Mary Griffiths was a 38 year old mother of 3 living in Bury St Edmonds in Suffolk. Her story tragically illustrates why we must all take obsessive behaviour seriously.
Mary was a very popular person – ‘bubbly; friendly; the sort of person who saw the best in everyone’. She was beautiful, talented and very kind. But her friends say she really didn’t appreciate how attractive she was.
Mary had a big circle of friends. She taught fitness classes at a number of gyms in the local area and ‘welcomed everyone’ – consequently she knew many people. She’d experienced a painful divorce from her husband and was bringing up her children on her own. Her friends were especially important to her.
Mary met a man called John McFarlane at an exercise class. He was married and Mary socialised with him and his wife. Friends say he was just one of Mary’s large circle of friends that she’d met through going to the gym. When the gym Mary attended closed, he followed her to another gym in the area. John then decided he wanted to be a fitness instructor too. Mary specialised in ‘Body Combat’ and John was very keen to practise with her. Friends say he would give her the impression that ‘she wasn’t good enough’ and needed to work on her moves. He was always there to ‘help her train’.
Friends say that if John was harbouring romantic feelings towards Mary, he wasn’t the sort of person to express them. They describe him as ‘quite a simple person – almost childish’. If one of her friends suggested John might ‘have a crush’ on Mary – she wouldn’t entertain the idea – she was too modest and really didn’t think of herself as attractive. Mary knew John McFarlane for around two and a half years. If he had ideas about becoming Mary’s boyfriend, he certainly didn’t tell her.
To the outside world, John McFarlane simply came across as being ‘needy – perhaps slightly odd’. Mary certainly had no idea he was becoming fixated by her. His marriage was in trouble and he was very unhappy. He’d tell Mary his problems. She gave him time and a shoulder to cry on – after all, that’s what mates are for. John began helping her out – he put up her fence when it blew down in the wind – he’d do odd jobs for her. She was a single mother and she was grateful for some help – she simply regarded John as a friend and that’s what friends do. Some say they wouldn’t have been as patient as Mary was with him – they wouldn’t have spent the time listening to him – because they aren’t as kind and thoughtful as Mary was.
As time went on, John’s behaviour seemed to get ‘more intense’ – whenever Mary was about, John would be there too. Friends say he’d always try to ‘sit close to her’. He was texting and calling her a lot. He also threatened suicide. Mary – a very busy working mum tried to help him as best she could but even she had to tell him to ‘back off’ a bit because he was just getting ‘too much’.
In March 2009, strange things began to happen – Mary’s car was scratched – twice. Then her tyres were slashed. Mary reported this to the police but she didn’t suspect McFarlane was behind it. Mary was very upset about the car being damaged - it was’ her baby’ and anyone who knew her was aware of this. Like many frantically busy working mums – she regarded it as hassle - got the problems fixed and got on with life. She didn’t assume it was John who’d done it and she certainly wasn’t frightened of him – he was a friend who was going through a hard time. Sometimes he could be a pain but if anything he was just a bit ‘pathetic’ rather than anything menacing - so she and everyone else thought.
At the start of May 2009, John McFarlane left his wife. He was staying on a friend’s sofa and his life was in turmoil. Mary hurt her leg in an exercise class and he drove her to hospital. On Saturday 3rd May, with Mary laid up and on crutches, John did some shopping for her – to help out. After returning he stayed – not wanting to go. Mary eventually told him that it was time to leave. He got ‘a bit forceful’ and said he wouldn’t go. Mary insisted he had to go because a male friend was coming over. He left, angry - later sending Mary a text saying ‘nice knowing you – you have to face the consequences’. Mary – still concerned about his well being and worried he was suicidal, let his friend know. An ambulance was sent to the farm where he worked - he was indeed apparently trying to commit suicide. After treatment, he was assessed at hospital and then released.
After the weekend, John’s behaviour got more strange. He sent Mary a threatening message on Face book saying ‘If I can’t have you no-one else will.” Friends say she began to get worried for the first time about where his behaviour was going. On Monday night, she texted a few of her friends asking what she should do (very unlike her) and she phoned the local police who had promised to call to her that evening but failed to, and rearranged to call out the following day. Tragically it was too late. In the early hours of Wednesday 6th May 2009, John McFarlane broke into her house and after a struggle, killed Mary with a stun gun.
Mary was truly a very special person. Her devastated family and friends want lessons to be learned from her tragic death. They’re supporting our Trust Your Instinct campaign and they urge you to take obsessive or stalking behaviour seriously – facing a lifetime without their beloved mother, sister, daughter and friend, they are living proof how devastating stalking can be…
Mary’s friend Emma says “We didn’t think of John as a stalker. He was just someone we knew – he was always about. In fact he was the opposite of what you’d think of as a ‘stalker’ – he was always so friendly and talkative – he’d do anything to help you. Don’t get me wrong – I hate him. I hate him for what he did to my friend and her family. I just want people to realise that stalkers can seem very normal. I would really urge anyone – if you see this sort of behaviour happening to anyone, please take it seriously. The chances are it will just fizzle out – but are you prepared to take that chance? There’s not a day goes by when I don’t think about Mary. I miss her so much.”
Her friend Sharon wants this message to get across, “Mary didn’t see John as a stalker – he was a friend. He didn’t seem a threat to her. He had mental health issues and he was very vulnerable. We can see now he was a dangerous person to be involved with but none of us were frightened of him. I would say please try and look at a situation as a whole – not just isolated incidents.”
Mary’s sister Irene says “You can see and learn from Mary’s case it can be very difficult to detect but I would urge people to take any signs very seriously and seek help immediately. I think Mary would say to anyone – Trust Your Instinct.”