The honeymoon murder in paradise…so who killed British newlywed?

The honeymoon murder in paradise: A bride strangled and dumped in the bath, a husband falsely accused of sado-masochism and two hotel cleaners cleared by a jury…so who killed British newlywed?

  • Michaela McAreavey was murdered on her honeymoon on island of Mauritius

It’s been 12 years since the piercing cries of a heartbroken husband resounded through the halls of a hotel on the island of Mauritius at the horrific discovery of the love of his life dead in a bathtub.

But residents on the quiet tourist island, known for its pristine waters and sandy beaches, still remember vividly the details of the chilling cold case that sent shivers through their spines.

It was on 10 January 2011 that John McAreavey’s romantic honeymoon with his new bride Michaela, 27, turned into one of nightmares as he discovered her lifeless body in a bathtub. 

His hands shaking, John had pulled her cold body from the water and pleaded for her to wake up but it was too late – the love of his life had been murdered 12 days after they were married, strangled to death in what police had believed was a botched burglary.

The nightmare for John ensued and within hours of discovering the lifeless body of Michaela, a teacher from Ballygawley in Northern Ireland, he was strip searched and thrown into a police cell where he was falsely accused of sado-masochism before being released without charge.

John and Michaela’s family were again left reeling a year later after the two hotel cleaners accused of murdering the former beauty queen after she discovered them trying to steal jewellery from the couple’s hotel room were sensationally acquitted.

And now, nearly 13 years on, there are still no leads in the case and her family are still searching for answers over who exactly killed Michaela, the daughter of the high-profile Gaelic football manager Mickey Harte.

John McAreavey and Michaela Harte on their wedding day at St. Malachy’s Church, Belfast on December 30, 2010 

A picture taken on January 11, 2010 shows a bungalow (C) at the Legends hotel where Michaela McAreavey was strangled in Grand Gaube in Mauritius

Avinash Treebhoowoon, 30, (right) and Sandip Moneea, 42, at the Supreme Court in Port Louis, Mauritius, on day 11 of the trial of Michaela  

The horrific murder made headlines across the paradise island and the couple’s native northern Ireland alike – and sparked a long and botched police investigation that would ultimately prove fruitless. 

John and Michaela, who had met in a pub in Belfast as students and fallen in love five years before the tragedy, arrived at the five-star Legends Hotel on January 8 2011 on the second leg of their honeymoon after flying out to Dubai.

They had driven the nearly two hour journey from the international airport, through large swaths of sugar cane plantations and past fruit sellers, to reach the luxury gated resort on the island’s northern coast. 

The adoring couple, still on a high from getting married ten days earlier at St Malachy’s church just outside of Michaela’s home town Ballygawley, attended a briefing on what activities they could indulge in during their planned seven-day stay.

And two days later on the morning of January 10 2011, John, then 30, decided to take advantage of the popular honeymoon resort’s golf course, while Michaela went for a swim in the pool. 

The couple later met at the hotel’s restaurant for lunch before Michaela decided to pop upstairs to their room to fetch biscuits to go with her cup of tea. But after 45 minutes and no sign of Michaela, John became concerned and went upstairs to look for her.

The panicked husband, heart now racing, rushed to room 1025 and had to get a bell boy to open the door for him when there was no answer.

But when the door opened, John was met with his worst nightmare. He found his wife motionless in the bathtub as water poured from the tap. 

‘Michaela was cold,’ John would later tell the trial of two men accused of his wife’s murder, his voice cracking as he told the jury how, with shaking hands, he lifted her out of the bath and placed her on the floor below.

‘Her lips were blue and I kept on saying “Michaela, Michaela, wake up, come on”. Then I could see this mark on her neck.’

John, wracked with grief, screamed for help as he tried in vain to revive his best friend – but it was too late, Michaela was already dead. 

A post-mortem would later show how the 27-year-old had been strangled to death, with several bruises visible on her neck.

Chaos ensued and the start of a controversial police investigation began. In the hours after the murder – a critical point in any investigation – blundering detectives allowed hotel guests and staff to trample over the crime scene while their own officers neglected to wear anti-contamination suits as they worked in the room.

The nightmare for John did not end there. Within hours of making the horrific discovery of his wife dead in the bathtub, the talented Gaelic footballer was arrested; handcuffed; strip searched and left alone in a police interview room for five hours. 

As he wept over the loss of his wife, John said an unsympathetic officer told him: ‘What are you crying for? You’re young, you’ll get another wife.’

It was not until midnight that an exhausted John was released from custody after Mauritius detectives eliminated him as a suspect after it was proven he was at the restaurant at the time of his wife’s murder.

Mauritian police investigators work at the scene of a crime at the Legends Hotel on January 10, 2011 where Michaela McAreavey, the daughter of a top Irish sports personality was strangled while on honeymoon near Port Louis

Mortuary workers carry a coffin containing the body of Michaela McAreavey in Port Louis 

John McAreavey and Michaela McAreavey on their honeymoon in January 2011 

Detectives then turned their attention towards the theory that Michaela had been strangled to death after she walked in on a pair of burglars who were trying to steal the couple’s jewellery and money. They believed the burglars had left the tap running in the bathtub to make Michaela’s murder look like a suicide. 

Police said hotel records showed that someone gained access to the newlyweds’ room using a false electronic key card at 3.42pm on that fateful afternoon, two minutes before Michaela walked through the door to look for biscuits.

A search for the person who used the key card ensued and the next morning detectives arrested Avinash Treebhoowoon, a room attendant, and Sandip Moneea, his floor supervisor, alongside three other hotel employees including cleaner Raj Theekoy.

Under pressure, detectives charged Treebhoowon and Moneea with murder on 11 January 2011 on the basis of a supposed confession by the former who said the pair had strangled Michaela ‘to keep her quiet’ after she discovered them stealing.

Police said Michaela, who had taught Irish and Religion at St Park’s Academy in Dungannon, had fought ‘for her life’ against the pair after she was found to have skin tissue underneath her fingernails, which was to be examined.  

As Treebhoowon and Moneea languished in a Mauritius prison awaiting their trial, John and Michaela’s heartbroken brother Mark Harte flew the young teacher’s body back to her grieving family and friends in North Ireland. 

At the time, Michaela’s grief-stricken father Mickey, who had driven the couple to Dublin airport to embark on their honeymoon, said her death ‘was the worst nightmare that anyone can imagine’. 

‘If you think things can be bad, then you go beyond that because that is where we are,’ Mickey said. ‘This is too horrible to contemplate.’ 

On 17 January 2011, his beloved daughter was buried in her wedding dress at St Malachy’s church – the same church she had walked down the aisle to marry her best friend 18 days earlier.

Thousands of mourners, including then President of Ireland Mary McAleese and Northern Ireland’s First Minister Peter Robinson, silently lined the streets of Ballygawley as they watched a tearful John carry his wife’s coffin towards the church.

Before her casket was closed, the heartbroken husband had placed a handwritten love note in Michaela’s hand that was addressed to his ‘precious love’.

On 17 January 2011, Michaela was buried in her wedding dress at St Malachy’s church – the same church she had walked down the aisle to marry her best friend 18 days earlier.

John McAreavey carries the coffin of his wife on January 17, 2011 in Ballygawley, Northern Ireland

Gaelic football boss Mickey Harte (centre), with his wife Marion (second from right) and son-in-law John (far right), followed his daughter’s coffin at the funeral

The order of service for Michaela McAreavey’s funeral mass showed her on her wedding day

But John and Michaela’s family’s anguish didn’t end there. 

On 22 May 2012, the heartbroken husband flew back to Mauritius with Michaela’s brother Mark Harte, his sister Claire and father Brendan for the start of the murder trial of Treebhoowon and Moneea.

They had thought they would finally gain justice for Michaela’s death – but the opposite was true and they were left with more questions than answers following a harrowing and chaotic seven week trial.

The prosecution’s case had fundamentally hinged on Treebhoowon’s confession and the testimony of Raj Theekoy, a cleaner at the hotel who said he had seen the two accused workers walking near room 1025 shortly after he heard a woman scream.

In his confession letter, Treebhoowon, then 31, had told how Michaela had walked into her room and saw him holding her purse. ‘She shouted and told me “what are you doing, what are you searching for”,’ Treebhoowon wrote.

He said Michaela had stopped him from leaving the room and he pushed her to the ground before she spotted Moneea in the bathroom. It was then that Treebhoowon confessed to telling Moneea that they needed to ‘stop her screaming’ before the pair strangled her to death and dumped her body in the bath. 

But during the trial, Treebhoowon retracted his confession and insisted he only signed it at a police station after days of being tortured by officers. He claimed he was repeatedly kicked, slapped, stripped naked and was plunged into a bucket of water until he vomited blood. 

And while Theekoy, who had himself been arrested for conspiracy to commit murder before becoming a state witness, told the court he had seen the pair leaving the vicinity close to room 1025 after he heard a woman screaming, the defence team poked holes in his testimony. 

Indeed, Moneea’s defence team proved that the hotel worker had been on the phone to his sister at the time of the murder with the help of mobile phone records.

The trial took one traumatic turn after another for John and Michaela’s family. The hotel worker’s defence lawyers even accused the widower of sado-masochism – theories described as ‘grotesque’ by prosecutors. 

John broke down in tears after the defence lawyers drew the jury’s attention to a sex guide found in the hotel room and made references to sado-masochism. It was later found that the guide was a free inset from a woman’s magazine. 

John, an accountant, later spoke of couple’s love for each other while giving evidence as a prosecution witness. He said his own life had effectively ended when his ‘wonderful, wonderful’ wife was killed. He showed the jury pictures of Michaela as he described how much he missed her.

‘Michaela was a wonderful, wonderful person, a really special human,’ he said during the trial. ‘She completed my whole life. She was loved by her parents – she was their only daughter. She was cherished by her brothers – their only sister.

‘She had so many special qualities that it would be impossible for me to fully explain how good a person she was.’ 

The court also heard how the police investigation was riddled with mistakes and missed opportunities: they allowed hotel guests to trample through the crime scene after the murder and never tested Michaela’s purse for fingerprints despite Treebhoowon saying in his confession he had rifled through it. 

The blundering detectives failed to interview a German couple who claimed they had seen a man loitering outside the room and they never identified four fingerprints at the scene. 

Indeed, the detectives never found a shred of DNA evidence that linked Treebhoowon or Moneea to the crime scene, including the skin tissue found under Michaela’s fingernails.

The trial had quickly turned into a farce, with Michaela’s family seen visibly distressed as lawyers played up to the crowds in the public gallery, with John’s sister asking those packed in the courtroom ‘to show some respect’ at one point. 

One defence barrister, Ravi Rutnah, was met with raucous laughter with phrases such as ‘we will rock and roll those points later’ before dramatically quitting the case while saying: ‘I’ll be back. In Arnold Schwarzenegger style.’ 

The court even heard false allegations that Michaela and John had been seen arguing shortly before the killing, with the jury shown CCTV footage which the defence implied showed them having a row in the hotel reception. 

However, police later came to court with proof the couple in the video were German holidaymakers who they had failed to interview. 

John McAreavey (centre) and Mark Harte (right), Michaela’s brother arrive at the Supreme Court in Port Louis, Mauritius for the murder trial on 26 June 2012 

Avinash Treebhowoon (C) is seen punching the air after being acquitted of the murder of Michaela on July 12, 2012 

Prosecutor Medhi Manrakhan said in an emotional closing statement that John had suffered failure after failure during the police investigation and trial – from being arrested and left alone for hours in an interview room to being accused of sado-masochism. 

Manrakhan told the court at the time: ‘The person who has suffered the most on all of this, as if he hasn’t suffered enough after the death of the love of his life, Michaela, is John McAreavey.

‘I am duty-bound to speak about the manner in which fingers have been constantly pointed at John McAreavey in the most unbefitting manner.’

After seven gruelling weeks in court, John and Michaela’s family were left reeling after the two cleaners they believed responsible for the beloved teacher’s murder were acquitted after just two hours of deliberations. 

The family stormed out of court after the not guilty verdicts brought them further heartache on July 12 2012, while a swarm of people shouted ‘justice, justice’ as policemen hurried Treebhoowoon and Moneea through the chaotic scenes. Moments later, the defence lawyers were carried aloft. 

But for Michaela’s family, they were left without answers and in utter disbelief at the verdict.  

In a statement following the verdicts, the couple’s families said: ‘After waiting 18 months in search of justice for Michaela and following the endurance of seven harrowing weeks of this trial, there are no words, which can describe the sense of devastation and desolation now felt by both families.’

The verdict inevitably prompted serious questions for Mauritian police over their handling of the murder investigation, including their treatment of John and accusations of torture. 

It has meant that John and the rest of Michaela’s family are still without answers as to who murdered her – and their quest for justice continues. 

It was in 2017 that John returned to the island to make an emotional public appeal for help catching his wife’s killer while offering a £42,000 reward. 

He said he felt betrayed by the justice authorities on the island, accusing them of inaction in the stalled investigation.

It was in 2017 that John returned to the island to make an emotional public appeal for help catching his wife’s killer while offering a £42,000 reward

But now, almost 13 years since John discovered the love of his life’s body in the bathtub, there are still no new leads in the case 

John, who remarried in 2016, said his quest for justice would not end until those responsible were held accountable.

‘Over the past six-and-a-half years our resolve to win justice for Michaela remains undiminished,’ he said at the time.  

‘We believe we have given the Mauritian authorities every chance to deliver on their very public promise that justice would be done. However, until this visit the reality falls far short of that and as the years have passed it appears that the unofficial policy has become one of ‘out of sight – out of mind.

‘But we have no intention of just slipping out of mind or sight. Michaela deserves justice and we intend to get it. We should not have needed to make this very painful return journey.

‘Put quite bluntly, we have felt let down time and time again, and, indeed, feel betrayed by a process that has failed us and Michaela.’

But now, almost 13 years since John discovered the love of his life’s body in the bathtub, there are still no new leads in the case. 

Police have never tracked down the hotel guest who mysteriously left the night Michaela was murdered and her family have been left with more questions than answers. 

It remains to be seen if Mauritian detectives will ever get to the bottom of the decade-old murder, but their endless mistakes during the initial investigation could mean Michaela’s killer will never face justice.

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