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Dec. 4, 2022

S15 Ep1: My Aunt and the Hitman [Beyond the Grave]

S15 Ep1: My Aunt and the Hitman [Beyond the Grave]

"Are you hoping I die so that you can use the insurance money to sort out your mess"? These words were found on a scrap of paper in the home of my Aunt, Sharon Birchwood, following her murder in December 2007.

But who had murdered my aunt, and why?

The investigation begins.

Written and Narrated by Foul Play's crime writer Wendy Cee.

‌Voiceover help from Trevin @ Live Laugh Larceny Podcast

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FP_-_My_Aunt_&_The_Hitman_P1_RX === [00:00:00] Hello, friend. This season of Foul Play is going to be different. If you've been a listener for a long time, you might remember Wendy from helping me narrate the map season. She has a British accent, if that helps ring a bell. The first time I met Wendy was at Crime Con in Nashville, Tennessee. It was 2018 and Gemma Hoskins and I was there to speak about the Netflix series, the Keepers in a huge room full of hundreds of people. [00:00:36] There was a British lady with bright red hair sitting in the middle of the front row. Later when she came up to me, she introduced herself as Wendy, and immediately we became. In time, Wendy started to help manage the foul play social media accounts, and that eventually led into her helping me work on cases. [00:00:57] I remember the first time we thought [00:01:00] maybe she could give writing a script a chance. After all, I told her if I could do it, anyone could. And boy did she turn out to be one hell of a script writer. Together. Wendy and I have used storytelling and podcasting to weave together many crime stories, but for this story on this season, I'm going to let her take the wheel and weave it herself. [00:01:25] Wendy, I'm proud of you and I always knew the day would come when you'd be ready to share this story. Listener, I hope you don't mind if I take a seat next to you on this one as we hear the story together.[00:02:00] [00:02:23] Are you hoping I die so that you can use the insurance money to sort out. These words were scribbled on a scrap of paper that was found by police as they searched the house of Sharon Birchwood for clues following her murder words that center chilled on the spine of those that read them. Did Sharon have a premonition? [00:02:46] Did Sharon know what was to come? Did Sharon spend her final days scared for her life? Mark Twain once said, truth is. Fiction, but it is because [00:03:00] fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities. Truth isn't the murder of Sharon Birchwood on the 4th of December, 2007 definitely falls into this category. There are more twists and turns than you could ever imagine. [00:03:14] But I know them all to be true. How? Because Sharon was my aunt and this is her story. [00:03:32] Welcome to Foul Play's new series, my aunt and the Hitman. I'm your host, Wendy. And this is episode one, beyond the Grave. As a true crime writer, researcher, and podcaster, I've interviewed many family members and friends of victims of murder. It's never easy. You can see the pain in their eyes as they tell you their story at a far away look. [00:03:55] As they remember the good times and the glistening in their. And the break in their voice as they [00:04:00] tried to hold back the tears. I know how they feel. Seeing my nan crushed by the emotional load that her daughter's murder brought on her, broke my heart. No parent should ever have to bury their child. No parent should ever have to go through what my nan went through. [00:04:16] Every victim matters. Every victim has a family. Every victim has a story. This is the story of Sharon Birch. [00:04:30] I'm going to start by taking you back to Friday, the 7th of December, 2007. Can you remember what you were doing on that day? Of course you can't, but it's a day that I will remember. For the rest of my life. [00:04:53] Hello, Simon? Emergency? Yeah, I have a dead body here. Harriet's Lane in Ashton, please. [00:05:00] What happened? Theret. I dunno if it looks very nasty. She, I think, do you live in this address or you visited this? It's my ex-wife. She's got a call down her neck. Okay. Alright. We're gonna get police on their And [00:05:25] what's her, Sharon and [00:05:31] Graham? George Birchwood known to us as George. Found Sharon's lifeless body at her home in Ash, Surrey, and called 9 99 Surrey Police immediately sprung into action and called Detective Chief Inspector Maria Woodle at home with the report of a suspicious death DCI Wood wasted no time in assessing the situation and mobilizing her major crime. [00:05:56] When I receive the call from the control room, the first thing I check is who's [00:06:00] there? What teams are already on route? What actions have they already taken and have they actually searched the area for a potential suspect? I would've asked for my forensic scene coordinator to go to the crime scene, assess what resources we would need immediately, and also working on for the next few days. [00:06:16] DCI went on to. I think I got the call late afternoon and as soon as I got the call, I left my home, which was just outside Gilford, and traveled to Leatherhead to go to Harriet's Lane. [00:06:33] Harriet's Lane is a quiet, leafy suburb in the commuter belt of Surrey. It is a very low crime area, and most of the homes in the Harriets Lane area are large individual family homes. The Astrid built up areas, character appraisal. From February, 2010, described the area as follows, narrow and close lanes with extensive planting, creating an [00:07:00] almost rural feel that belies location within a built up area. [00:07:04] Some stretches with high head style mixed planting to either side, giving a strong sense of enclosure, torturous lanes, irregular plot sizes, and an informal, almost jumbled layout mixed for a visually interesting varied street scene with new views opening up around every corner. Building styles varied in scale period in materials adding to the visual interest of the area. [00:07:33] No particular style dominating plenty of trees including some large garden and street trees. Adding to the semi rural feel. [00:07:44] Retired. Detective Constable Roger Deacon described the area as Ash did is a very affluent part of Sur. So they, you call it leafy suburbs, which is about right. It's very, very, I won't say posh, but people with a few quid in their pocket [00:08:00] could afford to live there. It was a very, very nice area, very quiet. [00:08:03] Everybody seemed to know each other and would look out for each other. I know it's an old cliche, but it was a very tight knit community around there. Sharon's house was not a large detached family home. It was a small, white detached bungalow with a huge, mainly overgrown garden. It could best be described as one of those houses that you see on a TV program where they buy the worst house on the best street, a real doer upper as an investment. [00:08:29] Sharon and George had bought the house over 20 years before, and it had gradually fallen into disrepair. Money was tight, and those little jobs that were left for another day became big jobs that were outside of their budget. But Sharon loved the house and she was happy. While DCI Wood headed to the house along with her major crime team, uniformed officers attended the scene. [00:08:52] They arrived at 14 Harriet's Lane to find. George stood outside with a mug in his hand drinking tea. Retired [00:09:00] DC Deacon explains how a witnesses handled in this situation. The uniform officers attended the scene originally, who dealt with George. From what I can remember, they basical. Treated him as a, as a witness, as a, you know, a distraught witness and placed him in the back of a police car to make sure that he was okay. [00:09:21] Then eventually took him to R Gate Police Station, and that's where myself and my colleague, we became involved from the major crime point of view. It's hard to imagine what a horrific ordeal this must have been for George popping around Sharon's house as he did several times a week to check in on her walking into the house to find her not only dead but murdered, grabbing the phone in shock and dialing nine ninety nine, shaking and feeling sick as he recounted what he had found. [00:09:51] Sitting in the back of the police car, watching the hustle and bustle of the police as they secured the. The crime scene tape being put up and around the entrance of the [00:10:00] bungalow, the officers searching the garden in case the suspect was hiding the radio in the police cars springing into life at random moments, and then being driven away to Rade Police Station as a significant witness. [00:10:13] The whole time your mind racing the horrors of what you've just seen etched onto the back of your. So not even closing your eyes gives you a reprieve. It's hard to put yourself in his position and understand just how George would've felt that afternoon, unless, of course, George already knew what he was gonna find. [00:10:31] When he arrived at the house, he went to R Gate Police Station, where Mr. Berwood, George Berridge was being looked after by the two uniform officers who, who took him from the scene and it established that he was a, a diabetic. And had to be dealt with, you know, medically and make sure that it was okay that we were sent there to basically to see a witness a very crucial, what we call a significant witness. [00:10:57] And exactly what we did. We went there, um, [00:11:00] met Mr. Birchwood, um, had a chat and it was obviously he was an ill man because obviously his, his color of his skin wasn't quite right and he just, he was ill. We eventually took him to hospital that. to, to be checked up on, and that's where we, we left him that particular night and then went back the next day and started our investigation dealing with, with Mr. [00:11:20] Birchwood. While George was at R Gate Police Station with d Deacon DCI Wooddale arrived at the scene. She describes what she first saw. When I got there, the scene had been secured by the uniform teams that were already there. So I went into the, into the crime scene as it was. At that point, I put on my forensic suit and went into the house, went into Sharon's home to have a look at the scene and make a scene assessment as to what I thought could or could have happened. [00:11:49] I had to decide then what resources I needed, and then I had to start thinking about my lines of inquiry to identify a suspect. When I do a scene assessment, I like to go into the. [00:12:00] Um, I go from room to room, so I make notes. Are the curtains open or drawn? Is the heating on? Is there post on the door mat? [00:12:08] So I then start to look at things I want photographed, things I want seized. So I start to formulate things in my head. Was it a burglary gone wrong? Did it look like Sharon was entertaining somebody before she was murdered? So you are looking at if, are there cups in the sink? Are there signs of normal life? [00:12:26] Was her life interrupt? By surprise or did somebody act, was somebody actually welcomed into the home and then they took advantage and murdered her. As I recall, there were no curtains on the back windows. It was a massive garden outta the back. Um, so as I recall the, the, there was no curtains closed in her bedroom. [00:12:46] They were closed in the living room. Say whoever was in there had probably done something in the living room. But I remember the living room curtains being drawn. Maria walked through the house assessing everything, looking for [00:13:00] clues as to what had happened, making sure the scene was safe and secure, ensuring there was no contamination, and that any evidence could be preserved. [00:13:09] Sharon's body was found in the bedroom, lying on her side on the bed, covered in a mound of clothes, her face peeping out beneath them. Maria describes what she saw as she entered Sharon's bedroom for the first. When I went into the bedroom, Sharon was lying down in her bed, but she was completely covered in clothes that had been pulled out of the wardrobe and just laying on top of her. [00:13:32] I mean, it was a real mound. It was really obvious that it was deliberate. It wasn't that she'd been cold herself and it had. Pulled some extra clothing over. It was absolutely piled on top of her. And at the time, I sort of looked at it and, and thought of two things. One, the curtains, the back windows were open, so you could have walked around the back of the house and just looked straight into Sharon's bedroom. [00:13:53] And also, were they trying to keep the body warm for a bit longer to try and frustrate us, [00:14:00] finding out what time she. The crime scene team removed the clothing that was piled on top of Sharon's body, and it was then that they could see the full extent of the torture that Sharon had suffered. When we removed all the clothing from on top of her. [00:14:16] She was still fully dressed. When I had a closer look. She had both her legs bound at the ankles with duct tape. She had her wrists bound with duct tape, and they were pulled up towards her. And then bound around the back of her neck as well. So securing her hands to her face almost almost like in a prayer. [00:14:36] And then she'd. Electrical cable wound around her neck. And then at the back there was a, a brass, um, magnifying glass that had been used to tighten the cord. My dad, one of Sharon's older brothers, received a call from the police late afternoon on the 7th of December, 2007 to inform him that Sharon had died. [00:14:59] He then had [00:15:00] to tell the family, and of course, Sharon's mum, my nan, initially there was confusion. Nobody really knew what had happened. Howard, she died. We were all speculating. We knew she had ill health. So was it that had she had an accident or a fool, we had so many questions, nothing made sense. We waited for more information and then we got the news. [00:15:23] We suspect that Sharon was murdered, said the police. How do you even begin to process that? I can tell you that for me, my mind went into overdrive. Who, why? What the heck did that mean that anybody else was in danger? Was it someone that we knew? But mainly why? Why? Why? Sharon was one of the kindest gentles people you could. [00:15:52] Surely this was a mistake. Maybe it was a case of mistake and identity. Who would want to murder? Sharon, my [00:16:00] 80 year old Nan, Sharon's mom, who lived alone was understandably scared. How do you even begin to process news like this? Trying to get your head around losing a child and any circumstances must be hard enough, but murder the family mobilized. [00:16:17] We needed to be together. We needed to protect my. She needed to feel safe, so everyone congregated at my house. We were assigned two amazing ladies, Bex and Rachel, who were family police liaison officers. They basically moved in from dawn until bedtime and helped us to try to come to terms with what had happened. [00:16:37] They answered questions where they could. They passed on information from Maria and her team. They made countless cups of tea and. They looked after my other Aunt Lauren, Sharon's sister, who also lived alone. They were amazing and while chaos was all around us, my husband and I tried to carry on life as normal. [00:16:57] We would go to work trying not to listen to the [00:17:00] radio in case the news came on and they talked about Sharon. Trying to avoid the shops because every newspaper had a photo on the front cover trying to pretend like this was all just a bad dream. And then we would come home to a house full of people to Becks and Rachel sitting quietly in the corner in case we needed them to the family sitting around trying to make sense of all this. [00:17:24] And to my nan, my poor Nan, just sitting in the chair looking so frail and old. Her hurt was silently breaking as she tried to deal with what was happening. And day by day, more details came out about what exactly had happened to Sharon and the horrific details of her death. But we still didn't know why. [00:17:45] And maybe more importantly, who. [00:17:54] Thank you for listening to episode one of my aunt and the hitman. In episode two, we learned more about [00:18:00] Sharon and the investigation into her murder continues. Sharon was a larger than life personality. You knew she was there. She, she had a wonderful laugh. Very friendly, very warm, kind person, and welcoming to anybody. [00:18:15] The moment you would go, she would invite you in and would love to talk. She just loved to talk to people and, um, I would say she settled in very nicely into Harriets Lane. Very welcomed. This podcast was written and produced by me, Wendy C. It was edited by the amazing team at Foul Play and Arc like. Any profits made from this podcast will go to Friends of the Earth and Refuge, both charities that were close to my Aunt Sharon's heart.[00:19:00]