Police in Ireland are investigating the cause of death of two British pensioners whose bodies lay undiscovered in their rural bungalow for an estimated 18 months until they were found this week.
The couple, known locally as Nicholas Smith, 81, and his wife Hilary Smith, 79, lived in a remote townland called Rossane, about three miles from the village of Cloneen in County Tipperary.
Police made the grim discovery Monday after neighbors expressed concern about the couple, who had not been seen since late 2020.
Nicholas was in a bedroom and Hilary was in the living room. The blinds were lowered. There were no signs of third-party negligence or forced entry.
A post-mortem by a state pathologist, Linda Mulligan, at Waterford University Hospital was inconclusive. The police are waiting for the results of toxicological and other tests. There is speculation they may have died from Covid-19 or carbon monoxide poisoning, but police stressed they were open-minded.
The couple had reportedly worked on cruise ships in Australia – Nicholas is said to have been a captain – before retiring to Ireland and relocating to Rossane about a decade ago. They are said to have had no children.
“They kept very much to themselves,” a neighbor told the Irish Times. “They were always polite and friendly, would say hello and wave if you saw them in the street, but made it clear from the start that they didn’t want to be invited to tea. They were very private.”
In late 2020, the Smiths told people in the area that they intended to move to France, and they paid a man upfront to continue mowing their lawn so their absence was not a concern. A strict Covid lockdown that lasted until 2021 further dampened curiosity.
The unkempt condition of the garden and the fact that the couple’s car remained on the property prompted the police to carry out a social check on Monday.
The condition and expiration dates of milk cartons and other perishable items in the fridge suggest the couple died in November or December 2020. Police are examining letters and documents at the home for leads and are in contact with police forces in the UK and Australia to find out more about the couple.
Mark Fitzgerald, a councilman, said the community was shocked and saddened and also felt unfair criticism on social media, where there have been allegations of lack of neighborhood.
“They had told people they were moving,” he told reporters. “The assumption was that these people no longer lived in the area. We know very little about the couple. As a councilman and innkeeper, you know everyone in the area personally, but I’ve never met them. They really kept to themselves and you have to respect that.”