The Foster family lived in Maesbrook.
“Maesbrook, Shropshire, is a beautiful, well-to-do village on the Welsh borders. The houses are vine-covered Georgian mansions. The cars parked in the driveways are Range Rovers and Porsches. The people of Maesbrook are, by and large, self-made millionaires from Birmingham and Wolverhampton, entrepreneurs who've made it big.” Jon Ronson, Author
Christopher Foster presented the image of a loving husband and a devoted father. Neighbours remember him always laughing and cuddling with his bubbly 49-year-old wife Jill, and how he ‘doted’ on his 15-year-old ‘horse-mad’ daughter Kirstie. In fact, Christopher was believed to have had at least eight mistresses.
“He wasn’t a good looking guy, but money did the talking.” Anne Giddings, sister of Jill Foster It is also believed Jill had affairs. It was what his PA termed an ‘open’ marriage. His teenage daughter Kirstie loved the horses her father had bought her. But she knew better than to get on the wrong side of his quick temper.
Lord of the Manor
50-year-old Christopher was not a happy man. He hated being still. When he was at home, despite having a housekeeper, he was always fixing or cleaning something in his three-storey mansion or on his 16 acres of land. His barn was spotless. His riding paddocks and lake were picture postcard perfect. He had spent £50,000 landscaping his property. He was said to have spent over £200,000 furnishing the inside of his palatial home with antiques. Not all of his purchases were authentic. But then again, neither was Christopher.
He was known in the village as the ‘millionaire’. He’d made his money in the oil business. In 1987 Christopher was just an ordinary bloke from Burnley, married, with a sales job in Wolverhampton. The next year, the Piper Alpha oil platform explosion killed 167 men. Christopher seized the moment. He invented and patented a new chemical formula for oil rig insulation.
“Chris saw this tremendous opportunity. He saw Piper Alpha in flames and considered his opportunity...he put everything into it, he took a risk. It’s one thing Chris was, he was a risk taker. I think you’ve got to admire him for that and making it work...He’d made a lot of money, I mean at one point you know he was bringing product in he was putting a label on it and sending out the door making 50, 60 percent plus mark up. It was a license to print money.” Andrew Foster, Christopher’s brother
Christopher and Jill went on the first of many first class holidays. They also moved from Telford to the more exclusive Maesbrook and into their new £1.15m home.
“Jill had been shopping in Sainsbury’s and she’d picked up the...’Shropshire Life’ (magazine). And in there was a house that she fell in love with. They went the next morning and Chris put in an offer that very same day...” Valerie Pitchford, Christopher’s PA
Christopher started to collect classic cars. His collection became a fleet. He had two ‘his and hers’ Porsches, an Aston Martin, a 4x4 for his wife (with the personalised plate, ‘Jill 40’). And to go with his country estate he had a tractor, three horses and four dogs. To complete the image, Jill even owned doves. But while his insulation invention was award winning and money making, it wasn’t making that much money.
Christopher was living on credit. Like many before the credit crunch, he never believed the easy money would ever stop. Added to that, Christopher had started to behave dishonestly. In 2003 Christopher had entered into a contract with a company called DRC to manufacture his invention exclusively. In 2004, he’d been worth £10m. But by 2005 his vast spending was outstripping his income. So Christopher tried to break the terms of the deal.
DRC successfully sued. Lord Justice Rimer said at the Royal Courts of Justice that Foster was: "...bereft of the basic instincts of commercial morality. He was not to be trusted." The victorious DRC took over his patent. They made it a global success. Christopher’s company went into compulsory liquidation in September 2007. His salary was stopped and a £3m freezing order was put on his assets. On top of all this, he owed the Inland Revenue nearly a million pounds. For not only was Christopher a bad businessman and a big spender, he was a poor taxpayer. He didn’t pay VAT, National Insurance or indeed much tax of any kind. Christopher had started to lose control. He was left with nothing to do but stay at home.
Armed and suicidal
Christopher’s hobby was clay pigeon shooting which he did every Tuesday. It’s why he was allowed to own guns. Of course, being Christopher, he’d think nothing of spending over £12,000 for a shotgun and £8,000 on a three day shoot. But whereas most use their hobbies to relax, Christopher couldn’t. He had to come to first. He had to have shot more, fished more, and done more than the ‘competition’.
“Jill used to say he was a control freak. He had to be in control of things totally.” Andrew Foster, Christopher’s brother
Andrew later revealed that when they were young brothers, Christopher had sexually abused him. The brothers hadn’t spoken for years. Christopher had lost his money making patent, his company, and effectively his wife, marriage and family. When a concerned friend texted him asking if he was OK? Foster replied; “Not really. I think everything’s coming to a head for me.” But when Christopher told others that they should look after Jill and Kirstie if he topped himself, they thought he was joking.
By the end, Christopher had remortgaged his home three times. He had 20 different bank accounts. One of them was overdrawn by £330,000. He faced personal bankruptcy. Christopher obtained antidepressants in the spring of 2008. He went to his GP. He admitted to feeling suicidal. He confided to a business associate, Mark Bassett, he’d rather take his own life than lose his family home. “...They’re not having my stuff. I will top myself. They will carry me out of the house in a box.”
A lucky escape?
In July 2008 Christopher was parked up on his tractor. For no reason he could fathom, he decided to reverse the tractor. Minutes later, a ‘massive branch, as big as a tree’ broke off a willow. It crashed down just where he’d been parked. If he hadn’t moved, he could have died. In August, bailiffs pinned a letter to the gates of the house. In the week before he died, Christopher looked online at websites dealing with suicide and looked through old photo albums of him and his family. It’s not known if by this point he had planned that Monday, 25 August 2008 would be the last one of his life.
“From a neighbouring family – absolutely stunned” Inscription on floral bouquet left at the Foster family entrance.
In total, 12 fire crews dealt with the fire. And it took investigators seven days just to remove all the bodies.
On top of spent cartridges, they found a gun fitted with a silencer in the ashes.
On 2 April 2008, a two day inquest started. Those present were able to watch the house CCTV between 3:12am and 3:49.
“The footage was…unbelievable really, you couldn’t believe what you were watching and within the inquest it was absolutely silent. You could see what he was doing and it was like something out of a movie, it was unbelievable.” Kirsty Smallman, Crime Reporter
The CCTV captured the shooting of a horse. It showed Foster setting on fire his stables. It showed Foster driving the horsebox that he used to block the emergency services. Many commented on how calmly Foster had gone about the complete destruction of everything in his life.The inquest found that Foster had been drinking before the murders. It also found out that he was suffering from a heart defect. This was probably bought on by stress.
The coroner ultimately recorded that Christopher Foster unlawfully killed his wife and daughter before killing himself.The inquest did reveal that perhaps mercifully, both Jill and Kirstie were asleep when Foster shot them.
Everything to live for The coroner John Ellery said Mrs Foster and her daughter had had ‘everything to live for.’ He also offered the possibility that Foster looked like he had planned his exit. He suggested that perhaps he left the CCTV running as a witness of his actions for those remaining.
He also recommended that as the gun owning Foster had warned his GP of suicidal feelings, that GPs be informed of any application to pick up a gun license. It was a view endorsed by Foster’s surviving brother:
“We wish to highlight that preventative measures such as improved communication between GPs and police forces firearms officers in the future could help stop a similar tragedy happening to another family...We are encouraged to hear about the steps that are being taken to redress this issue.” Andrew Foster, brother of Christopher
The Association of Chief Police Officers and the British Medical Association announced planned guidelines to improve communications between GPs and police forces.
Suicide after homicide
Christopher Foster’s crime, though horrific, is far from unique. The killing of one’s family and then oneself may only represent 6% of homicides in England and Wales, but it is common enough that there is a term for it: The ‘Family Annihilator’;
“The domestic homicide perpetrator is more likely ...to be if you like respectable in some ways, slightly more educated, in employment etc. And they are men with a great deal to lose a great deal invested in their relationships, jobs, homes, children. And this terrible event of homicide followed by suicide is frequently triggered by events which are causing them to lose those important things in their lives.” Dr Marilyn Gregory, Sheffield University
One theory is that once the perpetrator decides on suicide, they are free to kill without consequence. Others believe that the suicide is only set upon after the homicides as intense feelings of regret overcome the perpetrator.The Foster family were laid to rest on 19 December 2008. The relatives decided to hold separate funerals. The first was for Kirstie and Jill.
A few hours later, their killer was buried.Present was his surviving brother. Andrew later stated he had no interest in claiming any stake in his brother’s estate. Creditors had until September 2010 to put in their claims.
The site where the Foster family house stood has now been cleared.In 2012 the property went up for sale. It had planning permission for another luxury three storey mansion to be built.
“When men are very much in that mode of feeling...their life has been successful...if something threatens to remove all that...then for some men that loss of power and control will lead to them expressing themselves in this extreme form of violence...it’s perverse but it seems to be a way of regaining some control...it’s like saying if I can’t have all of this, if I can’t have my beloved wife and child and if I can’t have my business and my beautiful home then no one else is going to have them.” Dr Marilyn Gregor, Researcher of suicide after homicideIt was a Bank Holiday Monday on 25 August 2008 that the Foster family enjoyed their last day together.Christopher Foster, his wife Jill and daughter Kirstie attended the gated mansion of John Hughes. Hughes, a millionaire luxury car dealer, was having a barbecue and clay pigeon shoot. Christopher spent the afternoon doing exactly that. Later, he said to Jill:“I’ve had enough. I want to go home.”Despite Jill wanting to stay, they returned in her black Range Rover. Jill went to bed first. After midnight, his daughter Kirstie chatted to a friend online. That ended when Christopher turned the internet off. Soon after, Kirstie went to sleep.Her father then fitted a silencer to a .22 rifle.FAMILY ANNILHATOR It is likely that Christopher Foster shot his wife of 21 years first. As the only other adult, she would have posed the greatest threat to Foster’s plan. He shot her in the back of her head in her bedroom.Foster then crossed the hallway to his daughter’s bedroom.He also shot his daughter in the back of the head. It was as if he was too ashamed to look them in the face.FIRESTARTER Foster then calmly set about destroying everything that could be burnt.The man who had made a fortune out of preventing fires, now created one that would obliterate all traces of his existence.It is estimated that he flooded his mansion with 200 gallons of oil. He spread the accelerant and oil soaked rags throughout the house to ensure the fire took hold.At 3:09AM, CCTV footage showed Mr Foster set fire to his luxury home.He then killed all the family animals. He shot dead the dogs and the horses. As with his family, he shot all the animals in the head.He also jammed the horsebox against the entrance gate and shot out the tyres. He takes out the keys. Both measures were to prevent anyone driving in and intervening.He then returned home. As the flames burnt through his house, he climbed the stairs one last time. He lay down next to the wife he’d shot.He brought a loaded gun with him. But he did not shoot himself. Nor did the flames burn him alive. Instead, smoke inhalation kills him.999 Neighbours rang the emergency services. The first fire crew arrived at 4.29AM. But they first have to move the horsebox out of the way. By the time they can get close enough, there is little they can do but contain the scene. The heat from the flames was so intense that all emergency services are unable to attempt entering.For the police, it was equally frustrating. Vital evidence was being destroyed before the investigators very eyes.“It was like a clay oven turning everything to ash.” Jon Groves, Detective SuperintendentBut first attendees did notice gun cartridges around the grounds.Four days later, the ruins were still smouldering. Finally, on the Friday, despite the risk of falling debris, investigators entered. Two burnt bodies are found together, ‘top to tail’. Forensic tents are erected for examinations.It is later concluded that they’d died on the same bed and it had collapsed three floors down to the ground floor fireplace. On the Sunday, dental records identified one of the bodies as Jill Foster.On the Monday, Kirstie’s body was found.On the Tuesday, the unawares bailiffs arrived.Christopher Foster had feared their arrival.He had left them nothing to collect.