Couple wanted to end life, daughter says; Loved ones say poor health and financial problems pushed Charles and Judith Musser to their deaths — (St. Petersburg Times)

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St. Petersburg Times

By SAUNDRA AMRHEIN, Times Staff Writer,  St. Petersburg Times

published March 10, 2003

NEW PORT RICHEY — To neighbors, the Mussers were “the wavers,” the type to smile and greet people on the street in their River Crossing subdivision.  “They were the happiest couple,” said 15-year-old neighbor Lindsay Cole.
But inside the house, family members say, Charles and Judith Musser were tormented.  “They were very depressed,” their daughter, Lana Caldarola, said on Sunday.
They’d lost their life’s savings – about a half-million dollars – in a bad investment. And now their health was failing. They’d sought help: they both took antidepressants; last week Mr. Musser, 63, saw a psychiatrist. It wasn’t enough.
On Saturday afternoon, as Caldarola and her husband, Dave, steered their boat into the sparkling waters of the Gulf of Mexico, their cell phone rang. It was her father.
He told his son-in-law to get to the house, Lana Caldarola said. His wife was dead, and he didn’t know what to do.
Not knowing what happened, the Caldarolas raced back to shore, leaving their son with a friend, and sped to her parent’s house.
But they were too late. Inside, Dave Caldarola found the Mussers. Charles Musser had shot his wife of more than 40 years with a small handgun, according to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office. Then he turned a shotgun on himself. Inside the home, he’d left a note, Lana Caldarola said.
“He said they were both in a better place,” she said.

* * *

The Mussers were high school sweethearts. They eloped the same day Mrs. Musser graduated from high school and kept it a secret for a month until they found an apartment.
They raised three children. At first, Mr. Musser was a sketch artist for the FBI, drawing wanted posters, Lana Caldarola said. Then he took a job with the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, Va., where he stayed for 30 years, becoming head of the graphics department.
Judith Musser was an assistant librarian at the local middle school.
“We lived the Brady Bunch life,” Caldarola, 32, said Sunday from her home in Greenbrook Estates, with pictures of her parents spread in front of her on the couch.   “The station wagon, the swim meets. I was a cheerleader. They were Cub Scout leaders and troop leaders,” she said of her parents.
Her mother struggled with depression as the children grew older and once was hospitalized. Her father was jovial and friendly.  “Everybody loved my dad,” she said.
A few years ago, the Mussers invested in a locksmith company. But mismanagement squandered their fortune, Caldarola said. “They lost everything,” she said, their life’s savings, their house.
About 21/2 years ago, the Mussers moved from Richmond to River Crossing to be closer to Caldarola’s two brothers in Ozona.  Caldarola, her husband and baby followed from Boston.
“We moved down here because of them, so they could watch him grow up,” she said of her son, Tanner, now 3 1/2 years old.
Caldarola and her mother were best friends. At Caldarola’s wedding in May, 1998, Mrs. Musser was the matron of honor.
“We talked two to three times a day,” she said.
In Florida, her parents lived paycheck to paycheck, collecting Social Security, retirement payments and disability for her mother’s depression. But both suffered from depression.
“They would go for weeks and not leave the house and sleep all day,” she said.
The past few weeks, Mrs. Musser, 59, was diagnosed with fibroid tumors and needed a hysterectomy. Doctors began testing Mr. Musser for Alzheimer’s disease.
“He was really shaky and trembling,” Caldarola said. “He couldn’t do a small task or concentrate.”
Neighbors knew Mr. Musser for his meticulous landscaping outside the gray-blue house with white trim, surrounded by mulch and palm trees. He was often seen playing ball with Tanner in front of the house.
Police are calling Saturday’s incident a murder-suicide. Mr. Musser’s note said that his wife had left a note, too, but family and police couldn’t find it, Caldarola said.
“He said to tell my son that he loves him,” she said. He left a special message for Caldarola, recently diagnosed with a blood disorder.
“He said for me to stay well,” she said.
She thinks her father, who was never violent with her mother, wanted to end their suffering. She thinks her mother wanted to die with him.
“He loved her dearly,” she said. “There was nothing he wouldn’t have done for her.”