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Reason a mystery in apparent murder-suicide

BROOKSVILLE — In the days after Phillip Hayden reportedly shot his mother before killing himself, nearly everyone who knew the beloved 80-year-old woman asked the same question.

Why?

After two weeks of investigation, authorities say no one may ever know.

Friends never sensed a problem between Hayden, 53, and his mother, Elizabeth "Bettie" Jacobson. A stepsister said that years ago Hayden struggled with alcohol and drug abuse, though she had not seen him in the past five years. People who knew him best said he used to drink, but had quit.

Family members in Massachusetts told detectives he "had serious mental health issues," according to Hernando Sheriff Al Nienhuis, but that assertion still didn't reveal a specific motive. Hayden didn't leave behind a note.

Sometime between late Nov. 4 and the night of Nov. 5, authorities say, the killings occurred in the double-wide mobile home the mother and son shared in a rural neighborhood in northeast Hernando County.

Bettie's brother-in-law, William Jacobson Jr., lived next to her and Hayden. He and family friend Richard Letts saw Hayden most days, including in the hours before the shootings. 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.

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

Hayden had moved in with Bettie two or three years ago to help her maintain the property. He 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.

John Woodrow Cox can be reached at (352) 848-1432 or jcox@tampabay.com.

Reason a mystery in apparent murder-suicide 11/18/11 [Last modified: Saturday, November 19, 2011 9:34am]
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