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Apparent fire victim testified in murder trial

March 16, 1999|By BRYN MICKLE

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A witness in a high-profile Eastern Panhandle murder case had been living in a storage shed in which an unidentified man died here last week in a fire.

Officials have not identified the body found in the burned-out shed pending an autopsy today in Morgantown, W.Va., but Martinsburg City police Capt. Barbara Bartley said investigators believe Carl Trenum was in the shed at the time of the fire.

Trenum testified last summer in the trial of a Berkeley County man convicted of stabbing his disabled wife to death and stuffing her naked body into a sofa bed.

Trenum found Erika Birdsall's body after Clyde Lee Birdsell dumped the sofa behind a Martinsburg store.

Clyde Birdsall, 58, of Inwood, W.Va., is serving a three-year federal sentence on a firearms charge and will begin serving a 40-year murder sentence when his federal term is finished.

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Firefighters responding to a call last Thursday afternoon on West Addition Street found a man dead inside a storage shed behind the house of Linda Alabaugh, with whom Trenum once lived.

Martinsburg police say Trenum built the shed, stocking it with a bed, the heater and appliances. He had been living there about two years.

Police believe the blaze started when papers and clothing near a kerosene heater caught fire.

An autopsy was scheduled Monday, but was delayed by inclement weather.

Martinsburg Fire Department Capt. David Brining said the autopsy would determine the victim's identity.

"Until the identity is confirmed I'm not going to speculate on who it may be," said Brining.

- The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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