Only one way out

The 26th of August 2008 was a bank holiday weekend and a few of the well-to-do people of the well-heeled Shropshire village of Maesbrook were having a little get-together with a Bar B Q and some skeet shooting at the home of millionaire car dealer John Hughs. Three of the guests, that day, were neighbours Christopher Foster aged 50, another millionaire businessman and inventor, his wife Jill 49 and their 15-year-old, horse-mad, daughter Kirstie.

Chris, Jill and Kirstie at the Hugh’s Bar B Q.

Everyone who met Chris and his family that day claimed they were all in a happy mood and Chris was his quite normal jovial, chatty self. But in fact, Chris was far from normal that day his life was in crises and had reached the breaking point and he had probably, at that stage, already decided what to do about it.

For several month past, Chris had been in trouble for not paying income tax and had been in court several times and found guilty of various business irregularities and had a High Court ruling against him preventing him from even selling his 1.2 million house and was declared to be four million in debt. The sad thing was that he had kept all that information to himself, not being able to share this bombshell with his family who were blissfully unaware that within a few days bailiffs would arrive to take possession of their house, their many cars their horses and all their beautiful antique furniture and other belongings. Chris had never found the courage to explain to his family the serious financial difficulty they were in, but after the Bar B Q, he had decided on a plan and that there was only one way out.

Chris Foster had started from humble working-class beginnings but in 1997 while watching TV reports of the fire on the Piper Alpha Oil Rig he suddenly had a clever idea, he invented a chemical formula for a material that in the event of an oil rig fire, Chris’s material would form a protective coat around the valves preventing them from being damaged by heat, his idea was a great success and he patented the concept as Ulva Shield. Oil companies paid good money for his invention and soon Chris was not only a millionaire but had more money than he knew what to do with. With the benefit of hindsight, it is possible to say that Chris went over the top with his spending, lavish lifestyle and purchases.

Osbaston House Shropshire.

He and Jill bought a mansion called Osbaston House for one million in cash and paid over a quarter of a million for antique furniture. Chris also went just a little bit crazy buying cars. They had two Range Rovers a silver Jaguar, a Mercedes, a Ferrari and a James Bond-style Aston Martin. Also at one stage, they had ‘his and hers’ Porches. They also sent daughter Kirstie of to an exclusive private boarding school and acquired for her a number of horses. But probably one of the greatest continuous expenditures of Chris’s was his love for and acquisition of guns, He bought numerous shotguns and rifles and had a Purdey, tailor-made at a cost of 70,000 and another one by Berretta for 30.000. Then there were the considerable fees to join exclusive gun and skeet shooting clubs. It would be true to say that within a very short time of becoming wealthy Chris was enjoying a ‘Country Squire’ lifestyle, but spending a great deal of money and not paying attention to his financial future until quite quickly he found himself in debt and in trouble.

One of the sumptuous rooms in Osbaston House, before it was destroyed by the fire.

Chris then tried to recoup his losses by pulling a number of business dirty tricks most of which backfired and were discovered and stopped in various court actions and which culminated in the High Court ordering the Bailiffs in to repossess the house the cars and Chris’s treasured guns. That was how things stood on the evening of the 26th of August after the Bar B Q and Chris still hadn’t told his family the bad news, preferring to keep the secret and spend his efforts in planning what, by then, he considered to be the only way out.

At 4.50 am the next morning the Shropshire Central Fire Control received a 999 call to an explosion in the area of Osbaston House, actually, it was the petrol tank of one of the family cars exploding, so the control sent two engines and waited to hear what information they would send back on arrival. The first arriving fire engine sent back a confusing message that the stable and garage block was on fire but they could not get in to fight the flames because a large horse-float was completely jamming the gateway. Eventually, firefighters managed to make an entry to the property but by then the stables and garage complex was so well alight that they bypassed it and concentrated their efforts on saving the house which was also on fire.

Within a short time, the police turned up and discovered that the horse-box that had been blocking the firefighters way in, had been deliberately jammed there, locked up and all the tires had been shot out. They also discovered that 200 gallons of home heating oil had been drained from its tank and the oil hosed into the stable complex and into the house to ensure the fire would not be easily extinguished. In fact, it wasn’t until the 28th of August that the fires were sufficiently out for forensic investigators to start work. The stables and garage complex had burned to the ground destroying all the valuable cars, seemingly, also killing three horses and four dogs.

An aerial view giving some idea of the destruction.

To the police who assumed the family must have been away for the weekend, and that with rumours that Chris Foster had murky business dealings including with the Russian Mafia, who had him running so frightened that he had taken to carrying a handgun in his car, this looked very much like a warning, “pay us what you owe us, or else.”

However that day they discovered the CCTV security cameras around the property had been working on the night of the fire and had recorded a man walking around the property carrying a bucket and a rifle and had deliberately shot the dogs and the horses. However, if this was the Russian Mafia or any criminal gang surely there would be more than one of them and he wouldn’t stroll around like he owned the place, unless of course, he had owned the place. Quickly they called in a local constable who knew Chris and he confirmed that the man who had shot the animals was the owner of the property Chris Foster.

It took days for firefighters to quench the oil-soaked house and finally extinguish the fire.

Then, on the 29th  the Police undertook a more detailed search of the inside of the house and before long they discovered Jill and Chris, whose bodies were entwined together and had fallen from the first-floor bedroom into the fireplace of the lounge. Later still on the 31st, they found Kirstie’s body which had also fallen through the burnt out bedroom floor.

osbaston house
The bedroom where Jill Foster was shot, photo taken before the fire.

Slowly a picture immerged of what happened that night after the Bar B Q. The family had got home just after midnight and no doubt the two women went off to bed quite soon after, although Kirstie remained awake texting a friend until about 1 AM. Shortly after Kirstie fell asleep, Chris entered the bedroom where his wife Jill lay sleeping and using one of his .22 calibre rifles with a silencer, shot her in the back of the head. He then entered his daughter Kirstie’s room and also shot her in the back of the head, before going outside blocking the front gate entrance with the horse float and shooting out its tires. He then shot the dogs and the horses and set light to the stable and garage complex.

CCTV shot of Chris after he had set light to the stables.

All these actions were caught on the CCTV security system and its thought Chris wanted everyone to know what he had done, in a final gesture of “you won’t take all this away from me, if I can’t have it, I’ll destroy it rather than leaving it for you.” He then disconnected the home heating oil hose and after directing some into the stables, he redirected the rest into the house to ensure total destruction of the property.

Chris’s final act seems to have been to walk into the now well ablaze Osbaston House, carrying his rifle, go upstairs and lie down and cuddle his dead wife, witnessed by the bodies being entwined, when finally located. Although Chris still had the rifle and may have intended to shoot himself, the autopsy report showed there was no bullet wound on Chris and he died of smoke inhalation.

What went on in Chris’s head to kill his family and their animals and destroy everything they had owned? Surely such a clever hard working man could have worked out a way to start again and rebuild their lives. What was it that convinced him that murder and suicide was the only way out?

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