Saturday, December 12, 2009

Now What? Roommate, 98, Indicted in the Murder of Elizabeth Barrow, 100

Elizabeth Barrow's 98 year-old roommate has been indicted for her murder.  In case you missed it, Elizabeth Barrow is the 100 year-old woman from Massachusetts who died in September at her nursing home in Dartmouth, Massachusetts.  It took a few weeks for the coroner to rule that she had not, in fact, died of natural causes, but rather had been strangled in her bed.  I blogged at the time about the difference between trauma and grief and why cause of death matters to the family.

It turns out that Barrow and her roommate had gotten into an argument about the placement of a table in their room.  The roommate threatened her.  Soon, she was dead.  Now a 98 year-old woman faces the possibility of going on trial for murder.  She is currently being evaluated for competency to stand trial.  She is one of only 3 people that old ever to be charged with homicide in the United States.

Most families of murder victims want to see the perpetrator brought to justice.  While the trial does not bring "closure," in the sense that it is not truly the end of processing the trauma and grief, it reduces the sense that the world is random and the bad guys are everywhere.  It is one less thing to worry about, even though the list of things to worry about is still pretty long.

I wonder, though, about Elizabeth Barrow's family.  Will it bring them any kind of peace to try a 98 year-old woman for murder?  By all accounts, the roommate has a history of dementia.  She may well not have been really aware of the consequences of her actions.  Will the sense of "closure" come from her conviction, or does it come from just knowing what happened and that it can't happen to anyone else?  Or is there something else altogether going on for this family -- a sense of anger that the staff did not prevent this?

For now, Elizabeth Barrow's son has declined to comment, so we may never know.  If there's one thing I've learned over years of crisis intervention, it's that traumatized people, particularly people faced with a kind of incident I've never dealt with before, will have themes to their reaction that I can't possibly predict.  Because the victim in this case had a very short life expectancy to begin with, and perhaps because it is so unusual, I feel a little more comfortable than usual saying that I'm really pretty curious.


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Naomi Zikmund-Fisher
is a clinical social worker, former school Principal and a Crisis Consultant for schools and community organizations. You can learn more about her at
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