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An Apparent May-December Suicide Pact

Notes found with bodies of a woman, 106, and her 30ish caretaker say they decided to die together.

January 12, 2006|Lee Romney | Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — It could be a platonic version of the deep and quirky love between the fictional Harold and Maude. Or, it could be a coldblooded murder.

In a case that San Francisco homicide detectives described as highly unusual, a 106-year-old woman and her thirtysomething longtime caregiver are both dead, in what the young man described in notes as a suicide pact gone awry.

If the notes found in the tidy flat with the bodies Friday were in fact written by David Lund and tell a true tale, he strangled Helen Godet at her request after she realized that she could not follow through on their joint plan to swallow antifreeze.

Lund then drank the antifreeze. The bodies and notes were discovered by the landlord's brother-in-law when he came to collect rent, got no answer at the door, and let himself in. According to the notes, the deaths occurred Dec. 27.

One note was pinned to the door of Godet's bedroom. Lund did not share her room, but slept on the couch.

"It said that their time had come, that they had committed suicide," said San Francisco Police homicide Inspector Dennis Maffei.

Other notes were scattered throughout the well-kept house. One appeared to have Godet's scrawled signature on it, but other than that, the notes were written by someone else.

One note, bearing Lund's name, recounted how Godet could not bring herself to go through with the antifreeze plan, then detailed how he had killed her. Police are analyzing the handwriting to confirm that they were in fact written by Lund.

Social workers who knew the pair told police that the two had been inseparable since the Philippine-born Lund began caring for Godet nine years ago. It was unclear how the two met.

Lund was not a licensed caregiver, but social workers "seem to think he really did care about her health and well-being," homicide Inspector Ed Wynkoop said.

Though most suicide pacts involve elderly couples, in which one is ailing, this situation stands out because of the age difference of the pair, who were described to police as platonic friends with a deep bond.

"This is a very tragic event, and everyone who knew both parties is quite impacted," Meals on Wheels of San Francisco Chief Executive Sima Dahi said in an e-mail , referring a reporter to an interview she gave to the San Francisco Chronicle this week for further details.

Meals on Wheels regularly provided Godet with a bag lunch and dinner. A social worker with the agency, who had known Godet for nine years, visited her Dec. 20 and noticed nothing amiss, Dahi told the Chronicle.

The childless widow from Canada had lived briefly in San Francisco's gritty Tenderloin neighborhood, in an apartment building overrun by crack dealers, then moved to a board-and-care facility where she was separated from Lund. But she hated the place and was thrilled to move into a house with Lund last September and once again be cared for by her friend.

Neighbors on the street, just blocks from the city's windy football stadium in the Bayview district, said they had never seen Godet, but recalled seeing a handsome man whom they believed was Lund come and go in taxicabs with groceries.

The deep friendship between two people separated in age by so many years evokes the 1971 film "Harold and Maude," a cult classic about love, death and nonconformity that was filmed in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Maffei said there were no signs of forced entry at the home, where doors and windows had been locked from the inside.

Tenants in two apartments beneath the squat beige home -- surrounded by a locked 10-foot steel fence -- apparently suspected nothing. The owner of the house had rented another room to a man who was out of town when the deaths occurred, police said.

Even though it seems unlikely that a murderer is at large, police, who are awaiting autopsy results, say they have yet to rule out any theories.

"You have to have an open mind about it," Wynkoop said. "The notes are going to be analyzed and tested forensically. If the writing comes back as being [Lund's] writing ... and if the method used is, in fact, the method he talks about, then we'll know how close we are to actually establishing that it is what it appears to be."

Even if Lund took Godet's life as part of a modified suicide pact, "he still committed a murder," Wynkoop said. Those who knew the pair -- including relatives of Lund -- will no doubt want some resolution, he said.

Whether Godet, whose eyesight was failing slightly but who was otherwise in good health, truly wanted to end her life, however, will probably always remain a mystery, police said.

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