Family Missing in Mansion Arson Mystery, Animals Killed

An arson attack has done so much damage to a $2.2 million mansion that British police have not been able to enter what's left of the charred shell to search for the family of three that lived there.

Chris Foster, 50, his wife Jill, 49 and their daughter Kirstie, 15, have not been seen since the fire on Tuesday at their home in Maesbrook in the west midlands area of England.

Police have also been dealing with lurid reports in British newspapers that the family's two horses were shot dead, a pair of dogs has gone missing from their kennels, and the building's doors and windows were boarded up from the inside possibly to prevent escape.

Several papers have suggested that Foster may have killed his wife and daughter, then boarded up the house and set it on fire.

Police have not confirmed or denied the claims but said they were "unhelpful." Police told that reports that the house was barricaded from the inside was speculation because the police had yet to enter the unsafe structure.

Local Police Superintendent Gary Higgins issued a statement saying, "Once it has been deemed safe, which we are hoping will be either this evening or tomorrow, specialist search teams and forensic experts will go in. Until we can enter the property, we do not know whether the family was inside at the time of the fire, which we believe was started deliberately."

What is known about the blaze at the mansion, dubbed Osbaston House, is that it broke out about 4:50 a.m. Tuesday, and that a garage and stable were also set on fire.

Superintendent Gary Higgins, from Shropshire Police Division, said ports and airports were being watched in an effort to track any family members if they didn't perish in the blaze.

Foster made millions working on insulation technology for oil rigs. He was managing director of Ulva Ltd., a thermal insulation company that went into liquidation last year. In November 2006, two men were cleared of attempting to blackmail Foster into giving them $200,000.

It had also been reported that a horse trailer with deflated tires was left blocking the entrance to the property, although police told that emergency services had no difficulty entering the grounds of the mansion.

In a statement, Superintendent Higgins said:

"There has been a lot of speculation in some sections of the media, which has caused serious distress to the Foster's family and friends," Higgins said. "Such speculation is not helpful to our investigation, and until we gain access to the house and complete our search and examination, we are not in a position to make any further comment on such issues."

Kirstie Foster is student at Ellesmere College, a private school in Ellesmere, Shropshire, England. The school's head teacher, Brendan Wignall, told the BBC, "Kirstie is a charming, popular and hardworking girl with many friends, all of whom are hoping she will be found safe and well."

About 80 officers and staff are involved in the investigation, which has been named Operation Feedback.