News / Calgary

Psychiatrist deems senior accused in wife's death unfit to stand trial

Siegfried van Zuiden was charged Oct. 4 with second-degree murder after he called 911 and police officers found his 80-year-old wife, Audrey, dead in their home.

Siegfried van Zuiden, right, and his wife Audrey pose in this undated handout photo.

Handout

Siegfried van Zuiden, right, and his wife Audrey pose in this undated handout photo.

CALGARY — Loved ones of an 85-year-old man accused of murdering his wife of 56 years say they are relieved Siegfried van Zuiden has been deemed unfit to stand trial.

But close family friends said Friday they won't feel fully at ease until they know where the senior — who they say has long suffered from dementia — will spend the rest of his life and what quality of care he'll receive.   

Defence lawyer Alain Hepner told the court that psychiatrist Ken Hashman, with the Southern Alberta Forensic Psychiatry Centre, has determined van Zuiden is mentally unfit to stand trial. A letter from the doctor was presented as an exhibit.

Van Zuiden was charged in October with second-degree murder after he called 911 and police officers found his 80-year-old wife, Audrey, dead in their Calgary home. Van Zuiden underwent two months of tests to assess his mental state and whether he understood the legal process.

A fitness determination can be reversed if at any point the patient improves with treatment.

A psychiatrist told court in October that he believed van Zuiden had a moderate to severe case of dementia.

Van Zuiden's case is due back in court on Dec. 13.

Vince Walker, the van Zuidens' godson, said he doesn't have closure yet.

"We're really interested in what facility he'll be in or what level of security he requires, what our visitation's going to be like, what is his quality of life going to be like," he said outside court.

At the Southern Alberta Forensic Psychiatry Centre, where van Zuiden has spent the past two months, visitors are separated by a pane of glass and must speak through a phone, said Walker.  

"It's not the ideal way to go visit somebody and I know it frustrates him on occasion."

He, and another close family friend, Gordon van Gunst, said they'd like van Zuiden to be in a facility where it's possible for visitors to play a game of chess or listen to music with him.

Van Gunst said van Zuiden has good days and bad days where he is now.  

"He's loved by everybody in the facility. He's well taken care of, but we always like a little bit more. He's doing well, considering."

Van Zuiden, who goes by the first name Fred, was born in the Netherlands to a Jewish family. He chronicled his flight from the Nazis during the Second World War in his book "Call me Mom: A Dutch Boy's WWII Survival Story.''

He came to Canada in 1952 and later settled with his wife in Calgary, where he founded a sailboat business.

Loved ones have said the couple did everything together in their marriage and were soulmates.

Walker said he'd like to see the Crown drop the charge.

"You don't want someone with the legacy that Fred has, living with an outstanding criminal charge. It would be wonderful if we could make that go away."

The victim's siblings, who live in the United Kingdom, have said they bear no ill feeling toward van Zuiden and blame a hideous disease for their sister's death.

The couple had no children. Audrey van Zuiden had been caring for her husband in their home as his condition deteriorated.

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