The killer of a murdered midwife left her engagement ring and wedding dress on her bed as a ‘false trail’ for detectives investigating her disappearance, a court has heard.
Married Michael Stirling had an affair with Samantha Eastwood, who had been due to marry his wife’s brother.
But during a row at her home in Stoke-on-Trent this summer, he killed Ms Eastwood, before dumping her body in a shallow grave on the edge of the Staffordshire Moorland.
Stirling’s sentencing hearing this morning heard that he had laid out items from her cancelled wedding on her bed to make it look like she was depressed and had ‘gone away’. Her ex said he thinks the move was an attempt to frame him.
Stirling also texted Samantha’s sister from her phone, saying: ‘Please leave me alone x’, which prosecutors said was meant to suggest she was having some kind of breakdown.
Michael Stirling (left) murdered Samantha Eastwood, the former fiancee of his wife’s brother, after they had an affair. He then left a ‘false trail’ for detectives, a court heard today
Ms Eastwood (left) had been due to marry her killer’s brother-in-law, John Peake (centre left). The two couple’s are pictured together
The court heard her killer laid out her wedding dress on her bed to suggest she was depressed about the cancellation of the ceremony. Pictured: The wedding dress when Ms Eastwood tried to sell it on Facebook for £400. She described the Alfred Angelo garment as ‘not worn apart from being tried on in the shop’.
Stirling pleaded guilty to murder last month. At his sentencing today, it emerged:
- Stirling had an evening meal with his family while his victim’s body lay in his van outside.
- He went back to his victim’s house under the guise of appealing for information, while secretly checking he wasn’t on neighbours’ CCTV footage.
- The killer accidentally gave away the location of her body by returning to check it was undisturbed, while being followed by police.
- He hugged the victim’s sister after the murder of the midwife, as he pretended to offer her family support.
Stirling’s wife Katie is the sister of John Peake, the man Miss Eastwood had been due to marry in the summer of this year.
The two couples regularly socialised together and were pictured together at the wedding of one of Mr Peake’s relatives.
But Miss Eastwood suddenly called off the engagement in January, leaving friends baffled as to what had gone wrong between the pair.
Stirling, a fencer and landscape gardener, had been in a ‘long-standing but not particularly intense’ affair with Miss Eastwood, his barrister has previously said.
Mr Peake told the court today that he thought he was going to get back together with Miss Eastwood, and her murder at the hands of his sister’s husband has torn the family apart.
Samantha Eastwood was killed after arguing with Stirling when she returned home from work
The midwife was last seen driving away from the hospital in her Volvo XC60 just after 7.30am on July 27. The alarm was raised that night when she failed to return for her next shift.
Her body was found during a search of a disused salt quarry in remote woodland in Caverswall, near Cheadle, Staffordshire
Killer hugged victim’s heartbroken sister as he covered his tracks after the murder
Samantha Eastwood’s sister told the court that her sister’s killer hugged her as he pretended to support her family after she went missing.
Reading a statement in court, her sister Gemma said Stirling arrived at the family home on the day she disappeared.
She said: ‘That night he hugged me after he killed my sister. That will haunt me. When he killed my sister, he might as well have killed me and mum.’
Samantha’s mother, Carole, said she always thought her daughter would be present at her funeral, rather than the other way around.
She told the court: ‘I visit her grave daily… I just don’t understand why someone would want to do this to my daughter. What did she do to deserve it?’
Describing the murder, Stirling’s lawyer has said: ‘Things were said between the defendant and Samantha Eastwood which led to him becoming very angry.
‘There was an argument… After a struggle, and while she was on the floor, he put his hands over her throat, her mouth and nose. As a result of that she died.’
The barrister added: ‘He panicked afterwards and buried her in an area of which he had some knowledge.’
Today’s court hearing was told that a neighbour heard a woman shouting ‘get off me’ around 3pm on the day she died. The shouting then stopped,
Stirling was later seen maneuvering a van outside her house, thought to be when he removed her body, the court heard.
He then drove to his parents’ house and he and his parents, along with his wife and daughter, had a meal together, while his victim’s body lay in his van outside. His wife said he appeared ‘cheerful’ at the time.
Miss Eastwood’s body was later found in a disused quarry at Caverswall. Her face and eyes had been bound with masking tape and her body wrapped in a duvet in the shallow grave eight miles from her home in Baddeley Green, Stoke-on-Trent.
Prosecutors say the tape was used to suffocate her, but Stirling’s lawyer said he did it because he ‘he didn’t want to see her like that’.
Investigators found Stirling had used his iPad to research anti-freeze and carbon monoxide poisoning, as the length of time it takes to suffocate someone.
Analysis of his phone revealed he had called her 128 times in the month before her death. She had called him on 25 times.
Stirling, pictured being led away after a previous hearing, has shown little emotion in court
Miss Eastwood was last seen leaving Royal Stoke University Hospital on the day she was killed
It emerged after her death that Samantha had asked one of her colleagues to report it if she didn’t turn up for work, suggesting she was scared for her safety
Miss Eastwood started dating her former fiance Mr Peake in 2010.
They were a couple for seven years, with Mr Peake moving into Miss Eastwood’s home in Stockton Brook on the edge of Stoke-on-Trent.
During the period the couple socialised regularly with the Stirlings, who lived a few miles away in the Northwood area of the city.
Miss Eastwood had been seen at a barbecue at the home her killer shared with his 32-year-old wife and young daughter in the weeks before she died – but their illicit union appears to have been kept hidden from all of those nearest to them.
A close friend previously told the Mail: ‘I knew that Sam and Michael were friendly and would talk on the phone to each other, but I had no idea they were involved in a relationship.
‘I just can’t believe it. I would consider myself to be one of Sam’s best friends but she never confided in me about that.’