Families share fond memories
The home of homicide victims Brenda Groene and Mark McKenzie was not some scene out of the “Leave it to Beaver” television show, but it also wasn’t a drug den, McKenzie’s family members said Wednesday.
“Mark and Brenda were good people,” said McKenzie’s youngest brother, Steve McKenzie. “The media has pounded on the rampant drug use out there. It wasn’t true.”
Steve McKenzie said he last saw his brother May 15. That night, or sometime the next morning, Mark McKenzie, Groene and Groene’s 13-year-old son, Slade, were bound and bludgeoned to death.
Groene’s two youngest children, 8-year-old Shasta and 9-year-old Dylan, are missing.
About 70 investigators from the FBI, the Idaho State Police and the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Department are working to solve the brutal killings and find the children – alive, they hope.
Steve McKenzie said he stopped by his brother’s Wolf Lodge area home that afternoon and left his son there to play with Shasta and Dylan while he went to visit Ralph McKenzie, Steve and Mark’s father. Later, he returned to pick up his son.
“Nothing was out of the ordinary,” Steve McKenzie recalled. His brother “didn’t mention anything about conflicts with anybody, or have any reason to be nervous about anything. They weren’t drinking … I can’t speak for anything that happened after I left …
“Mark was unloading firewood. They were talking about getting some movies.”
Ken Francis, Mark McKenzie’s friend and hunting buddy of 20-some years, said he also stopped by after spending a good part of the day bear hunting and looking for deer and elk antlers. He and Mark shared the same tattoo, “Brue Crue.”
“If I was in the area, I always stopped by,” Francis said. “I knew he was there. Now he’s not there anymore, and it’s hard.”
Like Steve McKenzie, Francis said he didn’t get any indication that there was a problem or some wild party on the evening’s agenda.
“Yeah, they drank beer, they smoked pot,” Steve McKenzie said. But, he said, it wasn’t the kind of place he felt uncomfortable leaving his son to play. “I wouldn’t go out there if it was like that.”
The Kootenai County coroner has said that autopsies indicated Mark McKenzie and Brenda Groene had drugs in their systems, but the exact substance hasn’t been released. Groene was convicted in 2003 of possessing marijuana paraphernalia.
Steve McKenzie said his brother had two sets of friends: “Your normal people that get up, go to work, do the best they can. And there were people who went out there just to drink beer, do the party thing.”
One family friend with a lengthy criminal record, Robert Lutner, told investigators last week that there was a party at the house the evening of the homicides, and sheriff’s officials say investigators have contacted everyone known to be at the gathering.
Mark McKenzie was a get-up-and-go-to-work kind of guy, according to Steve McKenzie and another brother, Jimmy. Records show Mark McKenzie had no criminal record in Kootenai County. He was a manager at Spokane Stainless Products, where he started as an installer of commercial stainless steel sinks and other fixtures and worked his way up. He worked 10 hours a day, leaving home at 5 a.m. and returning about 5 p.m., family members said.
“His job was pretty hard. His boss was pretty demanding. The idea of him being under the influence, being strung out, certainly would not have gone unnoticed,” Steve McKenzie said.
He keep his job there at least 15 years.
“It’s the only job I remember him having,” said Jimmy McKenzie.
In addition to his father and two brothers, Mark McKenzie also is survived by his mother, Lee Wood, of Post Falls.
Mark McKenzie was the bread-winner of his blended family, and his brothers said he wanted Groene to be able to stay home, to be with the kids before and after school.
McKenzie cared for Groene’s children as his own, and enjoyed catching crawfish with them and teaching Slade how to track elk and deer in the nearby forests, the brothers said.
He provided for the family by collecting firewood and hunting – every possible season, including cougar and bear, they said. One autumn, he, Francis and his father made up 300 pounds of elk and deer sausage, Francis said.
“He wasn’t happy if he wasn’t outside all the time,” Francis said.
“He was a typical North Idaho guy,” said his father, Ralph McKenzie.
By happenstance, Mark McKenzie talked with his father the week before the homicides, about his father’s last wishes. Mark also shared his own wishes, and the family now is carrying them out.
He wanted to be cremated, his ashes spread in the woods, and his loved ones to have a wake.
“We had bikers to businessmen there,” Jimmy McKenzie said of the wake.
McKenzie’s brothers said they’re doing their best to help investigators find Shasta and Dylan Groene.
“These guys are great,” said Steve McKenzie, who had just finished up a follow-up meeting with an ISP investigator at Coeur d’Alene City Park. “This guy has already worked a very long day, and he met me here.”
While they want the crime solved as soon as possible, they expressed gratitude for the dogged and thorough work by the multi-agency team of detectives and the outpouring of support from the public.
“We want the kids back,” Ralph McKenzie said.