A Florida woman who shot dead her mentally disabled sister in 2004 for blowing their inheritance has revealed how she lived with her sibling’s decomposing body for several weeks and masked the smell with cardboard air fresheners.
Barbara Burns was charged with the first degree murder of her 40-year-old sister, Debbie Burns, in May 2005.
Then 53, Barbara admitted to police she had shot Debbie in the forehead with a revolver as she was sleeping in her bed on August 15, 2004, in their double-wide trailer in St. Petersburg.
Debbie’s severely decomposed remains wouldn’t be found until eight months after the shooting, when workers from a moving company were hired to remove furniture from the trailer after it went into foreclosure.
In a new episode of Investigation Discovery’s Twisted Sisters, which is set to air Monday, Barbara reveals how she lived with her sister’s body for six weeks, before fleeing to Virginia Beach to start her life anew.
Barbara Burns (pictured above on October 30) was charged with the first degree murder of her mentally disabled sister Debbie Burns, 40, in August 2005. At the time, she was described by one detective as the ‘nicest murderer I’ve ever met’
In the program, Barbara reveals how she had cared for Debbie for her entire life, until she suddenly snapped on the night of her sister’s 40th birthday.
While Barbara worked part-time, the two sisters had largely been surviving off more than $350,000 in inheritance they’d received from their brother’s estate after his death in 2000.
Within four years, the funds had already run completely dry and Barbara was forced to take up a job at a local Lowe’s store for $7 per-hour.
Barbara said she kept telling her sister the money was ‘gone’ and that she’d ‘spent it all’ but she didn’t understand.
Barbara said she had been hoping to move to Virginia Beach where she thought things might be cheaper, but Debbie refused, instead ordering more cable channels and buying more Star Wars memorabilia online – luxuries they couldn’t afford.
On the night of the killing, on August 15, Barbara and Debbie had gone out to dinner to Macaroni Grill, shared a few beers and returned home to watch the evening news.
Throughout the remainder of the evening, Barbara said she and her sister fought about money. Debbie reportedly threw a tearful hours-long temper tantrum until she eventually fell asleep.
Barbara recounted how she remembered laying in the bed next to her, counting her sister’s breaths.
But she says she has no memory of what happened next, only what detectives would later tell her.
‘They told me I shot her,’ Barbara told the Tampa Bay Times. ‘I went to a prison psychologist, and he said it’s a good thing I can’t remember.’
Barbara had been keeping a .38-Caliber revolver in her bedside dresser. She had bought the gun years earlier from a pawn shop for protection.
According to police, Barbara pulled the weapon out from the draw, loaded a single bullet, and stood over her sister, before firing a shot into her forehead.
Barbara then wrapped her sister’s body in a white shower curtain, a brown blanket and then finally placed Debbie’s beloved Star Wars comforter over her.
She left Debbie’s body in the bed, with her head resting on the pillow as if she was sleeping.
The following morning, Barbara says she called out ‘Goodbye’ to Debbie as she left for her shift at Lowe’s.
Debbie Burns’ (above) severely decomposed remains wouldn’t be found until eight months after the shooting, when workers from a moving company were hired to remove furniture from the trailer after it went into foreclosure
For the next month and a half, Barbara lived alongside her dead sister, turning down the air conditioning to mask the odor of decomposition, hanging dozens of cardboard air fresheners around the room and pouring potpourri on top of Debbie’s comforter.
Barbara never told anyone what had happened.
When neighbors inquired about Debbie’s whereabouts, Barbara told them she had left the state to take care of an aunt in California.
Finally, on October 1, Barbara backed out of the driveway in her car and never returned.
Nobody seemed to notice the sisters had vanished until a mortgage company came to repossess their trailer on May 4, 2005, after no payments had been made on the property in six months.
Upon entering the residence, a cleaning crew smelled something rotten and eventually found Debbie’s decomposed body hidden beneath the layers of blankets that Barbara had shrouded her in.
Barbara was eventually tracked down by police in Virginia Beach days later. She was living in a homeless shelter at the time and working the night shift in a 7-Eleven store.
When quizzed by investigators, Barbara said she had never owned a trailer and never had a sister. But when they showed her a photograph of Debbie, she broke down in tears.
In the upcoming episode of Twisted Sister, Barbara recounts her childhood growing up in Maryland, with two brothers and a sister, each a year apart. Every year, the family would vacation in Virginia Beach.
But she said when Debbie was born, their family life dramatically changed. Debbie caught scarlet fever when she was just a toddler which stunted her development.
Shortly afterwards, their dad died, leaving their mom to wait tables. Barbara, who had just turned 13, was also forced to drop out of high school to take care of Debbie while their mother was working.
‘I never got to be a teenager. I resent my mom for that, for making me in charge of her,’ Barbara told the Times. ‘My brothers and sister got to have a life I never had.’
In 1981, when their mom got too sick to work, Barbara moved her mother and Debbie to Florida and got a job washing dishes at a restaurant. After finishing her shift, she says she would come home to make dinner for them both.
For twenty years, she said she never went on dates or socialized with friends. On the rare occasion she did, she said she had to take Debbie with her.
‘When Debbie got older, we became more like friends,’ Barbara said. ‘We did everything together.’
In a new episode of Twisted Sisters, which is set to air Monday on Investigation Discovery, Barbara reveals how she lived with her sister’s lifeless body in their shared bedroom for six weeks, before fleeing to Virginia Beach
Their mother died in 2000, and soon after their brother passed away also. He left his $350,000 estate to Debbie to pay for her care.
However, the money didn’t last long. Barbara said Debbie demanded to travel to California and Australia to see where her favourite actors lived. She also bought a pinball machine, a computer and other games and gadgets.
Barbara, all the while, said she was tasked with booking the trips, driving them everywhere and paying the bills.
Friends of the sisters described Debbie to the Tampa Bay Times as a demanding character who would often shout at her sister. Barbara, meanwhile, was described as a ‘saint’ and a devoted sister.
A detective with St. Petersburg PD would also later described her as ‘the nicest murderer I’ve ever met’.
By the time she pulled the trigger on August 15, 2004, Barbara said she’d already felt as though she’d served a life sentence.
She expressed relief when she was eventually imprisoned, remarking that it was the first time in her life that she didn’t have to work, cook, or look after anyone else but herself.
Barbara eventually struck a deal with prosecutors in August 2005, and pleaded guilty to manslaughter.
She was then taken to the Gadsden Correctional Facility in Quincy, where she earned the nickname ‘Gangsta Granny’, as she was one of the oldest inmates.
‘I thought that was cute,’ Barbara said of the name to the Times, adding she’d never had a nickname before.
Barbara served a 12-year sentence before eventually securing release on February 8, 2018.
In the two years since, she has been attempting to restart her life over and forgive herself for Debbie’s murder.
‘I’m a very loving, caring person. I’d give anyone the shirt off my back,’ she told the Times. ‘I don’t know how to make sense of all this.’
‘I’m enjoying my freedom,’ she continued. ‘I’m finally starting to feel happy. Like a bird that’s never been able to fly.’
Investigation Discovery will feature Barbara Burns’ story in a new episode of Twisted Sisters at 9 p.m. November 16.