It began as a missing person search. Michael O’Leary had failed to return home from work on a wet January night this year, and his family were concerned.
Then at 8.15pm they received a text message from his phone saying: “I’m so sorry X”. Understandably they contacted police.
Officers began searching car parks and lay-bys around the 55-year-old’s Carmarthenshire home looking for his Nissan pickup. Within hours the vehicle was found in a car park near the River Towy, and despite the atrocious weather conditions footprints were located at the riverbank.
Over the next 48 hours hundreds of locals turned out to help police search for Mr O’Leary, who was a popular character at the local rugby club in Nantagredig. A police helicopter and dog units were brought in.
But the missing person inquiry soon turned to a murder investigation.
The truth was Mr O’Leary had been murdered by one of his best friends; lured to an isolated farmyard and shot dead in a “ruthless” plan to get rid of him. His killer, Andrew Jones, had driven Mr O’Leary’s pickup to riverside car park and sent that text message from the dead man’s own phone in an attempt to cover his tracks and make it look like his friend had taken is own life.
And while family and friends frantically combed the countryside looking for the man they believed to be missing, Jones, who ran his own building firm, knew the terrible truth – he had already destroyed Mr O’Leary’s body on a pyre of wooden pallets, and dumped the ashes in a skip.
Jones and Mr O’Leary had been close friends for two decades, and both were well-know in the local community. The pair had gone on rugby trips together, Jones had attended Mr O’Leary’s son’s stag-do, and Mr O’Leary was due to attend the upcoming wedding of Jones’ son.
But all was not as it seemed.
Mr O’Leary was having an affair with Jones’ wife, Rhiannon – Jones knew about the relationship, and had spent months monitoring the lovers’ communications.
This monitoring including buying a security camera to spy on his wife in the family home. He hid the device in a bedside cupboard in order to try to discover the pass code to her phone as she typed the numbers into her mobile.
He had also synched her phone to an iPad then bought a similar-looking tablet from a pawn shop, disabled it, and switched the devices. When his wife tried to use what she thought was her iPad she found she couldn’t charge it and assumed it was broken. Meanwhile Jones was able to see messages between his wife and her lover on the original tablet.
Police would later find a voice-activated audio recorder hidden under one of the seats of the Audi Q7 car Rhiannon usually used. The device had tape on it, and it is thought at one time it had been taped to the underside of the seat to record conversations.
Mrs Jones would go on to buy a “secret” phone to communicate with Mr O’Leary, a mobile Jones found days before murdering him.
Then in January this year the Joneses’ teenage daughter Cari discovered the affair after hearing her parents arguing.
She was close with Mr O’Leary, and “looked up” to him. The discovery devastated her, and she sent a text message to him reading: “I know everything. I’ve seen the messages. I’d like to thank you for being so disrespectful to my father.”
In the run up to the murder Jones used his daughter to help keep an eye on Rhiannon, referring to the dad-and-daughter pair in a text to the teen as the “dream team”.
Despite knowing about the affair for many months it seems Jones never challenged his friend over it, or told him it had to stop. Instead he hatched a plan to stop it.
On Saturday, January 25 this year Rhiannon and Cari attended a “ladies’ night” event at Nantgaredig RFC. Also at the event was Mr O’Leary, and CCTV footage showed him talking to Rhiannon at the bar, before her daughter intervened.
At one point in the night Jones sent his daughter a text message which read: “Update please.” Cari responded: “It’s fine.”
Meanwhile back at home, Jones was moving pallets around his yard in preparation to burn his victim’s remains.
The following day as his wife stayed in bed Jones began to use her “secret” phone to text Mr O’Leary, pretending to be Rhiannon by mimicking the words and references usually used in exchanges between the lovers. It seems the pretence was enough to fool Mr O’Leary. Posing as Rhiannon, Jones arranged to meet his friend for a “cwtch” at an isolated property he owned called Cyncoed Farm in Cwmffrwd on the evening of January 27. There he intended to kill him.
Jones calmly went about his normal business on that Monday, visiting clients and employees, and going to the bank in Carmarthen. Those who dealt with the 53-year-old reported nothing untoward about his behaviour or manner. But throughout the day he continued texting Mr O’Leary pretending to be Rhiannon.
Once back home that afternoon he armed himself with a gun from his collection of firearms – a Colt .22 rifle – then at 5.28pm he set off in his wife’s Audi for the rendezvous. He left his phone at home but took Rhiannon’s “secret” mobile from which he continued to message Mr O’Leary.
Jones arrived at Cyncoed Farm just before 6pm, parking the Audi in the yard where Mr O’Leary would be able to see it, placing a lit torch in the static caravan at the site, and then concealing himself behind a large waste bin armed with the gun.
The ambush was set.
Following directions sent by Jones Mr O’Leary arrived at the farm just after 6.20pm, driving up the lane and into the yard. When Mr O’Leary got out of his pickup and walked towards the caravan, Jones shot him dead.
The killer then wrapped the body of his victim in a plastic sheet, and used a forklift truck to put the body in the back of the Audi – having first removed the dead man’s shoes.
Jones loaded a bicycle into the back of Mr O’Leary’s pickup, put on his friend’s trainers, and drove the Nissan to a spot in Capel Dewi known as fisherman’s car park. There he sent the text to members of Mr O’Leary’s family before walking to the river bank and throwing the phone, car keys, and other personal items into the water. He then rode back to Cyncoed on the bicycle, collected the Audi, and drove back to Bronwydd with the body of his friend in the boot. Once home he unloaded the body and hid it under a pile of rubbish in a yard at the property.
The following day – Tuesday – Jones took his wife to Glangwili Hospital in Carmarthen as she wasn’t feeling very well. By now news of Mr O’Leary’s disappearance was spreading in the close-knit community, and concerned friends were messaging each other asking for news. Jones cooly went along with the fiction that Mr O’Leary was missing, all the while knowing his body was wrapped in plastic at his home. He replied to one text about his supposedly missing friend saying: “Big shock. Hope he is in Spain partying or something.”
In the early hours of the following morning he placed Mr O’Leary’s body on top of a pile of pallets in the yard, added fuel, and torched it. The fire lasted for more than four hours. Once it had burned to the ground Jones used a digger to put the ash and debris in a skip, then arranged for one of his employees to take it away and empty it.
On the afternoon of January 29 Jones returned to Cyncoed in his VW Caddy van where he used a brush to sweep up the crime scene. The killer then casually texted a friend asking: “Any news on Mike?” His friend replied: “No, still out searching the area.” Jones put the bike he had used to ride back from fisherman’s car park into the van, and drove home.
As far as he was concerned he had got away with murder.
Police first spoke to Jones on the Tuesday at Glangwili Hospital. As far as cops were concerned it was still a missing person investigation, and they were speaking to people who knew Mr O’Leary.
Jones told them he had last spoken to his friend at a Kidwelly versus Nantgaredig rugby match some time ago, and had last seen him “at a distance” the previous Saturday when he collected his wife and daughter from the rugby club’s ladies night. He told them he knew Mr O’Leary had been feeling down, and was “finding it hard” at work.
Jones said he had heard his friend was missing from texts he had received, and had been told a police helicopter was involved in the search.
Detectives noted that Jones had dried blood inside his left nostril, and a scratch on his chin but at this stage he was not a suspect.
However, within hours police would uncover information which would take the investigation in a new direction.
Police soon found out that Mr O’Leary and Rhiannon Jones had been having an affair – and that Jones had known about it since the previous September. Meanwhile GPS and phone data showed the missing man’s Nissan Navarra had been at Cyncoed on the evening he disappeared, as had a phone belonging to Rhiannon.
Officers spoke to Jones again the following day, again at Glangwili. Jones, who had just spent the previous night burning his friend’s body, changed his story. He said he had in fact seen Mr O’Leary on the night of the 27th. He confirmed the affair between his wife and his friend, and told police he had found his wife’s “secret” phone and used it to arrange a meeting with Mr O’Leary at Cyncoed. He told officers that the men had discussed the affair and he had told his friend it “had to stop”. Jones said both men had been upset following the meeting, and the last he had seen of Mr O’Leary was when he drove away from the yard in his Nissan pickup.
He said he had not mentioned the affair before because he did not want other people finding out about it.
Jones subsequently changed his story again, this time admitting Mr O’Leary had died at Cyncoed but claiming it had been an accident. He said he had taken a gun with him to the meeting to “frighten” his friend, had fired two or three warning shots into the ground to get his attention, and that the weapon had gone off while the pair were scuffling. He admitted trying to make it look Mr O’Leary had taken his own life in the river, and to then burning the body.
This was a version of events he would maintain up to and during his murder trial. It was a version the police had to prove was alie.
In the days, weeks and months after Mr O’Leary’s disappearance the police meticulously built the case against the defendant, and officers would eventually uncover a huge amount of material from forensic evidence through to CCTV footage, text messages, and mobile phone location data.
At the Cyncoed site officers found bullet casings on the ground, and bloodstains on the blades of a forklift while at the bottom of an oil barrel at Jones’ yard in Bronwydd police found a 4in piece of small intestine – the tissue matched Mr O’Leary’s DNA, and it remains the only part of his body ever found. After extensive excavations and sifting through piles of earth at the Bronwydd site tiny fragments of unidentifiable burnt bone were also discovered.
Investigators also found blood a bike at Bronwydd, in the back of the Audi Q7, and on items of Jones clothing – on the hem of a pair of jeans recovered from Jones’ home, on a pair of his trainers, and on a rugby shirt he was wearing.
Police seized eight firearms from the defendant’s home, and found traces of blood and DNA on a .22 rifle.
The blood samples found by detectives were later identified as Mr O’Leary’s.
As part of the investigation police seized and examined dozens of digital devices which produced a wealth of information about the relationships between the trio at the heart of the case.
Police found that Jones had made internet searches for “closest surveillance camera shop”, while his wife had made searches about how to tell if someone was reading or spying on your WhatsApp messages.
They found intimate texts between the lovers, and found a message Jones sent to his wife which read: “I love you so much. You and Mike must be having a giggle about this issue. You can’t stand the sight of me and just want him. It would be better if I just disappeared.”
On January 11 there was a conversation via text message between the defendant’s daughter Cari and her father about the rugby game she was watching at Nantgaredig rugby club which her mother and Mr O’Leary also attended.
Jones sent a message to his daughter asking: “Is he hovering?”
She replied: “No, don’t worry. I’ll let you know if there’s a problem. I’ve passed the point of caring and I’ll put him in his place. I’ve got my eye on him.”
His daughter later sent him a text message which said: “She’s sat opposite me, he’s behind me. He won’t be getting near her. He’s going home now.”
Police also found a message the teenager had sent Mr O’Leary which read: “Hiya Mike, it’s Cari. I’d just like to inform you I know everything. I’ve seen the messages. I would like to thank you for being so disrespectful to my father who you’ve known for years and f****** up my life. You’re nothing but a disgusting selfish man.
“I would hate for your family to feel how I feel. I know you are planning on getting together when dad is away. You disgust me. How you can face being around me when you are doing what you’re doing? To think I looked up to you and respected you.”
Detectives also found Mrs Jones sent Mr O’Leary a message stating that her husband was “playing mind games” with her.
During the course of sifting through the mountains of text and WhatsApp messages it emerged that Mrs Jones referred to her lover as Enfys Mason in her contacts, while he had her listed as Scarlett Davies.
As part of their investigation police trawled through hours of CCTV footage, used automatic number plate recognition cameras to track vehicle movements and timings, and carried out a search of the Pwllfawatkin tip near Pontardawe in the Swansea Valley.
In total there were some two dozen searches carried out at Cyncoed Farm, and 59 searches at Bronwydd including an archaeological excavation.
Police collected a mass of evidence in readiness for Jones’ trial but there was once crucial piece of evidence they could never recover – it would be a murder trial without a body.
Jones went on trial at Swansea Crown Court on September 14, a trial that would last more than three weeks.
It was the prosecution case that the defendant carried out a carefully planned and “ruthless” murder in order to get rid of his love-rival.
Jones maintained that the death had been accidental, that he had only met Mr O’Leary to tell him the affair was over, and only taken the gun to “frighten” the other man. He insisted the weapon had gone off during a struggle between them, and he had never intended to cause his friend any harm.
Prosecution barrister Michael Hughes QC told the jury: “This was no accident. When Mr O’Leary went to Cyncoed expecting to meet Riannon he was met by Andrew Jones. An ambush site, on a cold dark winter’s night.”
The barrister said Jones had “no intention” of talking to Mr O’Leary, but instead carried out a “surprise attack” on his victim.
He told the jurors: “Either Andrew Jones shot Mike O’Leary dead immediately, or he may have shot and injured him and said a few words before shooting him dead.”
During the trail the jurors were presented with the wealth of evidence the police had gathered, from phone data to CCTV to forensics. Detectives were quizzed, and expert witnesses gave evidence about DNA and the effects of fire on the human body. The jury went through page after page of text messages which had been printed out, and made site visits to the key locations in the case – Cyncoed, Bronwydd, and the fisherman’s car park.
The jurors also saw Jones giving evidence and being cross-examined, and saw the weapon which killed Mr O’Leary – at one stage the defendant was handed the gun as he stood in the witness box so he could demonstrate how he claimed he had been holding it went it went off.
Jones stuck to his story that he had not intended to hurt his friend, and that after the gun went off and he then “panicked”.
Asked about the faked river suicide he said: “I was trying to protect his family from his affair anyway and I thought, in panic, that was the best thing to do.”
In his closing speech the prosecutor told the jury that Jones had put in place a “calm, considered plan” to kill Mr O’Leary by luring him to Cyncoed Farm and shooting him before staging his victim’s apparent suicide and then burning the body.
He said: “He would be able to extinguish the threat to his marriage by Mr O’Leary and would remain the only person to have Rhiannon… His own reputation and name would not be further humiliated.”
The barrister said Jones’ actions on the night in question were a “clear, logical plan being put into effect” and that the only reason he had taken a loaded firearm to the meeting was “to use it and to use it to kill Mr O’Leary – to shoot to kill”.
In his closing address, defence barrister Karim Khalil QC told the members of the jury they had to be sure of the defendant’s guilt – if there was other possible or plausible explanations then by definition they could not be sure and could not find him guilty.
He said the idea that the death was pre-planned “simply does not add up” and “the weight of evidence points overwhelmingly away from that conclusion”.
He said: “This death was a tragedy for everybody involved. We say it was not a murder. It was a terrible accident – or at least it may have been.”
Mr Khalil described the events at Cyncoed Farm and their aftermath as “a tragic, an appalling, accident followed by panic and increasingly desperate actions”.
In her summing up and legal directions the judge, Mrs Justice Jefford, told the jury it was for the prosecution to prove the defendant’s guilt so they were sure, and that “nothing less than that will do”.
She said: “The prosecution say Andrew Jones deliberately shot Mr O’Leary, intending to kill him or cause really serious injury. Andrew Jones does not deny being present when Mr O’Leary was shot nor disposing of the body. He says Mr O’Leary died in a tragic accident.”
The judge told the jurors it was Mr Jones’ case that he cannot be sure how the gun went off, nor who pulled the trigger.
She said: “Are you sure that Andrew Jones killed Michael O’Leary by deliberately shooting him, intending to kill him or cause him really serious harm?” The judge told the members of the jury that if they were not sure, they must find the defendant not guilty.
The jury retired to begin its deliberations shortly after lunch on day 14 of the trial. Those discussions continued throughout day 15, and into day 16.
On the afternoon of the 16th day the judge gave the members of the jury a majority direction – she asked them to continue to strive to reach a verdict they were all agreed upon, but said she could now accept a verdict upon which least least 10 of them agreed.
Less than half a hour later the jury returned with its verdict – Jones was found guilty of murder by eleven to one.
Speaking after the verdict Dyfed-Powys Police detective chief inspector Paul Jones paid tribute to the team of officers which cracked the case and brought the murderer to justice.
He said: “The team around me have worked tirelessly to get the case ready for court.
“It took a huge amount of resilience to get through the mental and physical challenges, through the initial search for Mr O’Leary and then as they sifted through material to find each tiny piece of evidence.
“There were so many people involved, teams within teams, and also those not directly involved who kept the force running in the absence of all those who were involved in the case, which shows how strong we are as a force.
“We were well aware of how this case affected the area.
“There was pressure to prove what had happened to Mr O’Leary, to get answers quickly and charge the person responsible so they could be tried.
“Without a body this can be very difficult, you have to build significant evidence to support your theory they had been murdered.
“We were down to the final hours, if we didn’t have the evidence we could not have charged Andrew Jones and we would have had to release him.”
Jones is due to be sentenced at Swansea Crown Court on Monday, October 19.