MAREE Mavis Crabtree was the “neighbour from hell” who “caused havoc” in the tiny Upper Hunter community of McCullys Gap before she was finally “run out of town”.
That is how the 51-year-old’s former neighbours described the five or so years Ms Crabtree spent in the farming village, located about 16 kilometres north-east of Muswellbrook in the NSW Hunter region, before she moved away after what neighbours said was an “extremely difficult” time in their lives.
Ms Crabtree last week was charged in Brisbane with the murders of her two adult children in what homicide detectives allege were “financially motivated” crimes.
It is alleged the mother-of-three forced prescription medication on her 18-year-old daughter and 26-year-old son, killing them in what initially appeared to be suicides.
Ms Crabtree faced Brisbane Magistrates Court charged with the murders, as well as the years-long torture of a 25-year-old woman, who remains alive but under the care of an adult guardian.
She also stands accused of successfully securing a fraudulent insurance payout of more than half a million dollars, and trying to defraud hundreds of thousands more.
The Newcastle Herald can reveal Gold Coast detectives recently flew to Muswellbrook to gather evidence about Ms Crabtree’s time in the district.
They interviewed the 51-year-old's Muswellbrook-based former husband, who is not the father of Ms Crabtree’s children, but did live with them before Ms Crabtree relocated to Queensland in 2011.
Tony Witt, who lived next door, cited several occasions where he was “harassed” by either Ms Crabtree or her children. Mr Witt said Jonathan would “walk up and down” the boundary of the property “pretending to fire a gun”. He said one day “shots were fired over the roof” of his home.
“They would harass the hell out of you,” Mr Witt said.
Mr Witt said he ended up taking Ms Crabtree to court over the theft of sheep from his property, recalling the day when Ms Crabtree confronted him over missing sheep.
“It was only a week later that all mine went missing,” Mr Witt said. “I hadn’t a clue where they’d gone.”
Mr Witt said another resident notified him that the sheep were locked inside Ms Crabtree’s property. He said he had to take Ms Crabtree to court to prove that they were his.
“They had a distinctive marking and, thankfully, we had photos of them prior to theft,” Mr Witt said.
Mr Witt said Ms Crabtree’s reputation was “muddied” and they were “run out of town” after that.
“She was a piece of work,” he said.
Tony Witt Snr, whose property also bordered Ms Crabtree’s, said: “The trouble they caused all over the place was phenomenal. They caused havoc, and it began from day one. Everywhere she went there was trouble. Maree was the neighbour from hell.”
A year after the Crabtrees arrived in Queensland, the eldest daughter, Erin Crabtree, was found dead in the family’s Gold Coast home while the rest of the family was on a cruise. Her brother, Jonathan, was found dead on July 18, 2017, in the Crabtree family’s new home.
Homicide detectives reviewed Erin’s death and linked the two cases.
Detective Inspector Mark Thompson said police allege the deaths were “premeditated direct acts of murder”.
According to her charge sheet, a $567,863 payment was claimed between March 2011, before either of the deaths, and August 2013.
Police also allege the mother-of-three attempted to claim a $125,000 Sunsuper superannuation death benefit policy payout between January and August last year, directly linked to one of her children’s deaths.
She is also accused of fraudulently trying to claim a $238,800 payout for a Total and Permanent Disability between January and August last year.
Ms Crabtree’s final charge, one of armed robbery, relates to the robbery of a chemist on the Gold Coast that Jonathan was caught robbing on March 29, 2015.
Detectives allege Ms Crabtree “counselled” Jonathan to commit the robbery.
Detective Inspector Thompson urged anyone in the Hunter with information relevant to the investigation to come forward.
“Anyone who has any understanding of this family, or how the family dynamic worked, or how they interacted should come forward,” he told the Herald.
“Our allegations are serious – these were premeditated, financially motivated acts of murder.”
- with Jorge Branco and Amy Mitchell-Whittington