The following is an edited version of the story about Bill Bussa’s adventures in Lurgan written in 2005 by reporter Graeme Cousins, who had started working for the paper three months previously.
Bill Bussa drew on another cigarette in the Ashburn Hotel in Lurgan, his home for the last ten days.
The 45-year-old from Dallas, Texas said he had quit until recently, but after his recent ordeal in Northern Ireland he was smoking two packs a day.
The ‘MAIL’ reporter who had visited him learnt about that very ordeal from what seemed like an open, honest man bearing the scars from his first visit to the country.
Bill began his story by describing the girl at the centre of the turbulent last two weeks. He met her on the Internet last January. She told him she was 22, from Lurgan in County Armagh and called Shannon Maguire.
According to Bill they talked regularly on the Internet and the phone and exchanged several pictures.
“I’m a hopeless and helpless romantic,” said Bill in response to the question about whether Internet romance was quite risky.
The flights to Northern Ireland cost Bill $800 and his passport $300. Bill flew into Heathrow, rushed to Gatwick then on to Dublin. At no point did he have the chance to change money and this was to prove one of his downfalls.
When the plane arrived in Dublin, Bill collected his bag and went to meet the family with whom he would be staying for Christmas and the New Year, but there was no one there to greet him.
He got the train to Belfast and when he got to Lurgan he checked out the address Shannon had given him but there was no one living at the house in question.
He then phoned the number he had previously been able to contact Shannon on. A girl answered who said she was her cousin Alexandra. She said Shannon was out and so was her mother Madonna.
Bill began to worry and made his way to the Ashburn, a hotel someone on the train had told him to try if he needed somewhere to stay. Unfortunately there was no room at the inn on Christmas Eve. The manager at the Ashburn did promise he would put him up on the Sunday if he could find accommodation until then.
Bill continued: “By now it was 5.30pm on Christmas Eve. I’d been up for 30 hours and just wanted a room. I finally found a hotel in Belfast that took dollars.”
He called Shannon again on Christmas Day and was told by her cousin she’d disappeared.
So desperate was Bill to secure some cash that he phoned the US Consulate but they told him they didn’t consider his plight an emergency. Bill had been wired $700 from his sister but when he did get it changed days later, thanks to exchange rates, he only got half of it.
On the Sunday Bill was able to check into the Ashburn though on the Monday he decided to cut his losses and head back home, only to find he couldn’t get a flight until the following Friday.
He called Shannon again and got an apology from her cousin for her behaviour.
The next day Bill made it on to the Internet and made a discovery that changed everything. He saw that Shannon was online meaning she must be home.
“The way we had talked we were talking about getting married,” he said. “We were so well suited. That was the whole reason I came.”
Bill inundated her with emails asking for an explanation. Then on the last day of the year there was a glimmer of hope when she finally answered one of his emails.
“She said, ‘Please quit calling and emailing me!’
“At least she had started to talk,” chirped Bill. “I still had hope.”
Bill phoned again at around 11pm on New Year’s Eve. This time he got another cousin, Cathy. She told him to forget about Shannon, go to the disco at the hotel and enjoy himself.
At 1pm on the first day of 2005 his tale took another twist. Cathy phoned him to say: “There’s no Shannon.” She told him she would like to meet him and tell him the whole story but said ‘the ones behind it’ would get angry with her.
Bill concluded: “I’m hurt and disappointed. I don’t know what has happened, but whatever it was just went too far. All she had to do was say, ‘Don’t come’ in the first place.
He added: “I haven’t had that bad a time. I met some good people. The bar staff and manager at the Ashburn have been great and some of the guys in the bar have taken me out and got me drunk.”
When the ‘MAIL’ phoned the number given to us by Bill for Shannon a lady answered, who seemed to respond to the name Cathy before denying anyone called Cathy, Shannon, Alexandra or Madonna lived there. She said she’d never heard of anyone called Bill Bussa but seemed interested to learn what the ‘MAIL’ knew about the Texan.