Police probing Billingshurst mum’s ‘unexplained’ death

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

Tributes have been paid to a ‘beautiful’ mother who was found dead along with her husband at their Billingshurst home on Christmas Day.

Jan Tshabalala, 33, and his wife Julia, 30, were discovered in their house in Groomsland Drive just after 9am, after concerns were raised for the couple.

Detectives said this week that Julia’s death is currently ‘unexplained’ and under investigation, but a post mortem examination confirmed that Jan died from hanging.

Friends and former work colleagues said Julia was a ‘fantastic mother’ who had made plans to meet them in the New Year.

Sarah Smith said she and Julia became good friends after working together.

She cast doubts over national media speculation that the couple were suffering from financial trouble.

She said: “The last time I went to see her, she was over the moon. After being told her daughter might not walk or talk, her little girl had started walking and she had said the word ‘mum’. She had great patience and was a fantastic mother.

“After reading the national press about them having financial problems, she gave me no hint of such a case and seemed very happy and looking forward to Christmas.

“The last text I received from her was on Christmas Eve. There was absolutely no indication of anything being wrong. She said if I did not see her more this coming year she would be chasing me.”

Sarah Jones, another friend and former work colleague of Julia, described her as a ‘caring, kind, sensitive and beautiful person’.

She said: “She was a very good mother and always put her children first.

“We had arranged a night out this week and lunch to catch up after Christmas.

“Julia lived for her children as she cared about them very deeply.”

A Sussex Police spokesperson said the couple had two young children, aged six and four.

The children were not believed to have been at the home at the time of the incident, and are currently being cared for by relatives, police said.

Detective chief inspector Paul Rymarz, of the Surrey and Sussex Major Crime Team, who is leading the investigation, confirmed that a note was found inside the home.

He said: “There was some correspondence at the scene. We are examining that to ascertain who has written it.”

There is no evidence ‘at this stage’ to suggest the family were struggling financially, he added.

He said: “I don’t know where that speculation has come from.

“There is nothing at this stage to indicate that, however we have got financial investigators working as part of the investigation.

“We are looking at every possible motive that may have prompted this terrible incident.”

DCI Rymarz added that Julia’s ‘unexplained’ death is the central focus of the police investigation.

He said: “We can state that Jan’s death was self-inflicted but Julia’s is unexplained, which is the central focus of the investigation and it may take some time to ascertain the full circumstances of her death.

“This is a tragic case and our thoughts are very much with the family at this time.

“We are not looking for anyone else in connection with the deaths but would welcome information from anyone who may have had contact with either person in the days before their deaths which may help to shed light on this case.”

Police are continuing to investigate the deaths. Anyone with information can email 101@sussex.pnn.police.uk or phone 101, quoting Operation Redgate.