They may have been living under the same roof, but Canadian couple Josh Burgess and Shannon Madill had agreed that their marriage was over.
They were in the awkward stage of a break-up, where they had to share their home in Ramsay, Calgary, despite both of them being back on the dating scene, and making plans for a future that didn’t include the other.
The couple had dated for four years before getting married, but by 2014, their relationship had fallen apart.
Although it had always been clear they loved each other, Shannon and Josh had very different personalities. While Josh, 29, worked with old buildings and was quiet, Shannon, 25, was a vibrant aspiring actress and a larger than life character who loved to be the centre of attention.
She’d been into drama since school and was an accomplished musician. With red hair, green eyes, and a wicked sense of humour, Shannon found work as a voice actress, a performance artist and as a stand-up comedian.
After the couple had decided to separate, they’d agreed to date other people, and Shannon had started to pack her things.
She was looking to move to Edmonton, which was three hours away, to pursue her acting dreams. But in the early hours of November 27, Josh got in from a night out and they fell into old habits.
They slept with each other – but it was far from a reconciliation. Afterwards, they started to argue, and, according to Josh, fiery Shannon told him that she wished she’d never married him and that she didn’t need him any more.
They were words Josh couldn’t handle, and he put his hand over his estranged wife’s mouth to try and silence her.
When she fought back and bit him, Josh climbed on top of her and silenced her screams by tightening both his hands around her neck.
Then he finished the job with his belt. Pulling it hard until Shannon was dead. Josh then shoved his wife’s body in a plastic bin. It was winter so the ground was frozen solid so he was unable to bury her body.
He put the makeshift plastic coffin on the patio, where it would stay until the ground thawed. With the freezing temperatures, Shannon’s body was preserved.
On December 1, Shannon’s sister Erin reported her missing. She hadn’t met her brother as arranged and that was very unlike her – she was close to her family.
She wasn’t answering her phone – unheard of for an actress waiting for news from her agent about auditions. Because Josh and Shannon were separated, there was no suspicion cast on Josh about not reporting her missing. After all, Shannon was an independent woman who was starting a new life without him.
In fact, Josh was welcomed to stand by Shannon’s family as they desperately pleaded for information.
Shannon always joked that she would know she’d ‘made it big’ when she got herself a stalker – had someone targeted her?
Josh joined Shannon’s parents and siblings as they held a press conference, begging for her safe return.
‘It is unbelievably unlikely for her to disappear and not actually contact anybody,’ said sister Erin. ‘We’re going to stay as optimistic as long as we possibly can.’
As the months rolled by, Josh could have put Shannon’s loved ones out of their misery and told them her fate. Instead, he was seen by staff at his local store, kissing and holding hands with a woman.
Then in the spring, when the ground was finally soft enough to dig a hole, he buried Shannon in the garden of her own home. He covered the grave with dirt, branches and cement slabs.
But the guilty can only hide for so long and the investigation was closing in on Josh.
In July 2015, seven months after Shannon had vanished, police went to Josh’s home with a search warrant for his phone and car.
Josh refused to come out and a stand-off began. Knowing his time was up, he told the police over the phone that he’d killed Shannon.
It would take several hours before Josh agreed to come out of the house, and when he did, he’d superficially cut his own throat with a utility knife and was taken to hospital. Once stitched up, he was taken in for questioning.
Officers had found Shannon’s body in the back garden and Josh explained why he’d picked there to bury her.
‘I chose my lawn because I just didn’t want her to leave,’ he admitted.
When asked why he’d murdered his wife, he said that he’d ‘just wanted her to stop talking’.
Shannon’s family were heartbroken.
They would have given anything to hear her voice again – and yet silencing her had been the ‘reason’ she’d been killed.
In August 2015, Shannon’s family finally got to mourn their daughter, with a celebration of her life held at a theatre in Calgary.
More than 500 family members, friends and colleagues took to the stage to perform or share memories of Shannon. It was a fitting tribute to the talented musician and actress, and was called Shannon’s ‘farewell tour’.
In December 2017, on the day that Josh, now 31, was due to stand trial, he changed proceedings by pleading guilty to second-degree murder.
The plea came as part of an agreed statement of facts that were read aloud in a courtroom to explain what had happened that fateful day.
Despite a rehashing of all the horrific details, the arrangement spared Shannon’s family from sitting through a trial that would have been full of even more upsetting evidence. ‘The details are gruesome, painful and undignified,’ Justice Pat Sullivan said.
At the sentencing, Shannon’s family had prepared victim impact statements which were read out.
They talked about their loss and their feelings of betrayal from a man they’d considered to be family.
They noted that Josh had pretended to grieve with them while Shannon was missing.
‘[He] kept us suffering for so long, intentionally keeping us in limbo,’ said Shannon’s sister Erin, referring to her as her best friend.
‘Spending seven months looking for my sister was the hardest thing I have ever done. My mind would go to the darkest places wondering where she could be and what happened to her.
‘When she was finally found, a whole new dark period started.’
Shannon’s dad, David, described his daughter as a talented performer and said her death had left him without purpose.
David spoke of his devastation that he’d failed to protect his daughter – but never saw Josh as a threat and neither had Shannon.
‘There was no indication at all on her part that she had any concerns for her safety,’ he said, choking back tears.
‘I feel a significant amount of betrayal. Josh was not some stranger on the street, but rather someone we had welcomed into the family.’
David turned to Josh and said, ‘Today, I hope this is the last day I ever see you.’
Josh was allowed to make a statement and used it to apologise.
‘I’m very sorry for the vows that I made, that I promised to look after her, no matter what the circumstances were. I failed her in that,’ he said.
‘For several months afterwards, everybody stood by me, unquestionably. I failed all of you in that and I am so very sorry for that and so very sorry that I didn’t say something earlier.’
They were empty words to those mourning Shannon and they were relieved when Josh was sentenced to life in prison without the chance of parole until he’d served 10 years.
Shannon loved the spotlight, but sadly it was her death that brought her fame
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