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San Jose Mercury News (CA)

August 3, 2000

Author: PUTSATA REANG, Mercury News

In the end, the habit of love and the strain of caring for his sick wife had become unbearable for Alva Watson. She was suffering, and he was, too.  Some time between Monday night and Tuesday afternoon, police say, Alva Watson shot his wife in the head before doing the same to himself, bringing an end to their pain.

Union City police were called Tuesday night to a home on Medallion Drive, where they found a woman in the family room and a man in the bedroom, both dead from gunshot wounds.

The Alameda County Coroner’s Office would not release the names or causes of death late Wednesday.

But property records indicate the home belongs to Alva Watson, 68, a retired maintenance supervisor for the New Haven Unified School District, and his wife, Reiko Watson, in her mid-60s.

Friends and neighbors say Reiko Watson had been suffering from severe Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes for the past several years.  Alva Watson — whom neighbors described as his wife’s ”lifeline” — insisted on taking care of her, unwilling to admit her to a convalescent home.   But her condition was worsening.

”He was so depressed, he just didn’t know what to do,” said Mike Cain, a neighbor and longtime friend of the Watsons’.

Alva Watson’s death shocked friends and former colleagues at the New Haven school district, where he was widely respected and well-liked, according to Pat Gibbons, assistant superintendent.

Alva Watson was hired as a custodian in the district in 1978. He worked his way up to becoming head of custodians, which was his title when he retired in 1994, according to Gibbons.

Alva Watson was a tireless and reliable worker who made friends easily, he said. The district is planning a memorial service.

Gibbons had been a longtime friend of Alva Watson’s. He and others began worrying more for Alva Watson than his wife in recent weeks.

Alva Watson had been taking Prozac for depression in the past several months, according to neighbors.  His desperation may have reached a climax last Thursday morning when he woke to find his wife had fallen and injured her head.  He called 911 and when paramedics arrived, they found she was doing fine but he was not; his face was pale, neighbors said.

Creatures of habit

Medics took both of them to the hospital, where they were admitted overnight. That’s when Alva Watson learned he had an irregular heartbeat, probably from stress, friends said.

After being released the next day, Alva Watson walked across the street to the Cains’ house and gave them his house key and the phone number of his sister in Michigan.

”If anything happens,” Alva Watson told them, ”call my sister.”

”He was worried something would happen to him and no one would take care of Reiko,” said Judy Cain, wife of Mike Cain.

The Watsons were creatures of habit, neighbors said. They bowled at Holiday Bowl and ate sushi — Reiko Watson’s favorite — at Jiro restaurant in Hayward. They picked up their morning paper religiously. Every day, Reiko Watson left the house at 5:15 a.m. for her morning jaunt to Safeway — about three miles away. She would go to buy a six-pack for her husband, even though Alva Watson had quit drinking long ago.

Alva Watson would follow half an hour later in his car to pick her up, and they would return with a bag of groceries.

Last sighting

The last time Mike Cain saw his neighbors was Monday afternoon. Al and ReikoWatson had gone for separate walks and when they returned, they sat on their porch waving ”hello” to Cain as he watered his yard.

”They went back into the house and we never saw them again,” Cain said.

Worried about his neighbors, Cain walked across the street Tuesday evening and peered into the family room window. He noticed Reiko’s favorite blue windbreaker hanging on her chair and the TV flashing light across the room. He went home and called police about 6:30 p.m.

Neighbors and friends were shaken and saddened by the incident.

”Al loved Reiko to death,” said Judy Cain.

Alva Watson had recently purchased his wife a piano and a few years ago, a diamond ring.  When they stood together, he would, on a whim, caress her hair.

They met more than 40 years ago when Alva Watson was on a tour of duty in Japan during the Korean War. He was serving as a military naval commander at the time; she was a ”purser” — a person who handles money matters — on his ship.

They never had children, but neighbors and friends say the couple were madly in love with each other, even to the end. They didn’t socialize often, but when they did, they always had a good time, said Gibbons, the New Haven official.

Several years ago, Reiko Watson began showing signs of dementia. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and Alva Watson was committed to caring for her.

In the past week, he wondered whether he should take her back to Japan to be with her family, admit her to a convalescent facility, or relocate to San Diego, where Alva Watson has relatives.

Illness worsening

But doctors urged Alva Watson not to move his wife; the change would be too dramatic for her.   The couple had planned to take one last trip to Japan, but again, doctors said Reiko Watson was too ill to travel.

Glenna Ritt, who lives next door to the Watsons, remembers Alva Watson as an avid gardener and gentle man.  He brought puzzles to Ritt’s 3-year-old daughter and the neighbors always carried friendly over-the-fence banter.

”That’s all I ever saw, just sweetness,” Ritt said.   Ritt could see Reiko Watson’s illness worsening. When she walked, she would take baby steps, neighbors said, as if she was trying not to fall off the edge of the world.

Ritt recently talked with a worried and overwhelmed Alva Watson about his wife’s deteriorating situation. He asked Ritt and her husband: ”Pray for us.”   ”He was a nice, ordinary man with a difficult situation,” Ritt said.

Copyright (c) 2000 San Jose Mercury News  Record Number:  0008040488