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CRIME AND THE ELDERLY OF L.A. : Violence in the Autumn of Life

October 24, 1994|JOHN HURST | Times Staff Writer

These were supposed to be the Golden Years--a time for pleasures deferred, for enjoying the rewards of a lifetime of hard work. But for many of Los Angeles' elderly residents, old age has become a time of vulnerability and fear.

Although anxiety about crime has permeated all segments of the population, the elderly have been especially unnerved.

They know that a violent encounter--one that a younger person could easily survive--may end lethally for them: A purse-snatching becomes a homicide when an old woman falls to the pavement and dies in the hospital; an old man is brutalized and dies when he loses his will to live; an elderly couple are unable to flee their home during an arson fire, dying in the flames.

Although such incidents make up just a small fraction of Los Angeles County's more than 1,000 annual homicides, each one packs a crippling psychological blow for senior citizens everywhere, who feel particularly susceptible to victimization. As Sgt. Lief Nicolaisen of the Glendale Police Department put it: "Many of our elders become prisoners in their own homes. They're locked in behind bars on their windows and afraid to go to the store."

Earlier this month, Los Angeles senior citizens were once again reminded of their vulnerability when two Van Nuys women in their 70s were murdered within days of each other, one beaten to death, the other stabbed. The slayings prompted Councilman Joel Wachs last week to push for beefed-up police patrols in areas where elderly people live and congregate.

"The fear of crime has gripped all Angelenos," Wachs said, "but none more noticeably than our senior citizens."

The truth is that the rate of violent crime in Los Angeles and throughout the nation is declining and that elderly people are actually less likely to be targeted than other age groups. Still, that hopeful trend offers little comfort to the families and friends of those being robbed of their final years by society's criminals.

Coroner's records show that in 1993, 92 people over the age of 60 were murdered in Los Angeles County, a number that authorities say has remained relatively constant. Amid those impersonal statistics are the stories of good people who, in the words of one veteran detective, led "honorable lives." Eight of those lives are remembered here today.

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