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Martinsburg police release name of homicide victim

March 17, 1997

By CLYDE FORD

Staff Writer, Charles Town

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The Martinsburg Police Department released the name Monday of a 57-year-old Inwood, W.Va., woman whose body was found March 7 in a sleeper sofa behind Martinsburg Plaza.

Investigators identified the body of homicide victim Erica E. Birdsall on Friday through a comparison of her fingerprints with prints on file with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, police said Monday. Birdsall lived in a house on Vivian Drive in the Camelot Subdivision just off Three Run Road, neighbors said.

Meanwhile, Clyde Birdsall, of the same address in Inwood, was being held on an unrelated charge of possession of a firearm by a felon, officials said Monday. He was picked up over the weekend and was being held Monday night at the Eastern Regional Jail on $7,500 bond.

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Police and the county prosecutor declined to comment on whether Clyde Birdsall is considered a suspect in the slaying.

"I cannot confirm or deny if he's a suspect," said Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely.

Martinsburg Detective Sgt. George Swartwood also declined to comment on whether the investigators have a suspect in the slaying.

No arrests in Erica Birdsall's slaying had been made as of Monday, police said.

On March 7, a passerby spotted the woman's body stuffed in a brown sleeper sofa behind the H-Mart convenience store in Martinsburg Plaza.

The woman had been stabbed repeatedly in the chest and stomach.

Games-Neely said the official cause of death has not been determined, but it is believed the woman died from stab wounds.

"At this stage in the investigation, it appears that the homicide occurred outside of the City of Martinsburg," police said in a statement Monday. "Lab work and other investigative efforts need to be exhausted before any final determination can be made."

After the body was identified on March 14, police obtained three search-and-seizure warrants for Erica Birdsall's home in Inwood, W.Va., and two vehicles parked there, police said.

The warrants were served at about 1:30 p.m. Saturday by Martinsburg police, the West Virginia State Police, and the Eastern Panhandle Drug and Violent Crime Task Force.

Firearms were found in the home and Clyde Birdsall was charged with the weapons offense, Game-Neely said. It was not known Monday night what the earlier felony conviction involved.

Police declined to discuss the arrest of Clyde Birdsall on the weapons charge.

During the search, investigators seized several items from the home as potential evidence, police and Games-Neely said.

"Forensics will play a key part in this case," Games-Neely said.

Games-Neely said the lab will analyze fingerprints, blood, hair and fibers. She declined to say what items were taken from the home.

"The question we have in this case is, `Do we have a crime scene or not?'" she said Monday.

Neighbors said the Birdsalls moved into the house last summer.

"They just really seemed to keep to themselves," said neighbor Tina Malloy.

Malloy said Erica Birdsall had multiple sclerosis and was confined to a wheelchair. A wheelchair ramp was installed at their house.

"I'm sure she couldn't defend herself," she said. Malloy said she has lived in the area for seven years, and described it as peaceful. "That kind of stuff just does not happen here," she said.

Neighbor Willard Walls said Clyde Birdsall drove a van and a car daily.

Birdsall could sometimes be seen doing yard work but didn't chat with neighbors, they said.

Another neighbor, Alice Loizos, said a nurse came twice a week to take care of Erica Birdsall. The visits stopped about a month ago, she said.

Watching police arrest Clyde Birdsall and hearing about the death of Erica Birdsall has been a shock, she said.

"I'm scared to death to leave the house," Loizos said.

- Staff Writer Steven T. Dennis contributed to this story.

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