Julia Birch is behind bars for murdering her elderly roommate, Nancy Ann Frankel, whom she attacked inside their home in Montgomery County, Maryland, and then called 911 to report it.
At 8:20 a.m. on July 28, 2021, officers and emergency responders were called to Birch and Frankel’s home on Spruell Drive in Kensington for a death investigation.
When they arrived, Birch confessed to killing Frankel, according to Montgomery Community Media.
Responding officers found the 92-year-old’s body in her bedroom, and it appeared to have been staged.
Birch said she wanted it to look “presentable.”
She tried to lay Frankel on her bed but was unable to because of the weight of her body.
Birch then left Frankel on the floor and sprayed perfume on her body, folded her arms across her chest, and placed a pillow beneath her head.
Officers transported Birch to the Montgomery County police headquarters for questioning after they found evidence at the scene that corroborated her story.
The then-26-year-old told detectives that she initially tried to suffocate Frankel by putting a bag over her head, but she poked a hole in it. That’s when Birch strangled her to death on the floor.
Birch and Frankel met through their families, who worked at the Catholic Workers Movement.
In January of that same year, Birch decided to move into the house where Frankel had lived for over 50 years because she didn’t want her to be alone.
She also paid rent.
Frankel’s son said, “We were worried because my mom was by herself in the house. And so, we actually thought it was great for her to have somebody live there in case she fell or hurt herself.”
“Now, obviously, you can second-guess it, but it really seemed like the perfect thing for her at the time.”
He also mentioned that he thought Birch “seemed like a really lovely person. She seemed very sweet. And I can’t believe anyone would have done that to my mom. So, it’s like a complete shock.”
An autopsy later confirmed that Frankel died of asphyxiation.
She was an award-winning sculptor from Washington and had also earned her bachelor’s degree from the Tyler School of Fine Arts at Temple University in Philadelphia.
One of her neighbors described her as a “wonderful person” who would often display her artwork in the yard.
After the incident, Birch underwent a medical evaluation. It was then that she was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, according to the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office.
Her doctor determined that at the time of the killing, she was having “psychotic symptoms” but said she “still understood murder was wrong and could control her conduct to conform to law.”
Birch was arrested and booked into the Montgomery County Jail on charges of first-degree murder.
She was held without bond.
On March 20, 2023, Birch pleaded guilty to second-degree murder.
That same year, a judge sentenced Birch to 40 years in prison but 17 years was suspended. When she is released, she will be placed on supervised probation.
Birch will then have to complete 240 hours of community service.
The motive behind the killing remains unclear.