They were a quiet couple who kept themselves to themselves. But inside Kenneth and Jane McRae’s home, tragedy was unfolding as Mr McRae’s concerns over an invasive plant growing nearby spiralled to massive proportions.
Neighbours today said the community was ‘deeply saddened’ after the doctor killed his wife then himself amid fears Japanese Knotweed could prevent them selling their home.
But they insisted they were not aware of a problem with the plant at the back of their row of houses.
Mr McRae, aged 52, and his wife, aged 55, were found dead in their home in Rowley Regis. Mrs McRae had been battered to death with a perfume bottle before Mr McRae took his own life by cutting his wrists and throat.
Neighbours spoke of a couple who only exchanged passing greetings to those living nearby.
Trymore Machipisa, aged 40, a freelance photographer, who lives three doors from the couple, said he had never noticed any problem with the growth of Japanese Knotweed at the rear to their homes, at the back of Rowley Regis Golf Club.
He said: “It was a big shock to find the police outside the home and then be told the couple had both died. It makes me even more surprised to hear why it happened.”
He added: “I didn’t know them too well, but knew them enough to say ‘hello’ when they were packing their car or going into their house. It is tragic what happened.”
Lorna Bryant lives next door to Mr and Mrs McRaes’ home. She described the community as ‘deeply saddened’ by the death of the pair. But she said she was never aware of any problems over Japanese Knotweed at the rear of their properties.
She said: “If that was the reason he has given, I find that quite shocking really.
“I wouldn’t know what Japanese Knotweed is without being shown it. We have never had any issue with the growth behind the house.”
The 29-year-old, who lives with her partner at the address, added: “The police told us what happened. Everyone was deeply saddened. I didn’t know them well, but would see them and say ‘hello’ as I left or came back from work. They seemed like a nice couple.” Andrew Rowe, aged 35, lives in a coach house with his wife Rebecca which overlooks the rear of the McRaes’ home. He said: “You can see some weeds in the land behind, but it’s more rubbish which is an issue for us. There isn’t much weed growth to talk of.”
He added: “I didn’t know the couple, but I heard what happened. It is quite sad, you don’t expect something like that to take place near to where you live.”
Senior Black Country coroner Robin Balmain recorded that Mrs McRae was unlawfully killed, and that Mr McRae killed himself at yesterday inquest held in Smethwick. Mr Balmain said: “This is clearly a tragedy. They appeared for whatever reason to keep themselves to themselves, they were perfectly entitled to do that. The impression is Mr McRae was possibly becoming paranoid, there is no direct evidence of that, of course. He had a responsible job as a lab technician, his own home free from mortgage.
“It appears he became obsessed with Japanese Knotweed in the vicinity, which was not even on his property. It is perfectly clear he chose to kill his wife. It is difficult to understand what was going on in Mr McRae’s mind. For whatever reason he killed his wife and then himself.”
Speaking after the inquest, their adoptive son Mark McRae, aged 27, who had been estranged from them for about 10 years, said he still did not understand how the tragedy could have happened as his parents had lived a ‘successful life’. He said he was alerted to their death by a cousin, and after finding reports about their death on the internet, contacted police.
He added: “They were a happy couple. They never argued, and if they did it was only over small things. My mother used to get stressed a lot, it is likely that she might have encouraged my dad on the knotweed. But I don’t know, things could have changed a lot over the years I didn’t speak to them. Finding out what happened was a massive shock.”
Japanese Knotweed was first introduced into Britain in the 19th century as an ornamental plant but over time it has become widespread and is known for its ability to outgrow neighbouring plants. Members of Rowley Regis Club and Sandwell Council today gave no comment.