WWII survivor accused in wife’s death mentally unfit to stand trial: psychiatrist

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.

READ MORE: Memorial held Monday for Audrey van Zuiden: ‘none of her family bears ill feeling towards Fred’

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, a WWII survivor, was charged with second-degree murder on Oct. 4 after he called 911 and police officers found his 80-year-old wife, Audrey, dead in their home. Van Zuiden underwent two months of tests to assess his mental state and whether he understood the legal process.

Watch below from Nov. 4: Fred van Zuiden ordered to undergo more psychological testing

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.

FILE: Fred van Zuiden promoting his book, Call Me Mom.

Obtained by Global News

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.”

READ MORE: Court hears WWII survivor charged with wife’s murder ‘likely suffering from dementia’

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.”

Watch below from Oct. 5: The tragic case of 85-year-old Siegfried van Zuiden is raising questions about dementia, and the care available. Bindu Suri spoke to one family personally touched by the story.

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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