A conman who murdered his lover and mutilated her body to cover his tracks has come undone over a single punctuation mark in a text message.

In July 2013, British man David Ryan, 48, was found guilty of murdering Diana Lee, 54, before setting fire to her house in Cranage, Cheshire in August 2012.

Ryan, who is married, cheated Lee out of £60,000 ($A105,000) to cover his “mountain of debts”. Ryan never told Lee he had a wife.

He spent the stolen cash on IVF treatment for his wife, and a number of luxuries for himself including a laptop, a puppy, Armani clothes and new luggage.

But when Lee started asking questions about the money, Ryan decided to end her life.

Lee was bludgeoned to death and found face-down in a wheelbarrow full of wood.

Ryan then dragged her body to the garage, and set four fires around the house in an attempt to destroy the DNA evidence and cover his tracks.

However, the fire failed to spread properly, and firefighters found remains of the woman’s naked body in a wheelbarrow after they were called to attend the blaze.

It later emerged that Ryan had also tried to frame the victim’s lodger, Andrew Leese, by planting her underwear in his room and planting her blood on his antique German dagger.

And he may have gotten away with it – if it hadn’t been for the fake text messages he sent to some of Lee’s clients right after killing her.

In his latest book, More Wordcrime, leading forensic linguist John Olsson explains how an analysis of Lee’s text messages played an important role in revealing Ryan’s guilt.
As Ryan attempted to clean up his murder, he sent messages from the victim’s phone to clients who were scheduled to visit Lee, telling them to stay away from the crime scene, The Times reported.

But analysis showed how the messages were inconsistent with Lee’s usual method of texting. In particular, the fake texts featured two spaces after full stops and question marks, and no space after commas. This was in line with Ryan’s style of texting.

When police confronted Ryan, he initially denied their relationship, but later admitted they had sex on the night of her disappearance. He denied killing her, saying he was watching television at the time of her death.

But police found a large amount of evidence against him, including bloodied footprints in Lee’s home matching the shoe brand worn by Ryan and his DNA was found on her body.

According to the BBC, Mr Justice Henriques said Ryan had a history of borrowing cash from people with “no intention” of paying it back. The court heard he was bankrupt and had racked up £90,000 (A$158,000) in debts.

“You literally bled her dry,” the judge said of Ryan’s relationship with Lee.

“You suffer from the toxic combination of being work-shy and grossly extravagant. Your extravagance knew no bounds. As your friend said, you bought only the best, and then you met Diana Lee.”

The judge concluded Ryan decided to kill Lee when she started questioning him about the money she lent him

“You killed Diana Lee to prevent your spectacular fraud upon her coming to light.”

The judge rejected the defence claim that the killing was spontaneous, saying “if you could have strung her along indefinitely then you would have done so”.

Ryan was jailed for 34 years.

This article was written in partnership with Over60.