Prison previously.
In February 2012, Lillis was involved in a legal battle over assets with the Cawley family. However, this has been resolved with Lillis entitled to a 50/50 share but he must pay the outstanding costs involved with all assets sales.
Then, just last month, Lillis was again making headlines as some of his watercolour paintings went on display at “The Crushed Bull” show at Kilmainham Gaol Museum in Dublin. Lillis is due to be released from jail in 2016, but may even be walking the streets as early as 2015 due to good behaviour.
A number of points can be made from a psychological perspective if we analyse each part of this case. I have no doubt that Lillis had not planned to murder his wife. In their argument, insults were thrown around and once it became physical, there was a danger of someone getting hurt. Lillis clearly lost his temper, became overwhelmed. Something clicked inside him that pushed him to pick up a brick and beat his wife.
Also, the fact that he rang the emergency services for help shows us that he was, in a sense, remorseful for his actions. Of course, it cannot be forgotten that he tried to cover his own tracks first and made sure that he was safe before checking on his wife who was dying outside on a wintry morning.
Cawley was portrayed as a very powerful businesswoman who was kind and generous to those around her. It seems clear though that she was the business head in her relationship with Lillis. He was her partner in their company and he became overshadowed. For some males, this can be quite degrading and perhaps he felt that he was a weaker person in their relationship. Many cases of manslaughter and murders have background stories and huge amounts of planning, but here, I think it was the case of a man who couldn’t cope with his wife’s success in business and all it took was something trivial to push him over the edge. I do not believe he is the type who could be classed as someone who could kill again.
I am by no means condoning his actions and my heartfelt sympathies are extended to all families and friends affected, this is simply my own viewpoint and from reading up on many, many cases involving the tragic and needless loss of life.