Erickson family reflects on final days, hours before deathsWhat started as a week of celebrating the 60th wedding anniversary of Claire and Betty Lou Erickson in Florida ended with the tragic murder-suicide of the couple in their Crest View Drive home in Hudson Tuesday, March 24.
By: Doug Stohlberg, Hudson Star-Observer
What started as a week of celebrating the 60th wedding anniversary of Claire and Betty Lou Erickson in Florida ended with the tragic murder-suicide of the couple in their Crest View Drive home in Hudson Tuesday, March 24.
Children Mimi Kron, Dave Erickson and Kristi Kampmeyer discussed the emotional highs and lows of the week at an interview session Saturday morning.
Were there any telltale signs of the impending tragedy? With 20/20 hindsight – maybe. With normal day-to-day activities – absolutely none.
“Of course, we wonder what we could have done differently, but we have nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed of,” Dave said. “Those final days were really no different than many other days during the past months and years.”
Claire and Betty Erickson had been spending the winter in a home they own in Naples, Fla. Claire had not been feeling good the past month or so, and Betty Lou was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.
Mimi and her husband also have a home in Naples near Claire and Betty’s.
“We had planned several surprises for the week, culminating with a party on their 60th anniversary on March 18,” Dave said. “The first surprise was scheduled on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17.”
Mimi was already in Florida. She made arrangements for her and her husband, Jim, to have dinner with Claire and Betty on St. Patrick’s Day. Unknown to Claire and Betty was that son Dave and his wife, Debi, and daughter Kristi and her husband, Michael, had flown to Florida and were going to surprise them at the restaurant. Another surprise was going to be the arrival of Claire and Betty’s granddaughter Ashley (Dave’s daughter) and her husband, Jason.
“During the day, however, Claire said he just wasn’t feeling well and didn’t want to go to dinner,” Mimi said. “He has not been feeling well for the past several weeks and had been doctoring for vertigo – on March 17 he said he just didn’t have an appetite.
Of course, he didn’t know of the other guests planning to surprise Mom and Dad at the dinner. He thought he was going out with Dave and me, a fairly common event.”
Mimi said, however, that they decided against having the St. Patrick’s Day dinner. They were hoping Claire would feel better by the next day, the day of another planned surprise, an anniversary party including upwards of 30 guests.
Later on March 17, Kristi and Michael arrived in Florida and they talked to Claire.
“He told me he was glad we were here (in Florida), but he said he wished we had called first,” Kristi said. “He said he wanted to go home – in fact, he said he’d like to pack up Friday and go home.”
The siblings all went out for dinner on St. Patrick’s Day, but Dave had still not told his Mom and Dad that he also was in Florida.
Dave called his dad on the morning of March 18 and asked him how he was feeling.
“He said no better, but no worse,” Dave said. Knowing what Claire had said to Kristi, Dave joked, “I’m going to make you feel bad. Debi and I are here and so are Ashley and Jason.”
At 11 a.m. on March 18, the kids told Claire and Betty about the party planned for that evening.
“Dad said that was very nice and he’d do the best he can,” Dave said. “We’re thinking if he can get along for even a half hour or hour, that would be great.”
Dave and Debi took Claire and Betty shopping for a bit in the early afternoon and Claire and Betty took naps in the late afternoon. The party was scheduled at 6 p.m. at Mimi and Jim’s home. Dave and Debi, who had stayed in a motel the first night, were now staying with Betty and Claire.
“We left for the party just before 6 p.m.,” Dave said. “It turned out to be a wonderful event. Both Mom and Dad interacted remarkably well. We had a wonderful time – food, pictures, conversation – it was great.”
The guests didn’t leave until about 9:30 p.m.
“For the next hour or so the family talked about Mom and Dad’s wedding,” Dave said. “The wedding was at Bethel Lutheran Church in Hudson and was one of the first performed by Pastor (Norman) Scheide. We heard about the groomsmen and bridesmaids. They talked about their honeymoon, a driving trip to California along Route 66. We had great fellowship until about 10:30 p.m.”
On Thursday, March 19, the kids again asked Claire how he was feeling. The answer was “maybe a little better – no worse.”
It was that day that Dave offered to drive Claire and Betty back to Hudson. Dave had an airplane ticket to return home on Tuesday. He said he could give up the ticket and drive his parents back to Hudson if they wished.
“First dad said, ‘No, no,’” Dave said. “A bit later, however, he said OK.”
On Thursday night, the family members gathered for a barbecue at Mimi and Jim’s home. It lasted until 9 p.m.
On Friday, Dave and Claire again discussed the plans to drive home. Dave’s wife, Debi, was going on a cruise with friends, and Dave had to drive her to Fort Lauderdale on Saturday.
“Dad said, ‘Let’s leave Sunday morning,’” Dave said.
Friday, however, was an active day for Claire and Betty. They went with Kristi and Mimi to Marco Island and had lunch on the Isles of Capri, just outside of Marco.
Family members began leaving on Friday. Mimi left later that day, with plans to return Tuesday, March 24, to close up Claire and Betty’s home. Kristi left early Saturday morning. Dave drove Debi to Fort Lauderdale Saturday and returned to Claire and Betty’s home at about 5 p.m.
“They had the car packed and ready to go,” Dave said. “Dad said, ‘Let’s go out for dinner at the Watermark.’” It was one of Betty and Claire’s favorite restaurants in Naples.
“We had a great dinner, went home and went to bed,” Dave said.
Everybody was up Sunday morning, and the three left at 7:30 a.m. for the drive to Hudson.
“My mom wondered if we could stop in Georgia to get some pecans,” Dave recalled. “Dad said, ‘Yes, we should do that.’”
They made it to Manchester, Tenn., that night and had dinner and stayed at a Holiday Inn Express. Dave said it was farther than his parents usually travel in one day, about 800 miles.
“Dad said ‘I’m going to remember this place – it’s a good stop,’” Dave recalled. “We had good conversation all during the day.”
Dave said one statement that sticks in his mind is when Claire said, “One of the neatest things about being in business is all the wonderful people you get to meet and work with.”
On Monday, March 23, they left Tennessee with intentions of staying in Rockford, Ill.
“We were in Rockford by about 4 p.m. and decided to continue on,” Dave said. By 5:15 p.m. they were in Madison. Dave asked if they wanted to stop or continue on to Hudson.
“Dad said, ‘What are we going to do in Madison? Let’s go home,’” Dave said.
The three arrived in Hudson at 8:45 Monday night, just hours away from the tragic murder-suicide.
“We carried everything into the house, and I asked if they wanted anymore help,” Dave said. “They said ‘no, no, we’ll be fine.’
I said, “See you tomorrow.”
Tuesday, March 24
Dave went to work at Erickson Oil Tuesday morning and realized he had left his billfold in Claire and Betty’s car. Rather than stopping on the way to work, he decided to get it later.
“I talked to Mimi early that morning and she mentioned that she had called Betty and Claire a couple of times and that there was no answer,” Dave said. Kristi had also called both the home and office (Claire still worked at least half days when he was in Hudson).
In the meantime, Mimi, who was planning to return to Florida that day, decided to stop at Betty and Claire’s house just after 10:30 a.m.
“I thought I would check at the house before I went to the airport,” Mimi said. “I got into the house and called out their names and there was no answer. I went down the hallway and peeked into the bedroom. I could see they were in bed and said to Jim that they were asleep. I told him I would call later.”
Jim, however, went further into the bedroom to investigate the situation and discovered the tragic scene.
“I saw the look on Jim’s face and knew something was terribly wrong,” Mimi said with tears in her eyes.
Jim called 911 and Mimi called Dave at the Erickson Oil office.
“Mimi, of course, was very frantic,” Dave said. “She was calling from Mom and Dad’s phone, so with the caller ID I thought it was Mom on the phone. All I heard was something like, ‘You have to get here right away – something’s happened.’”
Dave jumped into his car and was at the house within two or three minutes, thinking that his dad may have suffered from some sort of medical emergency. Within minutes, he also knew the unbelievable truth.
“It was a wonderful week that ended in devastation,” Dave said.
Looking back, the children did recognize some statements that may have been cause for concern – but most were not unusual, and they, like all of us, would not put the clues together until all the events had occurred.
“My dad said a couple of things that may or may not have been a clue,” Dave said. “He said once during the week, ‘You know, when Mother and I don’t come back here (Florida) again, I hope this place can stay in the family.”
He also said something to the effect of, “If you ever need to get in the Brittany (name of Florida housing complex), here’s where I keep the keys.”
Claire had also said something like, “Mom is getting tougher and tougher. If something happens to me, she’ll be in a home.”
Dave said he had seen his dad cry only a couple of times. Once, when sibling Nancy died in a car accident in Colorado in 1974, and when he talked about Betty’s Alzheimer’s condition.
Dave has a theory on why his dad may have shot Betty Lou and then killed himself.
“Despite her early stages of Alzheimer’s, Mom is very physically fit and could have lived another 15 or more years,” Dave said. “Dad feared having to put her in a nursing home as his health was declining. He didn’t want to see her decline and he probably didn’t want us to see her decline. Dad depended a lot on Mom too. He probably could not have lived alone either. Right, wrong or indifferent, he didn’t want either of them to be a burden on us (children).
“Dad didn’t want to see his wife suffer – of course, none of that makes it any easier.”
Betty Lou and Claire had also seen the health of some of their friends deteriorate, and it may have had an impact on Claire’s thought process.
Dave, Mimi and Kristi are doing their best to cope with the trying situation.
“How I am doing depends on what hour of the day it is,” Mimi said. “They loved each other so much. She was actually a pillar of strength for him also. I think Dad saw that he was losing that pillar of strength.
“I don’t agree with how it happened, but I understand. I love and respect them too much to be angry.”
Dave said he struggles when he is alone and is especially having trouble sleeping at night.
“It’s better when I’m up and at it,” Dave said.
Kristi said she also struggles with what happened, but is thankful for all the good memories.
“We were a close family and had a lot of good times,” Kristi said.
“Yes, we have so many family memories – I don’t know why they had to stop,” Dave said.