Couple's deaths appear to be murder-suicide

Petaluma Police say an elderly couple found shot to death in their mobile home early Tuesday afternoon is a case of homicide -suicide. 

"Things seem to be rather straightforward and tragic," Detective Sgt. Ed Crosby told KTVU, "and this is a very sad thing for this family and this neighborhood."

Identified as Harold and Bertha Coombes, the couple was in their eighties, and had lived quietly at the Petaluma Estates Park, located at 901 N. McDowell Blvd., for about 10 years.

"I was shocked, but I know that she was his life. He took care of her for so long, " neighbor Kathy Dianne told KTVU.

She said the pair were most often seen heading to and from doctor's appointments, and that Bertha was frail and bedridden. Harold was her caregiver.    

"He was friendly, but he didn't want any help from anybody,"observed Kathy.

"I would bring his garbage cans in for him, after the garbage guys came. Then he asked me not to do it anymore. He didn't want help from anybody."

Police say the husband shot his wife, and then himself. A relative found them just past noon while conducting a welfare check on the couple. 

There was no history of conflict in the household and the only previous police calls were for medical aid.

"This is a quiet neighborhood, and a pretty quiet couple," noted Sgt. Crosby, " certainly nothing that rose to our attention on the radar."

Detectives are working with the family to fill-in the background.

National data suggests ten older couples end their lives in the same way each week: one spouse killing the other and then themself. 

Almost always, it's the man - often lonely and depressed- who kills his ailing wife.

Sometimes it occurs with her agreement, but just as often, without her knowledge or consent.    

"I couldn't tell you if they had such a pact, or whether she knew this was going to be happening or not," noted Crosby.

Agencies serving seniors note depression rates among the elderly are rising.

It's also a population that often doesn't seek or accept help readily.

And older couples are especially reluctant to become separated.

"There's a psychological thing about growing old with somebody," explained Elece Hempel, Executive Director of Petaluma People Services Center, which provides counseling and community to seniors as part of its social service outreach.

"Over and over again we hear from older couples, 'I don't want to be alone.'"  

Hempel notes, help is plentiful for seniors who are suffering, whether overwhelmed by caregiving or isolation.

"Aging in place is what we all want to do. We all want to live in our homes as long as we can. But it really doesn't work if we don't surround ourselves with good solid services," Hempel declared.    

Across the street from the Coombes' home, a couple was moving their loved one out of the mobile home park to assisted living, to keep her connected with others.    

"You may see people, and they'll say 'I'm fine, I'm just fine,'" Linda Kramer told KTVU.

"But sometimes they're not not fine at all, they just need to ask for help."

Bertha Coombes is Petaluma's first homicide of 2016, after none in all of 2015.