Unlawful killing verdict in Billingshurst double death tragedy

The home in Groomsland Drive, Billingshurst where the couple were found dead on Christmas Day SUS-150113-171504001
The home in Groomsland Drive, Billingshurst where the couple were found dead on Christmas Day SUS-150113-171504001

A ‘controlling’ husband killed his wife – a mother of two – before taking his own life on Christmas Day.

Jan, 33, and Julia Tshabalala, 30, of Groomsland Drive, Billingshurst, were found dead at their home by a friend who had been looking after their two children.



Inquests into their deaths were held at County Hall North in Horsham today (September 18).

Assistant coroner for West Sussex, Elisabeth Bussey-Jones said Julia Tshabalala died as a result of unlawful killing and Mr Tshabala committed suicide.

Detective Sergeant Adele Robertson, from the Surrey and Sussex Major Crime Team, told the court a note written by Jan was found by Julia’s body.

It read: “Please take care of our lovely kids, we love them and please tell them every day.

“Our wish was not to take them to a care home.”

The couple, who met while working at a nursing home, had two children, aged four and six.

Susan Trim, Julia’s mother, said Jan Tshabalala was ‘very controlling’.

“There was a lot of rowing and arguing,” she added.

“I couldn’t go to the house because he would stop me going there. He didn’t stop her seeing me it’s just I wasn’t allowed to go the house.”

She said Julia, who was a full-time mother, told her Jan had burnt her with the lid of a kettle and a hot knife.

At 8.13am on Christmas Day, 2014, Mr Tshabalala sent a message to his friend Joseph Mashiloane, saying ‘tell my kids I love them forever’ and asking him to call the police round to their house in Billingshurst.

Mr Mashiloane discovered the couple in the house and was joined at the property by police.

Results of a post mortem found Julia died from compression to the neck but pathologists could not confirm the time of her death.

Mr Tshabalala – who hanged himself – was found on the landing, lying on a suitcase.

On Christmas Eve, Mr Tshabalala picked Julia, up from her mother’s house in Horsham, before taking her and the children to McDonald’s.

At 5.50pm, Julia’s mother received a phone call – answered by her son’s fiance – who said Julia had been crying.

But later that evening, Jan took his children around to their friend Joseph Mashiloane’s house, telling them his wife had ‘fallen over and damaged her leg’.

Police said he then drove around the Gatwick airport area before returning home.

Neighbour Mrs Ayling, said she was surprised to see Jan’s car in the drive on Christmas Day, because Julia said he was working.

“His car was still there so I said to my husband he hasn’t gone to work – perhaps he changed his shift,” she told the inquest.

“And then my husband said police are coming up the drive.”

Mrs Ayling said she often spoke to Julia – who had told her about the turkey crown she was cooking on Christmas Day.

She added: “I was very dubious talking to Julia when he was about. I just thought he had some sort of hold over her. Almost like he didn’t really want me to talk to her.”

Mrs Ayling said she heard a scream from next door on the evening of December 24 - but ‘thought nothing of it’, as she believed it was Julia and Jan’s daughter.

Recording a conclusion of unlawful killing, Elisabeth Bussey-Jones, said: “Her last point of contact was about 5.50pm in the evening of Christmas Eve. She didn’t respond to any text messages after that time.”

Ms Bussey-Jones said no defensive injuries were found on Julia’s body and said she would have been unconscious within a number of minutes.

Recording a verdict of suicide, Ms Bussey-Jones said Mr Tshabalala’s movements during the night, the text messages he sent and the letter he left by the bed where his wife was found were all evidence he had intended to take his own life.

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