77-year-old John David Irwin killed his 83-year-old wife Jean by hitting her around the head with a hammer before strangling her with a scarf at their home in Shanklin, an inquest has today (Friday) heard.
As first reported by Island Echo, Police were called to an address on Albert Road, Shanklin on the morning of 20th June this year where the bodies of an elderly man and woman were discovered.
Today’s inquest, which was held in Newport, heard how the discovery of the bodies came about when the local paperboy – also a neighbour – found a handwritten note on the doorstep of the Irwin’s home. The note stated “I am sorry but don’t come in the house, as us Irwins are dead (underlined). Sorry for the nuisance, John”. The note asked the teen to call Police.
Police officers arrived at the property by 07:20 and discovered John Irwin, a retired aircraft engineer, hanging in the hallway and the body of his wife, Jean Irwin, a retired legal secretary, on the living room sofa covered in a blanket. Mr Irwin had used a white rope to suspend himself from the banister at the top of the stairs – his feet resting just a few inches off the ground floor hallway.
The inquest, which was opened and adjourned on 22nd June, has revealed that John Irwin used a small sledge-style hammer to hit Jean around the head whilst she slept on the sofa, rendering her unconscious. He then used a scarf to strangle her to death. The hammer, which was wrapped in a black sock, was discovered beside her body.
Before taking his own life Mr Irwin left another handwritten note, this time on the stairs inside the property. It said:
“I have just killed my wife Jean and I have to attend to myself.
“I can no longer give her the support she needs to keep us both going.
“I am sorry for the nuisance caused”.
On the reverse of the letter contact details were given for the Irwin’s son and daughter, who were both present at the inquest.
Mr Irwin had been battling prostate cancer for over 7 years after being diagnosed in 2009. Refusing the majority of treatments and pain relief offered, the cancer spread and at the time of his death Mr Irwin had stage 4 terminal cancer and he had been fitted with a colostomy bag. He did not have any mental health issues.
In 2014, Jean complained of short term memory loss and was diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment – the early stages of dementia. Although she was still fairly independent, she sometimes struggled to remember the days of the week and would sometimes get confused easily.
Despite the couple’s challenging situation, neighbours described them as happy in each others company, well matched and close. Statements given throughout the inquest painted a picture of the Irwin’s being a private couple and Mr Irwin being a very proud man. The pair had been married for around 50 years.
Caroline Sumeray, senior coroner for the Isle of Wight recorded suicide in the case of John David Irwin and unlawful killing in the case of his wife, Jean Elizabeth Irwin (nee Roberts).
In concluding today’s inquest, Ms Sumeray said:
“Inferences I draw from the evidence is that he clearly loved her and she loved him. But this was a warped love and to spare her the distress of coping without him, he made a terrible, terrible decision. In doing this he didn’t consider the distress caused to their children, grandchildren and wider family.
“John Irwin took the decision to take his wife’s life and then his own”.
Addressing the family, Ms Sumeray added:
“This is one of the most tragic cases. My heart goes out to both of you. The shock and disrepair you must have felt can only be imagined.
“It is so awful he [John] didn’t think to ask you or anyone else for help. I do believe his actions were a warped form of love for your mother and he genuinely believed he was doing the right thing.”
Ms Sumeray gave her deepest condolences.