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Neighbors: Drugs may have a part in murder

There is an air of apprehension and confusion in the neighborhood where murder victim Mary Spratt lived, as residents question who could have killed the friendly, quiet 75-year-old woman.

“There is no good news here,” said Mark Hale, who lives close to the small four-plex on West Empire Street where Spratt was killed. “I don’t understand the strangling.”

Neighbor Jamie Alvarez said two elderly women who live nearby are frightened.



“One woman sleeps with her light on now,” Alvarez said.

Spratt was found on the afternoon of May 4 strangled to death in her downstairs apartment. Police have not revealed details of the crime scene, only that Spratt’s purse and its contents were missing. Rape was not a motivation, investigators said.




Neighbors said someone probably meant to steal prescription drugs from Spratt, who had arthritis and saw a doctor regularly.

“I have reason to believe pharmaceutical drugs were involved,” Hale said. Spratt was most likely killed after she returned from playing bingo Thursday evening, he said.

The last time any of Spratt’s neighbors saw her alive was 5 p.m. the evening before she was killed, police said.

A woman who lives in a small cottage behind Spratt’s home said she was just getting to know Spratt when she was murdered.

She often saw Spratt walking her poodle named Doodle, and the neighbors would chat when the woman went to the front of Spratt’s house to retrieve her mail.

“She was real nice,” said the woman, who declined to be identified. “I told her I had problems with depression and she said ‘I do, too.’ She volunteered at the Spirit Center and she told me one day she’d get me out and take me with her.”

The neighbor told Spratt she should stop wearing her glasses, which were big and hid her features.

“She was really pretty,” she said.

Volunteer at Spirit Center

Staff at Spirit Mental Health Peer Empowerment Center say they’ll miss Spratt, who volunteered weekly as a peer counselor.

“People loved her here,” said Spirit Center program liaison Lily Marie. “She was insightful and caring. She was a life-long learner and was always trying to improve relationships.”

Spratt recently took a break from volunteering last winter, Marie said, when her sister died, one of her dogs died and she had to move from her old apartment to West Empire Street.

Staff at Fudenjüce, the smoothie and health food restaurant on Nevada City Highway where Spratt was a regular customer, said they also are saddened by the news.

None of the West Empire Street residents could guess who could have killed Spratt – just that drugs or robbery may have been a motivation.

“There are a lot of older, retired people here, and they should not have to be afraid for their lives or their drugs,” neighbor Hale said.

Grass Valley Police Capt. Don Muren said investigators do not know whether robbery of prescription drugs was a motivation in the killing. He would not reveal whether Spratt had a prescription for Oxycontin, a commonly abused prescription painkiller.

Every once in a while, elderly people call police to report their Oxycontin or other prescription drugs have been stolen, according to police logs.

Investigators are actively working on the case, he said, following several leads from people who have phoned in tips.

“Investigators are looking for people that have any information,” Muren said. “They have not determined if they have a suspect and they are retracing (Spratt’s) activities for the last week or two.”

He asks anyone with information about Spratt’s death to call Sgt. Doug Hren at the Grass Valley Police Department, 477-4600.

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To contact staff Writer Robyn Moormeister, e-mail robynm@ theunion.com or call 477-4236.


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