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Stabbings stun pair's Brookings friends

Stabbings stun pair's Brookings friends

A double stabbing Sunday night involving a prominent, elderly Medford couple has shaken close friends in Brookings, where Raymond and Mary June Nidiffer had built a chain of grocery stores before moving to the Rogue Valley Manor seven years ago.

Mary June Nidiffer, 80, was found dead from stab wounds Sunday inside the couple's apartment. Her 79-year-old husband, Raymond, whose namesake Ray's Food Place stores stretch across Southern Oregon and Northern California, was rushed to a local hospital with an apparently self-inflicted stab wound, according to Medford police.

The couple's health had been deteriorating rapidly in recent years, friends said Wednesday.

Phyllis Kerr, a close friend of the Nidiffers, said they were a solid couple, and she is dismayed that the tragedy would be perceived as anything other than an attempt to end two lives overwhelmed by illness.

"My reaction was that this was a pact between the two of them," said the 74-year-old Brookings resident who has known the Nidiffers for 40 years. "I just feel it was something they just agreed upon."

Medford police Lt. Tim Doney said his department hasn't completed what it considers a "homicide-attempted suicide investigation."

Based on interviews conducted by police, Doney said investigators believe no one other than the couple was involved in the incident.

"These two people were found in a locked room," he said. "The people that we believe were involved in this incident were Mr. and Mrs. Nidiffer."

Doney said he wouldn't comment on suggestions that the stabbing was part of some kind of suicide pact.

Kerr, who spent a week with the Nidiffers in 2003 when her husband underwent knee surgery, said she saw the couple last fall and their health had gotten markedly worse.

Mary June suffered from Parkinson's disease that kept her mostly bedridden and she was barely able to use a walker, said Kerr. "It was hard to carry on a conversation with her," she remembered.

Raymond had had a stroke and was partially paralyzed, relying on a walker because of problems with his knee, said Kerr.

At the time she saw them, Kerr said the couple mostly had their meals brought into their room.

She said the Nidiffers were happy when they moved to the Manor in 2002, but reached a point where they had to move out of a cottage and into the main building to get more assistance.

Kerr said that she and her husband, Bob, were involved in community events with the Nidiffers and went on vacations with them to Mexico. Her husband was mayor in Brookings when Raymond Nidiffer was a City Council member. They also were involved in business dealings. Kerr said her husband was owner of Kerr's Ace Hardware, which has been turned over to their two sons.

"They were just comfortable in the community — very outgoing," she said of the Nidiffers. "They treasured all their friends and their customers. Ray was always the first one to put out his hand and shake somebody's hand."

In all the years she'd known the Nidiffers, she found them to be a solid, upstanding couple that rarely argued, she said. She said she never saw Raymond Nidiffer exhibit anything approaching anger.

She said she has become upset with news reports calling the stabbing a murder because she doesn't think Raymond would ever do something in malice.

Kerr said it is difficult to comprehend how their situation led to the stabbing, but she speculated the couple didn't have access to some other means of ending their lives.

"How terrible for him and not an easy way for her to go," she said.

After everything that has happened, Kerr said she will be happy to see Raymond Nidiffer again once he has recovered at the hospital.

Another longtime friend, Archie McVay, said it's difficult for the Brookings community to take in what's happened.

"Nobody ever thought anything like this would happen," said the 88-year-old Brookings resident who owned a dairy farm along the Chetco River where the boat basin and a few hotels now stand.

McVay said he has a difficult time believing that the man he built a house with in Mexico and used to go on hunting trips to Alaska and Canada with would do anything like this out of anger.

"There has never been better-hearted people," he said. "He never had a temper when I was around him."

McVay said Raymond Nidiffer lost a lot of his outgoing spirit about 10 years ago when he suffered a stroke that left him paralyzed on his left side. He said Nidiffer was taking at least seven different medications.

He said Mary June Nidiffer had been despondent over the years as her Parkinson's disease kept her bedridden much of the time.

"She was really always not as outgoing like he was," he said. "She was more reserved. One thing that always worried her was growing old."

When McVay built a house in Mexico with the Nidiffers and another local couple, he said Raymond used to fly him and his wife down, and they would taxi the plane right up to the house. All the materials were shipped down from the U.S., which required a lot of coordination with all the families involved, said McVay. He said he spent many wonderful times in Mexico with the Nidiffers before they sold the place in the 1980s.

Both McVay and Ray went on hunting trips to Alaska and Canada and were both active in the community.

McVay said he is working on a book with the Nidiffers' son, Doug, who runs the Brookings-based C&K Market Inc. The book is about the history surrounding the Chetco River, said McVay. The Nidiffers' son used to visit his parents about twice a week in Medford, McVay said. The Nidiffers also have a daughter, Patricia.

Because he is getting older, McVay said it has been about six months since he's seen his old friends.

For everyone involved, this will be a difficult tragedy to understand, said McVay.

"Just think of the family that will have to live with it," he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com.

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