Ernest and Mary Rayfield had been living in their Springfield Township, Delaware County, home since 1954, raising four children and being nice neighbors.

In recent years, however, Mary had been in declining health with an Alzheimer's-type illness, said Dorothea Hepler, 92, who lives in the same 300 block of Madison Road. It had been months, Hepler said, since she saw Mary Rayfield outside.

On Sunday, Hepler came home from church to the stunning news that Ernest Rayfield, 88, is accused of stabbing his wife to death.

Ernest Rayfield is charged with first-degree murder and lesser offenses, including "voluntary manslaughter - provocation from individual killed," court records show. No lawyer was listed for him.

Hepler described Ernest Rayfield as a "very, very nice gentleman. Very quiet, reserved." He retired from a job at the Scott Paper plant in Chester.

She said Mary Rayfield, before her illness, "was very pleasant, a good mother, a good wife, a very nice person."

The killing, "in my mind, didn't add up at all." The stabbing was particularly shocking. "That's a brutal thing," she said.

However, Hepler and other neighbors said they believed that his wife's illness had taken a great toll on him.

The Rayfields' family could not be reached for comment.

Contact staff writer Robert Moran at 215-854-5983 or