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Minutes before arriving at the home at 12:15 a.m., police got a call that there was a shooting. Foster, whose hand was bleeding, told police that Barbara “was hurt,” investigators told “Accident, Suicide or Murder,” airing Saturdays at 8/7c on Oxygen.
While one officer took Barbara’s three shocked children outside, others assessed the scene. Barbara was deceased.
“She had a bullet protruding from her back so it had gone through her chest and was sticking out of her back,” said William A. Snyder, a former sergeant with the Ramsey County Sheriff.
Police suspected they were at the scene of a murder, and questioned Foster for more information. He told them that he and Barbara had been out with family before the shooting. They then argued because he told her he was leaving her for another woman. When they returned home, he started packing his bags.
Foster claimed Barbara shot herself because she was distraught over his leaving her, investigators told producers. He said that he had trouble reaching 911 and punched a window as a result, which is how he cut his hand. He had to go to a nearby store to call for help.
Investigators had an urgent question: Where was the gun? Foster said that Barbara told him to throw it away. En route to the store, he told police, he tossed the firearm out the car window.
Foster’s story raised red flags, but “you have to investigate every angle,” said Laura Watczak Degeberg, former investigator with the Maplewood Police Department. With help from Foster, police recovered the gun.
Police also interviewed Barbara’s children, who were ages 12 to 15 at the time.
“When we heard the shot, I heard my mom say, ‘Oh, Bubbie, that hurts,’” said Tyrone Winn.
He and his siblings rushed into the room and found their mom “breathing heavy,” he said. “There was blood coming from her chest."
That’s when Foster tried to call for help and ran back to fetch the gun before leaving in the car.
Barbara’s kids said they didn’t believe their mother killed herself: “Her mindset was ‘I need to be free’ rather than ‘I need to die,’” said Tyrone. “She was definitely not suicidal.”
Barbara’s daughter Tammi Winn Halliburton told producers her mom’s three-year relationship with Foster was rocky.
“He gave my mother a black eye,” she said. “They argued a lot.”
Hours after the shooting Foster was brought into custody, and tests for blood-alcohol level and gun residue were done. Evidence was sent to a crime lab in St. Paul for analysis.
An autopsy determined that Barbara died of rapid blood loss after being shot. She also had two broken fingernails, which suggested a struggle. Ultimately, the medical examiner labeled the cause of death as undetermined.
Gun residue test results showed that while Barbara’s hands tested positive, Foster’s hands did not. There wasn’t enough evidence to pursue the charges against him.
The investigation ground to a halt for 20 years. Then, in 2002, Tom Lydon, now a former reporter at Fox 9 Minneapolis, heard rumblings about the case. He obtained the case file and dug into it.
“I could see they never had an adequate investigation,” Lydon told producers.
He reached out to Barbara’s family members, who were relieved someone had finally taken an interest.
Under pressure, the Maplewood Police Department reopened the case. Through a series of interviews with women who’d been involved with Foster, Watczak Degeberg confirmed a pattern of abusive and violent behavior. He had even pulled a gun on his first wife, according to witness statements.
In an unexpected twist, detectives got their hands on a Saint Paul Police Department report about events in an Elks Club restroom that occurred just hours before Barbara’s death.
“A gentleman came in and Aaron pulled a gun that he had on him and stuck it in the guy’s face and said, ‘You've been messing with my woman’ and threatened to kill him,” said Snyder.
When investigators tried to take another look at physical evidence from the initial investigation — fingernails and hair fibers — they found that it had gone missing.
But they still didn’t have enough to charge Foster, and the case stalled for another four years. But in 2006, William A. Snyder, now a former sergeant with the Ramsey County Sheriff, reopened the investigation. Barbara’s sister, Earmel Tatum, had information she hadn’t shared in 1981. She said that Barbara confronted Foster about him seeing other women and told him that their relationship was over. Foster responded by surreptitiously hitting her in the stomach, said Tatum.
A letter from Barbara to Foster calling off their relationship was found in her dresser.
Could the autopsy show bruising where Barbara had been punched? The medical examiner initially claimed that no photos were taken. Snyder turned up the heat by contacting the media, and the photos were found.
After seeing bruising on Barbara’s hand in the photos, investigators asked for the autopsy to be reevaluated, a request that was denied. So, they took the report to a different county, where the medical examiner determined Barbara’s death to be a homicide. The prosecutor moved forward with the case.
“The grand jury did indict on third-degree murder for Aaron,” said Snyder. But on July 14, 2008, the trial jury returned with a verdict of not guilty.
Patty Bruce, Barbara’s sister-in-law, was still determined to get justice. A few years later, Foster tried to get the case expunged from his records, and Bruce spearheaded a civil suit.
“We figured that if we had a case open against him, the court wouldn't be able to expunge it,” said Bruce.
Attorneys attempted to serve Foster with a summons for the civil case, but he ignored them. In February 2012, he failed to appear in court. A default judgment was delivered in the case. In 2012, Aaron was found guilty of murdering Barbara in the civil suit.
The judge granted $2 million for each one of Barbara’s children and issued a factual finding of death.
“He said the court finds that on May 8 1981, defendant Aaron Walter Foster murdered Barbara Winn by shooting her in the chest, causing her death,” said attorney David Schultz.
“It was a sliver of justice,” said Bruce.
To learn more about the case, watch “Accident, Suicide or Murder,” airing Saturdays at 8/7c on Oxygen.
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