Police close in on Ballina nursing-home killer

‘Mum was a tiny little gentle [lady], wouldn’t hurt a fly’: Charli Darragh, right, with her mother Marie. Photo: FacebookHomicide detectives are interviewing nursing-home staff after the suspected murder of two elderly women and the attack on a third in northern NSW.

Isobella Spencer, 77, and Marie Darragh, 82, were found unconscious in their beds by staff at St Andrew’s Village nursing home in Ballina on May 10. They were pronounced dead before emergency services arrived. A third woman, 88, was also attacked on the same night, but survived.

Homicide squad commander Detective Superintendent Mick Willing would not detail how the women were killed but said detectives were pursing a strong line of inquiry and had a “fairly good idea”. He said the investigation was at “delicate stage” and the results of forensic tests would be crucial in determining how it progressed.

“Given the circumstances that these deaths occured under, common sense would dictate that we are looking at the actions of nursing-home staff,” Detective Superintendent Willing said.

Steps have been taken to ensure the safety of residents at the home and police do not believe the deaths are linked to any others in nursing homes. The unexpected nature of the women’s deaths, and the fact that they occured on the same night at the same place, meant police immediately treated it as a double murder.

St Andrew’s chief executive Pip Carter described Ms Spencer and Ms Darragh as “lovely ladies”.

“I think [Marie] used to sing a little bit,” he said. “She was an outgoing lady and she was a very happy lady. [Isobella] was a different personality but a lovely lady, too.”

Mr Carter said staff were upset about news the deaths were being treated as homicides but had been given support by residents and relatives of the women killed. He said the 88-year-old woman, who was taken to hospital, was in good health.

“Residents become part of your family and it’s always distressing, it doesnt matter who passes on, it’s a distressing time.”

The daughter of Ms Darragh, Charli, said her mother had lived in the home for three years and was healthy before her death. She pleaded for people with information to come forward.

“Mum was a tiny little gentle [lady], wouldn’t hurt a fly, but loved a laugh, loved a joke and was healthy,” Charli Darragh told the ABC. “If anybody out there knows what happened, if anyone did anything, please, I beg you, please [come forward], because I do not want anyone else to go through what my brother and sister and I have gone through for 39 days,” she said.

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