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    'They were lovely people'

    Neighbors reflect on the elderly couple found dead in a room at the Mease Manor, an assisted living facility in Dunedin.

    By CHRIS TISCH

    © St. Petersburg Times, published February 15, 2001


    DUNEDIN -- When his wife lingered outside too long chatting with the neighbors at the mailbox, Albert Lakes stepped outside the house and came to her side. He didn't leave her out of his sight for long, neighbors recall.

    His wife, Mabel Lakes, was getting forgetful. She couldn't recall how to open the screen windows and her husband had to help her. She had Alzheimer's.

    Mr. Lakes himself was not doing so well. He complained to one neighbor of heart problems, and others noticed he shook a lot. His doctor forbade him to drink wine and made him cut his cigar intake to one a week; Mr. Lakes enjoyed it every Sunday on his porch, where he sifted through the Sunday newspaper while he puffed away.

    Neighbors on Hamilton Court in the Braemoor Lake Villas subdivision in Dunedin always thought the Lakeses were private, but the couple seemed to be retreating into seclusion more and more.

    Then, several months ago, the couple moved into Mease Manor, an assisted living facility in Dunedin. Mr. Lakes lived in an independent wing of the facility. But his wife had to stay in another part where nurses could watch her closely.

    On Monday, Mr. Lakes said he wanted to take his wife to his unit. The nursing staff advised against it. But authorities later said a doctor signed off on the move. The Lakeses retreated into his room on the fifth floor about 3 p.m. that afternoon.

    The couple didn't take a meal Monday night. They did not take breakfast Tuesday, nor did they take lunch.

    Concerned, nurses entered the unit about 4 p.m. The Lakeses were dead. They were in separate chairs with clear plastic bags over their heads. A series of notes had been left. Sheriff's investigators said one of the notes indicated Mr. Lakes had assisted his wife with her death before taking his own life.

    He was 83. She was 82. They were married more than 60 years.

    Those who knew the Lakeses said they were shocked by the news. Some who lived near their Dunedin home read about their deaths in the newspaper. Soon they were calling others on the street to tell them.

    "They were lovely people and when I heard it I was very sad," said Velma Kelso, who lived across the street from the Lakeses. "My husband was going to take me out for Valentine's Day, but now I'm just not up to it.

    "I just cannot see Al doing this," she added. "People are upset because they are a very nice couple."

    Sheriff's officials said Mr. Lakes may have assisted his wife's suicide because he couldn't stand to see her suffer.

    "Maybe he couldn't see her going like she was . . . and thought we might as well go together," Kelso, 81, said. "He never left her alone.

    "But I can't see that, because they have two daughters." Neither of the Lakes children, who live in Virginia, could be reached for comment Wednesday. Messages left at their homes were not returned.

    Neighbor Wilbur Harlin, 73, said he often talked with the Lakeses at the mailbox about good restaurants. Harlin said Mr. Lakes had worked at IBM.

    But Harlin said Mr. Lakes had been "a little depressed" about his and his wife's health problems.

    Though the couple did not socialize much, neighbors said the couple loved each other very much.

    Mr. Lakes always seemed in charge of the situation, but was doting and caring toward his wife, neighbors said.

    "They were very nice. They were lovely people, and I miss them terribly," Kelso said.

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