At a quarter past eight on a wet Monday night in January this year, Michael O’Leary’s wife and three adult sons received a text saying “I’m so sorry x” after he failed to return home from work.
It prompted a huge search and rescue operation in his home village of Nantgaredig which lasted more than 48 hours.
When the 55-year-old’s Nissan Navara was discovered on the banks of the River Towy in Carmarthenshire, and imprints of his trainers were found leading towards the water, it was assumed he had taken his own life.
But for some, alarm bells began to ring – now, after a “superb investigation” by Dyfed-Powys Police, local man Andrew Jones, 53, has been convicted of his murder.
Friend Hywel Rees said the text messages were an early sign that something was not quite right.
“Mike would not have written a message to his family in English,” he said.
“He would have sent a message in Welsh.”
Mr Rees knew Mr O’Leary well through Nantgaredig Rugby Club – he also happens to be an experienced former chief inspector.
“We went off on the Lions’ Tour to Australia in 2013 and he and I were sharing a room and he was great company,” he said.
“He was a hard working man, he was a family man and he thought the world of his boys.”
When word spread through the village on 27 January that club stalwart Mr O’Leary was missing, people assembled at the clubhouse unprompted to search for him.
“There were so many involved,” said his friend, the actor Julian Lewis Jones. “Everyone came out because that’s the amount of love and respect there was for Mike.”
Hundreds searched the area on Tuesday and Wednesday under the direction of Dyfed-Powys Police and a mountain rescue team.
But on Thursday 29 January police stopped searching, and the village was rocked by devastating news.
Andrew Jones, one of Mr O’Leary’s best friends, and a well-known figure at the rugby club, had been arrested on suspicion of murder.
“It was one hell of a shock. We’re all friends,” said Hugh Harries, chairman of Nantgaredig RFC.
Jones and Mr O’Leary were part of a group of close friends who went on holiday together regularly.
They were also among “five or six builders” working free of charge on the rugby clubhouse’s extension, according to Mr Harries.
“Andrew did the plastering and Mike did the footings,” he said.
Dyfed-Powys Police first became interested in Jones when they spoke to him at Glangwili Hospital the day after his friend’s disappearance.
His wife had been admitted to the hospital the previous night suffering with “memory loss” after “falling out of the bed”.
He told detectives he last saw Mr O’Leary “at a distance” on Saturday night when he picked up his wife and daughter from the rugby club, but added that he knew he had been taking “anti-depressants” and was “finding it hard” at work.
Detectives noted however that Jones had “dried blood” inside his left nostril, and a “scratch” on his cheek.
That night, unbeknown to police, Jones burned Mr O’Leary’s body on a pile of wooden pallets in his builder’s yard behind his home.
He used a digger to put his remains in a skip, and arranged for one of his unsuspecting employees to remove it the following morning.
The next day, detectives discovered phone records which showed not only that Jones’s wife Rhiannon had been having an affair with Mr O’Leary, but that Jones had known about it since September 2019.
They also discovered that both Mr O’Leary’s phone and a phone connected to Rhiannon Jones had been at one of Jones’s properties on the night of the disappearance, a remote “lock-up” in Cwmffrwd called Cincoed Farm.
He was questioned again later that day when his story changed.
He admitted luring Mr O’Leary to Cincoed Farm to confront him about the affair by pretending to be his wife, but claimed the father of three had “driven off” unharmed.
The following day Jones gave an official statement to Dyfed-Powys Police before he was arrested.
“Have you found Michael then?” was one of only a few comments he made to the arresting officers.
His Bronwydd Road property was searched and officers seized phones and eight firearms, including a Colt .22 rifle.
As part of their investigation, police examined CCTV of the the area and spotted an unusual sight: a cyclist wearing a high-visibility jacket and “building-site clothing” travelling between where Mr O’Leary’s vehicle was found and Cincoed Farm.
On 3 February, Jones was formally charged with Mr O’Leary’s murder. From this point until the trial, he refused to answer any questions detectives asked him.
Over the course of the next few weeks, Dyfed-Powys Police undertook the painstaking task of searching both Jones’ builder’s yard behind his home in Carmarthen, and Cincoed Farm.
Slowly, a picture of what happened to Mr O’Leary began to form.
At the farm, police found bullet casings on the floor, bloodstains on the blades of a forklift, and a bloodstained pushbike. This blood was later found to be a match for Mr O’Leary’s DNA profile.
On 14 March, police made an even more crucial – and gruesome – breakthrough.
At the bottom of a rusty oil barrel at Jones’s yard on Bronwydd Road, they found a 4in (10cm) piece of small intestine. The tissue’s DNA profile matched Mr O’Leary’s. It remains the only part of his body ever found.
After excavating and sifting through an enormous amount of earth at the yard, tiny fragments of unidentifiable burnt human bone were also discovered.
Mr O’Leary’s blood was found on a pair of jeans discovered in Jones’s home, on a pair of his trainers, on a rugby shirt he was wearing and in his Audi Q7.
At Jones’s murder trial, evidence of his “careful and ruthless planning” became clear.
In 2019 he bought a security camera to spy on his wife in the family home, which he used to discover the passcode to her phone in order to read her messages.
In January, Jones’s teenage daughter Cari discovered her mother was having an affair after she heard 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 Mr O’Leary: “I know everything. I’ve seen the messages. I’d like to thank you for being so disrespectful to my father.”
He replied: “All I have to say is I’m sorry for what I have done. I will make sure I keep my distance. I’m deeply sorry for the hurt I have given you.”
Jones then used his daughter to “spy” on her mother, while he quietly planned his murder.
On Saturday 25 January, CCTV at Jones’s home showed him moving pallets around his yard in preparation to burn one of his best friend’s remains.
That night, while a “Ladies’ Night” event was held at Nantgaredig RFC, more CCTV images showed Mr O’Leary talking to Rhiannon Jones at the bar, before her daughter intervened.
The mother and daughter argued that night, and Jones said his wife then realised the damage the affair had done, and asked for his forgiveness.
Jones then stole his wife’s secret phone which she used to communicate with Mr O’Leary, and began texting him pretending to be her. He arranged to meet up at his remote lock-up in Cwmffrwd on Monday night.
When Mr O’Leary arrived at Cincoed Farm expecting to see Rhiannon Jones, he was “executed in cold blood” by her husband.
Jones then wore Mr O’Leary’s trainers, put the pushbike in the boot of his Nissan Navara and drove it to the banks of the River Towy, where he sent apparently suicidal messages to the O’Leary family.
He then cycled back to the murder scene, used a forklift to place Mr O’Leary’s body in the boot of his wife’s Audi and drove back to his yard on Bronwydd Road.
He hid the body under a rubbish pile in his yard, before burning it the next night.
Jones told the court he had only lured Mr O’Leary to Cincoed Farm to “frighten” him, and that he had died in a “tragic accident” when they struggled over his rifle. He claimed he then panicked and destroyed the evidence.
The jury dismissed this story. Prosecutor William Hughes QC told Swansea Crown Court this was a “carefully considered ambush”, and that the destruction of Mr O’Leary’s body was carried out “ruthlessly”.
In more than 30 years working for the police, retired inspector Hywel Rees said he never secured a guilty verdict where there was no body.
“The technology of mobile phone tracking, CCTV, DNA and all of the forensics, they’ve improved so much,” he said.
“In five days they’ve brought this case together which was a seemingly impossible case and charging Andrew with murder. I think it was a superb investigation from Dyfed-Powys and they deserve high praise for it.”
For Mr Rees, Andrew Jones comes “on top of the list” of dangerous criminals.
“It wasn’t a crime of passion, it didn’t happen instantly. He planned it,” he said.
“Somewhere there are parts of Mike to have a funeral with dignity and compassion and the proper funeral, and without him apologising, coming forward and showing some remorse, we can’t move on.”
To his friends, Mr O’Leary will be remembered as the “life and soul” of the village and the rugby club.
“He was lots of fun, he was full of it,” said Mr Harries.
“He’d help all the time. Anything that needs doing, Mike would be there.
“He was good fun, a good person to be with.”