Tragic Tales of Elderly Men Who Killed Their Sick Wives
Still from the film Love by Michael Haneke (2012). In the film, a husband takes care of his wife, who has suffered a stroke.


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Tragic Tales of Elderly Men Who Killed Their Sick Wives

Six stories about the devastating effects dementia can have on a couple.

This article originally appeared on VICE France

In a French courtroom in April of 2017, Rémo Cipriani looked confused as his sentence was read aloud. The judge carefully explained to the 87-year-old that he was sentenced to five years in prison, with three years suspended, for killing his wife at their home in Gelacourt – a village in northeastern France. Considering he had already spent two years in custody, Cipriani was told he was free to go home.


His wife, Anne-Marie, had been suffering from dementia for almost two years until, early one morning in 2015, he suffocated her with a plastic bag in their bathroom. The couple had spent 60 years together, and according to Cipriani, he couldn't stand to see his wife suffer any longer. After killing her, he tried to hang himself but was later found alive and unconscious.

In the UK, 850,000 people suffer from dementia – a number which the Alzheimer's Society expects to rise to over 1 million in less than ten years, and to 2 million by 2051. The condition mainly affects people over the age of 65 – about one in four people within this age group. In France, according to a 2014 report by the National Institute of Health and Medical Research, 900,000 people suffer from Alzheimer's, with 4 percent of those being above the age of 65 and 15 percent, above the age of 80.

Still from Michael Haneke's Love (2012)

In a 2012 article in Libération magazine, Cécile Huguenin, author of Alzheimer's mon amour (Alzheimer's my love), wrote about her experience of looking after a partner affected by the disease. "[An Alzheimer's] patient can end up being demanding, aggressive and unbearable," she noted before describing the feeling of extreme solitude and helplessness that makes carers like her contemplate ending their partner's lives. "We pay a high price for the illness," she stated. "Even when we want to carry on loving them, sometimes we are left with no choice. You can't condemn those who can't deal with [caring for their spouses] anymore, especially when they aren't getting the help they need [from the State]."


Although there are no official figures, the case of Remo and Anne-Marie Cipriani doesn't stand on its own. Over the last few years, France has seen a number of cases involving people suffering from dementia being killed by their spouse – or being assisted in their suicide, depending on the case and your views. Yet, interestingly enough, when I started to look for such stories in the local press, all I could find was articles about husbands ending their wives' lives.

I contacted Jean-Claude Couturier, a representative of the ADMD – an organisation aiming to legalise euthanasia and assisted suicide in France – to ask why he thinks the killings that made local news over the past few years were only carried out by men, not women. Couturier told me it's very hard to give a definite answer; Apparently, since he started working with ADMD, his organisation has been approached by as many women as men looking for information on assisted suicide. "My best guess is that the gender inequality you found could be related to the different methods men and women use to kill themselves," he started. "In France, according to recent research, men choose suicide as a way out of their situation more often than women – in 2012, 7305 reported suicides were completed by men, and 2410 by women. And when attempting suicide, men tend to try to hang themselves or use a firearm. Women also try hanging, but choose poison almost just as often." Poison or drug overdoses are harder to trace than wounds by firearms or hanging, so Couturier thinks it's possible that there are women out there who have poisoned or overmedicated a loved one suffering from dementia, but that their acts might have stayed under the radar.


I went through the archives of French regional press, and made a list of the most recent cases I could find that involved elderly men killing their incapacitated wives.

Detained at the Oncology Department

On the morning of the 17th of January 2017, a 70-year-old man shot his wife in their home in the commune of Tressignaux in Brittany. After the murder, he called the police to turn himself in. The man told police that his 66-year-old wife had Alzheimer's, and that he couldn't bear to see her suffer any longer. When police arrived at the couple's home, they found his wife's medication – supporting his claim that she had dementia – but also discovered the husband had cancer. He was detained at the oncology department at his local hospital instead of a prison.

The couple had been a prominent part of the close-knit community of their village of 670 inhabitants. The victim had been a member of the local association celebrating Breton culture, while her husband had served as the headmaster at a local school for years. The murder shook Tressignaux to the core.

A Joint Decision

After over 70 years of marriage, a 90-year-old man could neither give his 88-year-old wife – who was suffering from Alzheimer's – the care she needed, nor see her go to a nursing home. They had cared for each other for most of their lives, but that was no longer an option. Having spent a lifetime together however, also meant they couldn't stand to live the rest of their time on Earth apart.

Together, they travelled to a small rented home in Boissy-le-Châtel, a town about an hour and a half east of Paris. On the evening of the 7th of December 2016, the man shot his wife. When he called the police to confess, he told them that he had acted according to her wishes. Before hanging up, he said he planned to kill himself, too. Despite shooting himself in the face – ripping apart his nose and jaw – his suicide attempt failed, and he was taken to hospital.


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"I Have Put An End to Your Suffering"

In January 2014, at 70 years old, Arminda de Albuquerque had already been suffering from Alzheimer's for a decade when her husband José, 71, gave her a lethal dose of sleeping pills. She had been unable to speak for the last five years of her life and she hadn't been able to get out of bed for the last two.

He had looked after her throughout her battle with the disease, but the daily struggles and sleepless nights eventually took their toll on him. The couple, who had five children, had been married for 50 years when José ended Arminda's life. Before killing her, the retired builder left a note on the table, saying: "Arminda, I have put an end to your suffering, forgive me. José." In October 2016, José was found guilty of murder. Taking into account his age and wife's condition, the court was lenient – he was given a two year suspended prison sentence.

He Didn't Know Why He Had Done It

In 2000, Paulette Armandou was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Two years later, her condition began to worsen, as the 75-year-old became incontinent and unable to look after herself. She refused the help of her husband of 45 years, Gabriel, who did not want her to live out the rest of her life in a nursing home.

On the 13th of September 2008, the couple's only son found her almost naked body in the dining room of the couple's bungalow in Fresnes, a small town in the suburbs of Paris. Her face was swollen and her body was covered in bruises. The autopsy revealed she died from severe blows to the head, chest and stomach.

During the investigation, Gabriel told police he had hit his wife four or five times in the face, and several more times with a broom. By the time his court case finally started in June 2012, Gabriel said he didn't know why he had done it – though disturbing passages from his diary were read aloud in the courtroom. "I'm exhausted, I'm obsessed with the idea of killing myself," he had written in 2003. Gabriel was given a five-year suspended sentence.

They Died Side-By-Side

For 45 years, a couple had lived together in a white bungalow in Villepreux, a commune about an hour west of Paris. The wife, 85, had long suffered from Alzheimer's and was now housebound. Due to his frail health, her husband, also in his eighties, would soon need to go to a nursing home – a situation he just couldn't live with.

On the evening of the 6th of June, 2016, the husband called his son to tell him he had killed his mother with a sawn-off shotgun while lying in bed. By the time his son had arrived at the scene, the man had already turned the gun on himself. After a long investigation, the police declared it a joint suicide.