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Motive remains unclear in murder-suicide of beloved Hernando woman, son

BROOKSVILLE — In those spare moments when time was her own, the silver-haired 80-year-old woman parked on the couch, crossed her legs and stitched together memories.

A wooden crochet hook was her instrument, and for well more than a half-century, she played it like a concert violinist. She could craft without looking — count her stitches as she carried a conversation. The balls of yarn in the wicker basket next to her were transformed into ornate miniature wedding dresses, Strawberry Shortcake dolls or, sometimes, baby booties that looked like bunnies. She had dozens of children, stepchildren and grandchildren, so another project always awaited her.

Elizabeth "Bettie" Jacobson, one stepdaughter said, just had "a propensity for love."

For family and friends, Bettie's nature only adds to the shock and pain of her death. Authorities say that sometime between late Friday and Saturday night, Jacobson's 53-year-old son, Phillip Hayden, shot her to death then killed himself in the double-wide mobile home they shared in a rural neighborhood in northeast Hernando County. Bettie had two Labrador mixes, one named Bruiser, and a small mutt named Spot. Hayden also shot and killed two of them.

Investigators with the Hernando County Sheriff's Office said Monday that they still did not have a motive, and her family had few theories.

Bettie's brother-in-law, William Jacobson Jr., lived next to her and Hayden. Among the deep creases in his weathered face, Jacobson's blue eyes welled with tears when he spoke of her.

"We don't know what to do," he said. "She was a beautiful woman."

Hayden moved in with his mother two or three years ago to help her maintain the property. Jacobson was stunned by what deputies say his nephew did.

Hayden was a quiet, hard worker who seldom, if ever, showed a temper, Jacobson said. Hayden was unemployed and mostly worked around the house. He cut the grass, fixed the water heater and laid walkways. His mother cooked for him; some days, he cooked for her. Jacobson never heard them argue.

"He must have snapped," Jacobson said. "Who in their right mind would shoot their own mother?"

He and family friend Richard Letts saw Hayden most days, including Friday. Hayden had told them he needed help trucking material to a local junk yard.

He was normal that night, Letts said. He didn't seem angry or depressed or intoxicated.

Before Hayden left, he asked that someone phone him Saturday morning to wake him up. When they called, no one answered. Deputies came by hours later to break the news.

Bettie's stepdaughter, Shirley Hill, said that years ago Hayden struggled with alcohol and drug abuse, though she had not seen him in the last five years. Letts and Jacobson said Hayden used to drink, but he had since quit.

Hill, of Massachusetts, was distraught Monday. Bettie was special in so many ways that made her smile.

Even in her 70s, Bettie still exercised on a treadmill. She could hit a bull's-eye with a gun or a bow. She could bake anything. For the girls' birthdays, she made beautiful, colorful cakes. When the boys turned 21, well, she shaped them like breasts.

Around age 15, Bettie had her first child. By her mid 20s, she'd borne 10 of them. Grandkids called her "Grandma Bettie." Hill and the other children called her "Ma."

"She was kind," Hill said, "to everybody."

For the last 19 years, Bettie had worked at the Winn-Dixie supermarket on S Broad Street in Brooksville. She made many friends.

When the seafood section ran out of Gury and Diane Poletajev's favorite Victoria perch, Bettie would search in the back room until she found some.

"She was a great, noble woman," Diane Poletajev said. "I admired her greatly."

For years, George Hoskins had visited Bettie at the deli or seafood counter. They teased and joked, and she brightened his afternoons.

"She's just as nice to me as my mama," he said. "She treats everybody like that."

Times photographer Will Vragovic contributed to this report. John Woodrow Cox can be reached at (352) 848-1432 or

Motive remains unclear in murder-suicide of beloved Hernando woman, son 11/07/11 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 10:47pm]
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