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Dec. 7, 2022

S15 Ep2: My Aunt and the Hitman [My Aunt Sharon]

S15 Ep2: My Aunt and the Hitman [My Aunt Sharon]

As the investigation into the murder of my aunt, Sharon Birchwood, continued it became clear that she wasn’t killed on the 7th of December 2007 after all.

But in a hoarders home, with piles and drawers full of paperwork, will the police find the evidence that they need to get to the truth?

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Transcript
FP_-_My_Aunt_&_The_Hitman_Part_2_ADS_12.6.22.RX === [00:00:00] Welcome to Foul Play. This is the series, my Aunt and the Hitman. I'm your host, Wendy C, and this is episode two. My Aunt Sharon. In episode one, we heard the nine ninety nine call when Sharon's body was found on the 7th of December, 2007, and learnt what the police found when they arrived at the scene. I want to start this episode by telling you more about my amazing eccentric Aunt Sharon. [00:00:57] She was born on Wednesday, the 25th of May, [00:01:00] 1955 in Farnum Sur. She was the middle child with two older brothers and a younger brother and sister. Her dad, my granddad, worked for the council looking after the street lamps while her mom looked after the house and the. The family lived in a three bedroom, semi-detached council property that was provided as part of her dad's job. [00:01:22] It was a lively and full house. The three boys shared one room while the two girls shared the box room. It was one of those houses where everyone was welcome. Sharon's mum, my nan, loved people. The house was always full to the brim with family, neighbors, and friends. The children would all invite friends around after school. [00:01:42] There was never a dull or quiet moment, but that's what my Nan loved. Nan loved to bake and would always make sure there were rock cakes, goings. And other baked items available for those that dropped by. And if it was dinner time, everyone shuffled around and made space to pull up another chair. [00:02:00] Sharon worked for Surry County Council both on the roads and in the office until her health issues meant she had to give up work. [00:02:09] She met George in 1971 when she was just s. And fell head over heels in love. They married a GRE Green on the 22nd of June, 1978 and moved into Harriet's Lane a few years later. They did not have any children of their own, but Sharon adored her nieces and nephews. You know, there's always that person in your family that's a bit eccentric. [00:02:30] They dye their hair, funky colors. They wear bright colors and patterns and have a larger than life personality. That was my aunt Sharon and oh yes. I think I've now taken over that role in the family. Sharon was one of those people that would light up the room when she entered. She had an infectious gur laugh and was always smiling. [00:02:57] My dad was six years older than Sharon, but in his [00:03:00] police statements he said about his three younger siblings. I don't remember anything specific about them really, just that they were around and re nuisance to me. His younger siblings are, I mean, I can totally relate to this as I'm sure many of you can. [00:03:13] He went on to say, I think one of my earliest recollections of Sharon was when she was about 10 to 12 years old. She was definitely a daddy's girl. I remember when we would play cards with him for. She would often be funded by him. He went on to describe Sharon as a ready, wholesome, good looking kid, not a whiner. [00:03:32] I don't remember her causing any problems. What I do know and remember about Sharon was that she had very strong convictions. When Sharon believed in something, she believed in it. Heart and soul. Phyllis Sharon's friend and former neighbor describes Sharon to a t. Sharon was a larger than life personality. [00:03:51] You knew she was there. She had a wonderful laugh, very friendly, very warm, kind person, and welcoming to anybody. [00:04:00] The moment you would go, she would invite you in and would love to talk. She just loved to talk to people, and I would say she settled in very nicely into Harriet Lane. Very welcome. She was a great charity shop person, went around collecting clothes from all sorts of charity shops and bring all the clothes up to me because she was going to a special event and she wanted to look her best and she would then try them on. [00:04:23] And myself and my husband had to judge exactly, you know, what we thought suited her best. And then she would say, no, would you like this? And she came with a fur coat for me one day and so on. So yes, she. A giving person, oh my word was she flamboyant. She loved quite bright colors and so on, and she once said to us, well, if I went into a room with a thousand people, sure enough they'd know I'd arrive because she was loud. [00:04:48] But in a lovely way, everything was matching. We always said, look at her earrings. The whole, it would all be color toned. And then Phyllis went on to tell me a story about Sharon going to a silver [00:05:00] wedding party. It made me laugh. It really summed Sharon up. When she went with totally top to tail in her silver outfit, shoes, bag, dress, earrings, everything. [00:05:11] And uh, she laughed cuz she said when her brother saw, he said, have you come dressed for the oven, Sharon? Because she looks if she was wrapped in tin foil. I also asked my Aunt Lauren to describe her sister Sharon. She was larger than life, she. The center of attention, the minute she walked in a room, men particularly were very fond of her and would be drawn to her. [00:05:34] She was sort of magnetic. She was very flamboyant. She always had everything matching. So if she was wearing blue, for instance, she'd have blue eye shadow. Blue shoes, blue handbag, everything would go together. And when she had a stick, she would wrap ribbon of the right color round the stick because it was one of those seats that you open up and sit on [00:06:00] and she would make sure that it all matched in perfectly. [00:06:02] She was very, very particular about that sort of stuff. So she was quite particular, she was very naive in some ways, but she was very knowledgeable in other ways. She used to be, Inquisitive. So she would, it would be like being grilled when she asked you questions. She'd just sit in there and it'd be like, somebody would fire all these different questions cuz she wanted to know the ins and outs of everything. [00:06:26] Sharon was a caring person and was absolutely passionate about things she believed in. Phyllis shared with me some of the causes that Sharon fought for when she lived in Arid. She then became much more involved in the community. She worked she well through a mutual friend. She became involved with a friends of the earth, this friend of ours, he started. [00:06:46] Basically can crushing, she would go make cardboard boxes, which then would be put in places like the leisure center, so for people to recycle their cans. And from then on she became involved in the committee with Friends of the Earth, all sorts of rallying and [00:07:00] so on. Would she do so that's, that's sort of one side of her, a great campaigner. [00:07:05] And then there was a proposal to build a motorway right at the end of Sharon's Long Garden. She was furious and was determined to get compensation for herself and her neighbors. When she got a be in her bonnet, she certainly was a force to be reckoned with. Basically when the motorway was first proposed, it was either going our way or another way, but somehow it was coming our way. [00:07:27] And so Sharon had a pretty large garden. They were allowed to buy, they had their own garden and they were allowed to buy some land at the back, but then the motorway was there so it was ever present, a continual war, and we had to put up with it. Sharon was really, you know, upset about that and uh, did her best for us, really. [00:07:45] She was very much, you know, right is right and wrong, is wrong, and, and that's the way she wanted to. We got compensation for three lane motorway. When it became four lane, she was incensed, um, not only with the fact the trees were taken down, but she thought we should have more [00:08:00] compensation, so she went straight to the top. [00:08:02] She was interviewed on, sorry, radio, and sure enough, we got our compensation. [00:08:14] You're listening to Foul Play Crime series from Black Label Podcasting. Let's take a quick break to talk about this episode. Sponsor Talk Space. Using Talk Space feels a little like having a therapist in your pocket. That's why being able to reach out to my therapist or psychiatrist anytime from anywhere makes taking care of my mental health Super easy. [00:08:36] I'm more relaxed when I'm traveling, knowing if I need to talk with my therapist. I can just send a message from wherever I am. Working through things in therapy can be tough, but connecting with my therapist isn't a wholeheartedly recommend talk space for. You can sign up online and start therapy the same day as you sign up. [00:08:55] You can text, video, or send voice messages to your licensed therapist, [00:09:00] so it's incredibly convenient to have virtual sessions from the comfort of your home. Talk spaces is a fraction of the cost of in-person therapy. Instead of waiting for an appointment, you can send unlimited messages to your therapist 24 7, and they'll engage with you. [00:09:15] Five days a week as a listener of this podcast, you'll get $100 off your first month with Talk Space. To match with a licensed therapist today, go to talkspace.com. Make sure to use Code Foul Play to get $100 off your first month and show your support for the show. That's F O U L P A Y Foul Play and talkspace.com. [00:09:40] This episode is also sponsored by next Eva. It's that time of year again where you spent all day working and all evening rushing around to find that perfect gift for those special people in your life. After that, you go home and have dinner. Once you go to bed, you lay awake, trying to figure out where all you have to go and how to get there. [00:09:58] Let's not even [00:10:00] discuss if you have to travel a long distance or. It's no wonder people get stressed out during the holiday. Well, this year I decided to gift myself next, Evo natural c B D products. Next, EVOS Smart. So technology is scientifically formulated to deliver more C, B, D and fast. It can start absorbing in your body in as little as 10 minutes. [00:10:21] Nexto is clinically proven to have four times better absorption. Than other brands. How is that possible? You ask? It's because of the way our bodies process oil based ingredients other brands use compared to water soluble supplements like Next EVO uses. The faster it absorbs, the faster you can relax and fall asleep while the stresses of the day just fades away. [00:10:43] Get smarter C B D from next Evo Naturals and get 25% off subscription orders of $40 or more at next evo.com/podcast promo. Foul play. That's next. evo.com/podcast. Promo code [00:11:00] foul play. [00:11:09] Sharon and George didn't have any children, but Sharon loved animals and treated them like babies. I can remember as a child going to visit her and one of the bedrooms in her house was full of cages of rabbits and Guinea pigs. She loved to care for them and nurture them. She would even take the rabbits out for a walk on a lead. [00:11:28] See, I told you she was eccentric. I wasn't the only person who remembers the rabbits though. Sharon's friend and neighbor Phyllis also remembers. I love this story so much. It really sums Sharon up. Well, the first time, um, I got to know her. Soon after she moved in. I saw this person walking along with a beautiful white LaPierre rabbit on a lead. [00:11:49] The rabbit was called Wolf. And my children, we had a pet rabbit, and they obviously were very keen, and I have photographs of my children taking the rabbit for a walk. And from then [00:12:00] on they used to go across to the house because she had numerous Guinea. In cages in the house. So they had a lovely time over there. [00:12:07] So that's how I first got to know her. Always very friendly. From then on. Has her health deteriorated? Sharon walked with a stick. It was one of those that opened out into a seat so that if she needed to take a break and sit down, she could stop and have a rest. She no longer had a car, so relied on public transport, and George would also give her lifts to and from the station sometimes. [00:12:29] While on the outside, Sharon had always had a smile for everyone inside. She was hurting. Her health was poor, and she was in pain. I asked Lauren about Sharon's health. She had me, she had various health issues, she had high blood pressure. She was just felt safer with having the stick than, and also being able to sit down whenever she wanted to was also important for her to be able to do. [00:12:55] She never complained to general people, but I, I seemed to have that sort of face that [00:13:00] everybody Western blames to me . So yes, we did talk about it in depth quite a lot and how. Suffering and Yes, but she wouldn't have done that in the general way. No. So my beautiful, funny, eccentric aunt was found lifeless, strangled, and tied up under a mount of clothes on her bed. [00:13:21] What a way for a life to end [00:13:26] DCI Maria. Team finished their initial investigation due to the complicated and unusual way that Sharon had been bound and covered. Maria had called the forensic pathologist to the scene to examine Sharon in Cici. She was then moved to the mortuary for an autopsy where the bindings would be removed and an analysis of Sharon's wounds could be made. [00:13:47] Retired. Detective Sergeant Simon Cook describes what was found during the. During the autopsy, they found that in Sharon's clenched hand, she had a postage stamp, [00:14:00] which we could establish, had been torn from a letter that had been delivered on the 4th of December. This was one of the first clues that the police had to the actual date of Sharon's death, a stamp clenched in her hand that had come from a Christmas card. [00:14:16] Sharon had received on the 4th of December from her mum back in 2007. Our postal service was a lot more reliable than it is today, so the police were able to establish the date received from the postmark. Lauren tells me in her own words what she was told at the time. It was a Christmas card from my mom that arrived on that actual day, the 4th of December. [00:14:40] So what a lovely thing for her to. Before the horror of what happened next, the last Christmas card Sharon would ever read the last Christmas card, my Nan would ever send her daughter. [00:14:58] As the investigation continued, [00:15:00] more clues pointing towards the 4th of December came to light, both from inside the house and from house to house inquiries. The police were also trying to establish why someone was in the house. Was it a burglary? Gone? DCI Woodle told me what she found during the investigation. [00:15:18] When I was looking around the kitchen, Sharon had her basket that she'd been out shopping with that day, and her purse was actually laying on the top of the basket. So if somebody was in there to steal something, they'd left that behind. So was it a burglary at that point? I didn't think it had been. She went on to. [00:15:35] But there was a neighbor in Harriet's Lane that had seen Sharon walking up the lane on the 4th of December at about five o'clock-ish. I mean, it was dark, but Sharon always wore a fluorescent jacket. So this neighbor saw her and gave that time. You can tell from this account that Sharon was a very safety conscious person. [00:15:53] It was December. She knew she was likely to get home after dark. The roads around her house were [00:16:00] windy with no pavements in a lot of. So Sharon wore a fluorescent jacket to make sure she was seen. DS Cork was part of the action team who did house to house inquiries. One neighbor had seen Sharon walking down the road, I think it was from Barnett Wood Lane and towards down Harriet's Lane towards the home address, cuz our inquiries revealed that she'd been to the. [00:16:23] So I think she just got off the bus and then she was walking down the road back home. There was a witness who saw Sharon getting off the bus after she'd been to the library and there was extensive viewing of the CCTV of, uh, Gilford Town Center. And Sharon could be seen in various points at the railway station and in the town center. [00:16:43] She wasn't being followed. There was nothing suspicious. The CCTV footage from Gilford station on the fourth of. Showed Sharon wearing the same clothes as though she was found in on the 7th of December. This helped the police to pinpoint her actual date of death.[00:17:00] [00:17:05] At this point, I want to take a moment to explain what Sharon's house was like and how she lived. It will help you to understand that the police investigation was tricky. As I mentioned before, Sharon lived in a three bedroom bungalow, which she had bought with George when they were. The problem was that both her and George were hoarders, and despite being divorced, George still had many of his belongings in the house. [00:17:28] Nearly every room was full of stuff. George's DJ equipment, electrical cables, filing cabinets full of accounts clippings from newspapers. Sharon would scroll on any piece of paper that she could find and keep everything, and I mean everything as an example, while the police painstakingly trolled through filing cabinets after filing cabinet to try to find. [00:17:54] I would get calls as my number was found on all business cards from businesses that I had had years before. [00:18:00] Sharon never threw anything away. I mean, you never know when you might need it, right? DC Deacon describes his first impressions of the house, so we saw this crime scene within a couple of days of the actual incident. [00:18:16] It was very cold, but the place was a mess, a complete. The front room where the, where Sharon was living was warm and reasonably tidy with a set head. The rest of the place was full of junk and rubbish and it transpires a lot. The junk and rubbish belonged to Mr. Birchwood cuz he obviously kept his, his finger in the pie in in regards to the house. [00:18:38] And he was going back there on a regular basis to see Sharon for her to do the work for him. But her bedroom, cuz it was still a crime scene, was in a complete. And obviously where the bed clothes have been piled up on the bed, where she'd been, um, where she'd been placed by the offender. I remember as a teenager going to Sharon's [00:19:00] house and having to clear a space on the sofa to sit down and walking down the corridor with all of the doors to the other rooms closed. [00:19:07] I always thought she was very secretive, but I now know that every room was piled high with stuff. My aunt Lauren confirmed this. I think they were both hoard. She never told any member of the family except myself that she was divorce. And the shard was that he would turn up at birthdays or any celebration he would turn up as if they were still married. [00:19:28] So the whole family just assumed that they were still married, they shared the house, and he had an awful lot of stuff in the house. Everywhere. I mean, the loft was chocolate block. Every single room was full. The only rooms you could get into were the lounge, her bedroom, the kitchen bathroom, toilet. That was the only rooms, and it was a three bedroom bungalow with a separate dining room. [00:19:53] And in my dad's police statement, the state of Sharon's house was mentioned. He said, I was very [00:20:00] aware of how Sharon lived. Her house was not maintained inside or out. No effort had been. And the place looked very much neglected. I visited Sharon at home on perhaps three or four occasions in all the time they were there, although I did call around to see her on other occasions when she was not there. [00:20:16] On one occasion I can remember she had carpets spread out all over the front garden to keep the weeds down. She was quiet, eccentric. The inside of the house is quite unbelievable. On one visit, I remember one of the rooms was full of rabbit hutches and rabbit droppings. I can remember asking my mom what was going. [00:20:34] One of the times I visited, I dropped in on Sharon unannounced. I only went into the kitchen and thought it was quite a bit ti than normal for Sharon. They're still totally unacceptable for other people. The police certainly had a task on their hands. Trying to find evidence in amongst all the stuff that was in the house was like trying to find a needle in a haystack, but tiny step by tiny step, they were getting.[00:21:00] [00:21:00] Thank you for listening to episode two of my Aunt and the Hitman. In episode three, we will learn more about Sharon and George's relationship and the police find more evidence that she was murdered on the 4th of December. We had to build up the rapport with him as far as he was concerned. We were. To find out anything he can tell us about his life, Sharon's life and things like that. [00:21:25] He was there to, to trust me and he took to me rather than my friend, my colleague and I was the one he always phoned up and spoke to when he wanted something or to wish me Merry Christmas and things like that. And so we built that rapport up and slowly but surely he started making mistake. This podcast was written and produced by me, Wendy C. [00:21:48] It was edited by the amazing team at Foul Play and Arc like media. 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.[00:22:00]