In August 2008, a devastating fire raged at a Shropshire mansion. As the flames engulfed Osbaston House, a mystery was sparked surrounding the disappearance of Christopher Foster, his wife Jill and their 15-year-old daughter Kirstie.
What started out as a questionable fire quickly became an apparent double-murder, a suicide and arson investigation that shocked Britain but devastated the families of the victims. As vital evidence went up in smoke before their eyes, the police were faced with a number of conspiracy theories and a frenzy of media speculation about the Fosters’ fate.
With exclusive access to the West Mercia police’s painstaking investigation and interviews with close friends and family members, The Millionaire and the Murder Mansion charted the complex story behind this tragedy which involved pathologists, forensic anthropologists, and arson, ballistics and CCTV specialists.
We heard too how ‘seasoned’ officers who’d attended the scene were so horrified by what they found – especially when they had to remove Kirstie’s body – for many of them, they’ll be haunted by this case for the rest of their lives…
Interspersed with the detail of the investigation were heart rending and emotional interviews with family and friends who provided an insight into the dark secrets and many ‘sides’ of the apparently doting husband and father who committed this horrific crime. Foster, it transpired, was fascinated by fire and guns, was ruthless in business and often with his own family and, as it turned out, in the last days of his life, he’d researched suicide thoroughly.
On the actual night of the fire, Police suspicion quickly became aroused that it was no accident when they found dogs and horses had been shot to death and a box was blocking the drive with its tyres punctured for the purpose of inhibiting rescue vehicles, presumably to ensure that everyone and everything would be obliterated in that house of horrors before evidence could be gleaned.
“It was like a clay oven turning everything to ash” said Detective Superintendent Jon Groves who led the investigation.
This morbidly fascinating documentary revealed that all this was done as a horrifying and premeditated act by Christopher Foster who had shot his wife Jill and daughter Kirstie – both in the head – before going outside to kill the animals in the same manner. He then pumped oil into the cellar and set the house alight before lying down on his bed to wait to die.
And of course the overriding question was, why? Why would a seemingly doting husband and father do such a terrible thing? Why would he shoot his wife and daughter and destroy everything he’d worked so hard to create? The answer it transpired was apparently that he was drowning in debt and as the film went on, we began to get a picture of Foster that showed he wasn’t all he seemed to be and this terrible act was evidently prompted by the ‘darker side’ finally overtaking his façade of normality.
The interviews with the Foster’s family and friends were moving but did give an insight into that dark side but ostensibly, during the interviews with his mother and brother, we learned possibly the most frightening thing of all; Christopher Foster had been what most people would consider a ‘sane’ man… which makes one realise the tremendously devastating effect of very substantial debt. In fact, a card posted on the gates of the mansion following the fire telling read, “Money is the root of all evil” and in this case, it would seem that was entirely correct.
Foster had been an oil entrepreneur who – some interviewees claimed – was a strict disciplinarian and a driven worker who had and was experiencing marital difficulties. Nothing that unusual there; thousands of families are the same, but they don’t all kill each other.
Belinda Fathers, the Fosters’ housekeeper and friend, recalled that that Friday was normal with the whole family “larking about”. But Belinda remembered that Chris and Jill had been looking at family photographs, including pictures from his childhood. “They watched the wedding video and cried” she told the inquest into the deaths.
Christopher’s brother Andrew claimed that Chris had always been fascinated by fire and revealed that he’d even set fire to Andrew accidentally when they were children, which was a chilling portent of what was to come so many years later. Christopher’s friend Dave told too how Foster had been equally fascinated by and with guns… again, prophetic with hindsight but that’s always 20-20 isn’t it?
But by far the most harrowing and upsetting of the interviews last night was with Christopher’s mother Enid who recalled of her son, “He bought me a small car that he ensured worked well. Now I realise he must’ve been preparing me to manage without him.”
Enid believed – and still does – that her son was fundamentally a very honest man but his business dealings and reports from acquaintances told a rather different story but this sweet, kindly and loving lady didn’t and doesn’t need to hear that. She believes that he did what he did out of love for his family and to “protect” Jill and Kirstie from the humiliation that his spiraling debt was about to visit upon them; they would’ve lost everything.
No matter what he did, he was her son and for her to have to live with the knowledge of what he did to not only himself but to her beloved granddaughter and daughter-in-law will haunt her for the rest of her days.
“You always love your children, whatever they do. You can’t cut off because they’ve done something horrible . . . I know what he did was horrible. But it just wasn’t Chris” Enid said with a desperately sad bewilderment in her eyes.
This Cutting Edge film was all we’ve come to expect from the team responsible; non-biased, fact based reportage though I have to say, I did feel that in this documentary, there was very much an element of a ‘build-up’ then a shocking finale, but nonetheless, it was riveting viewing, albeit morbidly so.
I just hope Enid can eventually come to terms with it all and find some peace, though I fear that may be an impossible dream for this dear and innocent lady.