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An intergenerational house-sharing arrangement turned deadly in the Washington, D.C. suburbs this week after a young woman allegedly confessed to killing her landlord-housemate.
Montgomery County, Maryland police charged Julia Birch, 26, with first-degree murder on Wednesday in the death of Nancy Ann Frankel, 92, an award-winning local artist who focused on sculptural works.
Police stated that they were called to Frankel's Kensington, Maryland home — which is situated just outside the Capitol Beltway — on Wednesday morning for a "death investigation." That call came from Birch, they said, who allegedly told police upon their arrival that she had killed Frankel.
After locating Frankel's body, police say that they recovered other evidence consistent with Birch's confession and arrested her.
In an interview with Montgomery County Police after her arrest, Birch allegedly again admitted to killing Frankel. She was charged with first-degree murder and held without bond. She was represented by a public defender, according to the Washington Post.
Though the autopsy wasn't scheduled to be performed until Thursday, charging documents in the case reviewed by the Post state that the police believe that Birch suffocated Frankel.
Montgomery County Police told the Daily Beast that Birch had moved into Frankel's long-time home in January because their families were acquainted, and was she was paying rent. Frankel's son-in-law, Bill Streit, told the Post that the two met through their families' work with the local Catholic Workers Movement, an anti-violence community that seeks to alleviate poverty and militarism and promote social justice.
“Even in our wildest imagining, no one would have ever, ever, ever thought this could possibly happen,” Streit said.
Frankel's son, Steven Frankel, told Bethesda Magazine on Thursday that he was less personally familiar with Birch but that the family had supported the idea of his elderly mother having a housemate, echoing Streit's comments to the Post.
“We were worried because my mom was by herself in the house,” Steven Frankel told the magazine. “And so, we actually thought it was great for her to have somebody live there in case she fell or hurt herself."
Both he and Streit said they would have described Birch as "sweet."
Local members of the D.C. and Maryland arts communities praised Frankel and her work.
“She was a great contributor to our artistic community here at the Studio Gallery, and she’ll be missed greatly,” Studio Gallery director Kelly Bresnowitz told the Daily Beast.
"This is upsetting a lot of people," said Zenith Gallery owner Margery Goldberg to Bethesda Magazine. "She just was an extraordinarily sweet, nice person who did not deserve this."
Her son, Steven Frankel, told the magazine that he believed his mother left a legacy that would continue in the D.C.-area arts community.
"Even at 92, she had a group of students that she taught from her studio in the backyard," he said. "So, she’s always been a teacher and a mentor, and a lot of people love her and have learned from her."
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