Saanich homicide case similar to earlier murder-suicide

The slaying of 77-year-old Rosa Maria Desroches inside her home Tuesday holds similarities to a previous homicide in Saanich — a murder-suicide involving an elderly couple in Cadboro Bay.

Rosa’s husband, Joseph Melvin Desroches, 71, is charged with first-degree murder.

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Police received a 911 call from inside the house at 751 Cameo St. at 7:16 a.m. from a man who said he had struggled with mental illness. Police arrived to find Rosa and the family dog shot to death.

Neighbours and those who knew the couple were shocked by the killing, saying Mel would always chat while walking the dog and drove Rosa to her meetings with the Victoria Cactus and Succulent Plant Society, of which she was a member for more than 20 years.


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The last time there was a homicide in Saanich was on Jan. 18, 2011 — a murder-suicide in which 72-year-old Erich Mueller stabbed his wife, 66-year-old Kathy Mueller, to death and then killed himself.

A report by the B.C. Coroners Service into that homicide focused on the issue of mental illness among seniors.

Family friends said Erich Mueller struggled with depression. The coroner’s report said he stopped taking his anti-depressants, started to show signs of dementia and became stressed about financial issues, thinking they were more serious than they were.

The Muellers had been married for 40 years with no history of domestic abuse.

In speaking about the Desroches case, Saanich police said they have no record of going to the Cameo Street house for any domestic violence.

The 2012 coroners’ report said murder-suicides among older couples often happen despite the couple having no history of domestic abuse, which is not the case with younger couples.

Older, Caucasian men are less likely to reach out for help if they are feeling depressed because they still carry a stigma around mental illness. The report said physicians need to recognize the signs of depression in older men and manage the risk before the person takes drastic action.

A question in the Desroches tragedy is whether there was a breakdown in health services, said Robert Gordon, a senior criminologist at Simon Fraser University who specializes in mental-health law. “Certainly, mental- health services for seniors has been something of concern,” Gordon said. It is an issue he hopes B.C.’s new seniors advocate, Isobel Mackenzie, will address.

Desroches worked as a commissionaire for the past 10 years and had a long career in the military, but it’s unclear where he was deployed.

The killing is the first homicide in Greater Victoria this year. And it’s the first homicide in Saanich that involves the help of the Vancouver Island Integrated Major Crime Unit. Saanich police joined the specialized homicide unit in 2013 after initially opting out when it was created in 2008.

The B.C. Coroners Service will conduct an autopsy and file a report that examines factors that led to the killing.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

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