A 98-year-old nursing home resident has been accused of strangling her 100-year-old roommate to death after allegedly becoming convinced that the woman was taking over their room.
Laura Lundquist, who is said to suffer from dementia and cognitive impairment, was charged on Friday more than two months after Elizabeth Barrow was found dead with a plastic bag tied round her head.
Police initially ruled the centenarian’s death at the Brandon Woods nursing home in Dartmouth, Massachusetts, as a suicide, but arrested Ms Lundquist after a post-mortem examination showed evidence of strangulation.
She is believed to be the oldest murder defendant in state history.
The victim’s son said that Ms Lundquist told him as she was wheeled away from her room: “You’re going to blame me for this … but you’re wrong.”
Scott Barrow told a local television station: “We’re devastated … My mother was well-loved. She loved everyone at the nursing home.”
Mr Barrow said that there was a history of conflict between the two women during the 12 months that they shared a room, which the nursing home had played down. Ms Lundquist had complained to carers about the number of visitors his mother received, and had made “threatening” and “harassing” remarks to Mrs Barrow, he claimed.
He had asked nursing home staff to separate them, but was assured that the two were getting along, he added.
He said his mother told him she did not want to leave her room because that’s where she and her husband had lived for several years before he died in 2007.
Sam Sutter, the Bristol District Attorney, said that Ms Lundquist suffered from paranoia and “harbored hostility towards the victim” and thought Mrs Barrow “was taking over the room they shared”.
She had told Mrs Barrow that she would soon get her bed by the window because she would outlive her, said Mr Sutter.
Mrs Barrow complained in the weeks before her death that Ms Lundquist was making her life “a living hell”, Mr Sutter said. The night before she died, she complained that Ms Lundquist had placed a table at the foot of her bed to block her way to the bathroom.
Ms Lundquist punched a nurse’s aide who removed the table, which was again found next to the bed at the time Mrs Barrow’s body was discovered, the District Attorney added.
A Superior Court judge, acting on a motion filed jointly by prosecutors and Carl Levin, Ms Lundquist’s lawyer, ordered Ms Lundquist to be sent to Taunton State Hospital for psychiatric evaluation.
Mr Sutter admitted that the case was unlikely to go to trial given the suspect’s mental health.
Mr Levin said that if someone was found not competent to stand trial, the state would likely move for a civil commitment.
Prosecutors had pursued second-degree murder charges because they didn’t believe Ms Lundquist had the cognitive ability to form premeditation, which must be proven in a first-degree murder case, Mr Sutter said.
In a statement, the nursing home said that the roommates had acted like sisters, walked and ate lunch together daily and said, “Goodnight, I love you,” to each other every night. The home said that Mrs Barrow had declined a room change in July and August.