AS IRMA Mali shifts from youthful confidence one minute to distraught confusion the next, you can hardly recognise her as one of Ireland’s top models.
Normally polished and very much the statuesque Lithuanian beauty who has taken the catwalks of Ireland – and beyond, to Paris, Milan and London – by storm, she sits at the table of a central Vilnius restaurant with her head in her hands.
She plays nervously with the 20 or so bracelets on her right arm, visibly struggling with the realisation that the first love of her life – the father of her daughter – is dead.
But his is no ordinary death, and the curious circumstances in which it happened are looking more sinister by the day.
Given that she has only just buried Marius Simanaitis – a martial arts expert and personal bodyguard to some of Ireland’s
wealthiest businessmen – she is understandably ill at ease. After all, this is the first time she has spoken publicly about
anything other than her modelling career.
Painfully shy by nature, she is fully, albeit reluctantly, aware that since her relationship with Script singer Danny
O’Donoghue became public earlier this year, she has been thrust into an unwelcome limelight of sorts.
But the suspicions around 28-year-old Marius’s death won’t let her be silent. She must speak out, she is convinced, for
the sake of his family and the Garda’s ongoing investigation into his death. It merited little more than a few paragraphs in
a newspaper report just over a week ago, and it was suggested that Marius, who was not named in the article, had
committed suicide by shooting himself in the head.
His body had been discovered at 6.30am in an apartment near the Phoenix Park on March 11. He had died from a single gunshot to the head.
The pistol – which had been fitted with a silencer – was found firmly clasped in his hand. He was in the company of at least two other people and a large quantity of drink had been taken.
For Irma, the trauma was compounded by the way she found out. The shocking news didn’t come in the form of a polite
knock on the door from an apologetic garda. Instead, it came in a text message hours later from mutual friends, who have known each other since their teens.
Trembling nervously, Irma – who moved to Ireland with Marius more than six years ago – said: ‘They simply asked if I had heard. I hadn’t.
‘Finding out your ex-boyfriend is dead by text message is a very painful experience and I just didn’t believe it. I called his
brother and he came over with friends.’ What deeply troubles her is the suggestion that he could kill himself. As to the
possibility he could have been murdered, she cannot even bring herself to talk, let alone think, about it.
But his family are in no doubt he was murdered and even believe – because of what they have been told by witnesses
who stopped by Marius’s flat on the night he died as well as the accounts given by the last people to see him alive – that
his killer may actually have been a hitmanfor-hire from the internet, chillingly called Absolut after the vodka of the same
Donatas Simanaitis, Marius’s older brother and president of a respected Lithuanian martial-arts federation, said: ‘There is
more to my brother’s death than meets the eye and I will not rest until I find out what happened and who was involved.
‘There is no doubt in my mind he was murdered. He didn’t just have a gunshot wound to his head.’
According to the family, Marius had severe bruising and a fractured skull to one side, a gunshot to the other, and defensive wounds on his
hand. Of course, the hand wounds could have pre-existed due to the fact that Marius, as stated, was a keen martial-arts
Irma, whose surname is a shortened version of her family name, Malinauskaite, came to Ireland when she was 18, from
her home town of Alytus, near Vilnius.
She and Marius – who had recently been planning to return to Lithuania to go into business with Donatas – had been dating for some time. He got offered ‘a good job’ and left for Dublin. She, naturally, followed.
They set up home together and, three months after moving, she fell pregnant.
In 2003, she gave birth to Nikoleta. At the time, the couple were living in the north inner city, on Parnell Square.
He was working as a security guard and she was employed as a cook, though she took on occasional modelling
Two years later, Irma – who had been modelling in Lithuania since she was 13 – walked into First Option modelling
agency in Dublin and was signed up on the spot.
By 2007, however, she and Marius had run their course and the couple parted.
The split was amicable and she made sure he received plenty of access to Nikoleta.
Irma’s modelling career took off and, last year, she was cast in the video for an up-and-coming rock band called The
The band’s lead singer, Danny O’Donoghue, was instantly smitten and they began, to use his phrase, ‘ courtin’. Last November, Dubliner Danny, 25, and
the statuesque Lithuanian were pictured after the Cheerios Childline concert, heading to the after- party in Lillie’s
They arrived at the star- studded bash arm- in- arm and were then spotted out together again the following month, at the
U2 Christmas bash in Bentley’s.
Now the couple are extremely close, and O’Donoghue has been extremely supportive during Irma’s fortnight of trauma.
While she knows that her relationship with the Meteor Award-winning star – whose band have enjoyed a No. 1 album here and in Britain and seem set to crack America next – will push Marius’s death further into the limelight, she is also
determined not to let that cloud the key question: how did her first love end up dying in a Phoenix Park apartment, shot in
the head with a silenced pistol?
Irma is trying to be strong for herself as well as six-year-old Nikoleta but she finds it hard to articulate the thought that her ex-partner was murdered.
Nevertheless, she is adamant he did not kill himself..
‘ I don’t want to believe he was murdered because of any implications that this realisation brings,’ she says carefully, ‘but
one thing I do know is that everything I know about Marius from our time together says he was definitely not the sort of
person to kill himself.’ ‘For a start, he was always very happy and positive, and had such an open, optimistic and
ambitious outlook on life. In all my time with him, he never showed any signs of depression whatsoever. He did not have
a dark side or a part of his character that I could not understand. He was an open book. I trusted him.
‘Secondly, he was devoted to his daughter. He adored her and was not the sort of person to forego his responsibilities.
‘He was utterly devoted to her.
‘Thirdly, in all the time I have known Marius – and I have known him since I was 14 – he has never taken drugs, never
been convicted of any crime and I have never known him to be associated with criminals.
‘I can understand that, because we are Lithuanian, there might be some narrow-minded people who will jump to
conclusions but he was one of the good guys.
‘I cannot believe he was found with a gun because I never saw any guns when I was with him. And yes, okay, he was a
fighter and whatever connotation martial arts has for people is one thing, but he was also a sportsman.
‘So, too, might be any connotation some might associate with security guards in general and bodyguards in particular but
if I did not believe he was anything other than what he was – a fit, strong, hard-working, decent guy – I would not say it.
‘I have lived my own life since we split more than two years ago and, as much as I loved him and stayed in touch with
him, if I suspected he was involved in anything unsavoury, I would say so. But he was a decent man.
‘I cannot bring myself to entertain too many thoughts about what did or didn’t happen because I have to be strong for
Nikoleta as much as for myself.
‘He only ever wanted the best for me and for our daughter. He was never a jealous man and we have led separate lives
for some time now.
‘If anybody thinks there is any relation between his death and my relationship with Danny, they are wrong.
‘He had his own relationships and plans for his future. We once planned a future together but we just grew apart. These
‘Danny has been great. He has been very supportive but I do not think it is appropriate for me to bring him into this
situation,’ added Irma.
‘To be honest, I am just very confused right now, and reality just hasn’t sunk in yet. I am taking each day as it comes.
‘I have told Nikoleta that daddy is gone but I cannot explain everything to her. This is partly because I do not know myself but also because she is just very scared and doesn’t really know what to make of the situation.’ Marius was found in the early hours of Wednesday, March 11. The Friday before his death was the last time
Irma had spokes to him. Tears welling in her eyes, she insisted: ‘He was his normal self. He mentioned he was going to
Lithuania to meet up with his family.
‘It was normal for him to do that. I didn’t ask too many questions because it all seemed so normal, and I certainly don’t
think he was trying to tell me anything or say goodbye.
‘We talked all the time, although usually about access and when he was coming to see Nikoleta or take her somewhere.’
Donatas, however, is convinced Marius’s death was murder – not least because of the apparently conflicting accounts by
people who were in the flat on the night he died.
He said: ‘I have heard three versions of what they say – he committed suicide after they went to bed, he lost in a game of
Russian roulette or he was just fooling around with a gun and it went off by mistake.’ Bristling with grief-stricken anger,
Donatas added: ‘I wish they would make their minds up.
‘I wish also somebody would answer a few key questions – like why there were no powder burns on his face.
Why was the pistol still in his hand when he was discovered and where on earth did the gun come from? ‘Where is all the
money he was going to invest in the partnership with me? He had about E10,000 that he said he was going to bring over
and that money is now missing,’ he claimed.
Donatas, who is president of the Lithuanian Bushido Federation, also points to a number of other factors, namely that his
brother was not a big drinker and had never owned guns.
He and his family believe that the severe bruising and smashed skull are not consistent with a self-inflicted gunshot.
Instead, Donatas is convinced, his brother was beaten and shot and his death made to look like suicide.
Irma cannot bring herself to focus on these details in the way that Donatas does. For her, the overwhelming emotion is
‘I miss him, and I am devastated that he has gone,’ she says.
‘I have lost a friend and a former lover but, most importantly, my daughter has lost her father.’