Elderly Man Kills Wife, Self Grisly Discovery In Niskayuna — (The Times Union)

SSRI Ed note: Elderly man takes Prozac, kills himself and his wife.

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The Times Union (NY)

April 27, 1994

Author: JOE MAHONEY Staff writer

NISKAYUNA Harold and Natalie Zaconick lived together as husband and wife for 55 years and, in the end, it was his decision to ensure that they would also be together when they went to their eternal rest, officials said Tuesday.

As both faced worsening health problems and the stressful prospect of moving into separate rooms in a nursing home, 77-year-old Harold Zaconick became the protagonist in a sad murder-suicide plot he authored and ultimately executed Sunday in the couple’s split-level home at 2459 Brookshire Drive home, town police said.

Recently diagnosed as clinically depressed and prescribed the drug Prozac, among other medications, Harold Zaconick killed his 73-year-old wife with a carefully aimed blast from a 12-gauge shotgun as she lay in her bed, and then turned the weapon on himself, investigators said.

Police forced their way into the house Monday night and made the grim discovery after they were contacted by one of the couple’s three daughters, Diane Feit of Albany, who was concerned about her parents’ welfare.

Whether Natalie Zaconick described by authorities as being in extremely frail health and her heart beating with the aid of a pacemaker was a willing victim in the shooting was a matter of speculation. “We’ll never know if she was an innocent victim or if it was an assisted suicide,” said Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney.

Dr. Thomas Oram, the county’s chief medical examiner, said both Natalie and Harold Zaconick were under the care of doctors from Community Health Plan for heart problems and diabetes. In addition, Harold Zaconick was under psychiatric care for his depression.

Lorene Zabin, a Brookshire Drive neighbor who has lived next door to the Zaconicks for about the last 14 years, said she believed that Natalie Zaconick probably wanted to die with her husband.

“Natalie was very concerned by the fact they could not be in the nursing home together,” she said.  “I think that really frightened her.”

Natalie Zaconick’s health problems drew emergency rescue workers to the house several times over the past year, and the couple’s daughters, realizing that their parents needed around-the-clock care, began to urge them to make the move into a nursing facility, police said.

In fact, Harold Zaconick had been admitted to the Baptist Retirement Center nursing home in Scotia on April 12, but left there abruptly on April 19 against the advice of those caring for him, officials said.

“He was very adamant about wanting to go home,” said Timothy Bartos, the chief administrator of Baptist Retirement. He noted that a staff member drove Harold Zaconick back to his Niskayuna house that day. “He wanted to be at home with her and handle his own affairs.”

The Zaconicks had employed several home health aides, but the latest aide was discharged by Harold only about a day before both husband and wife would die violently. A visiting nurse hired by the family went to the home Sunday but got no response.

According to suicide experts, depression is a leading cause of self-inflicted death among the elderly, and often the depression is triggered by health problems, feelings of isolation and difficulty in coping with the loss of a loved one. According to the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, the highest suicide rate of any age group is found in people ages 75 to 84, with suicides in this group accounting for 24.9 of 100,000 deaths.

Niskayuna Police Sgt. Robert Waterfield said it is not uncommon for officers to encounter frail elderly people who have become overwhelmed by the tasks of maintaining their own homes yet refusing to accept assistance. “As much as you try to give them all the help and support you can, they don’t want it,” he said.

The Zaconicks, Waterfield said, “didn’t want to be put in a nursing home. They wanted to live out their lives together.”

Authorities said Harold Zaconick scrawled a note laced with bitterness on a mirror in the home, but police declined to release the contents of the note.

The death weapon was a gun Harold Zaconick, a retired art gallery operator, had owned for many years, police said. Police said they had never been called to the house for any domestic disturbances, and neighbors said the couple had a loving, harmonious relationship.

Oram said Harold Zaconick had recently talked to his psychiatrist about his intentions to kill himself and his wife. Based on the information he received from doctors and others who knew the couple, Oram said Harold Zaconick, like many older people, appeared to be flustered by his inability to maintain his routine and was unable to accept the fact that he was losing his independence. He had begun to take out his frustration on those who tried to help him the most, he said. In the end, he said, “He had a tendency to blame everybody and everyone.”

Lorene Zabin said,  “It’s very hard sometimes for parents to accept the advice of their children. I just feel sad that they didn’t realize there were a lot of people who had good intentions for them. I just hope they’re really happy now. This is what they wanted to be together.”

Record Number:  0427940027