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Tragic end to mercy killer s life
Herbert Erickson and Julie Kuhn.

When Herbert Bernard Erickson walked out of his daughter's home for the last time on Monday evening, the 81-year-old left a final message saying he did not want to be a burden on his loving family.

The pensioner, known to his friends as Bernie, then drove to Floreat beach, left his clothes in a neat pile on the sand, walked into the ocean and ended the tragic love story of his final years.

Mr Erickson's apparent suicide came almost three weeks to the day after he pleaded guilty to murdering his long-term partner, Julie Betty Kuhn, 73, as part of a mercy killing pact to avoid her having to be moved into a nursing home.

The alarm bells were undoubtedly ringing for his family when he emerged from Stirling Gardens Magistrate's Court on October 31 to say that all he wanted was to be reunited with his late partner of 20 years.

Heart-wrenching details of Mr Erickson's decision to suffocate his partner and an attempt to take his own life at their Armadale home on January 16 have been revealed after his death.

A fitter and turner during his working life, Mr Erickson met Ms Kuhn when she was a carer for his father and he returned to Queensland to help before his dad died in a nursing home.

Yesterday, defence lawyer David Manera said the couple had an overwhelming fear of spending their final years in a nursing home because of their poor experiences with loved ones in aged care.

But Ms Kuhn, wheelchair bound and with multiple crippling health problems, was no longer able to care for herself.

"She was totally and utterly dependent on him," Mr Manera said. "At the end, and for some time before that, he literally had to carry her around.

"She could not do anything for herself. I think also at the end she was not able to communicate."

In the lead-up to Ms Kuhn's murder, it appeared that Mr Erickson was becoming increasingly aware of his limitations in continuing to care for his partner.

In the days before he smothered her with a pillow, he tried to organise a home medical visit and was told he would have to wait four weeks.

The pensioner's desperation was evident in what he hoped would be his final acts in suffocating his partner, killing their dogs and writing letters to loved ones before initially trying to shoot himself and then attempting to electrocute himself.

The father of three children, two of whom have survived him, did not have a single criminal conviction before he committed what is traditionally regarded as society's most serious crime.

Mr Manera described Mr Erickson as a man who carried himself with dignity throughout the ordeal that followed his partner's murder until his death.

He said Mr Erickson had been motivated by his love for his partner and his family.

"Even when I went and visited him in hospital when he was recovering from his genuine attempt on his life, his concern was for the 'fuss', as he said, that he was causing to everyone else," Mr Manera said. "He was a lovely bloke."

He said he did not believe Mr Erickson wanted to avoid responsibility for his actions by taking his own life, nor did he want to become the centre of either side of the political and community public debate about euthanasia laws.

He had been approached with an offer of support by a pro-voluntary euthanasia group, but had declined their help.

It was possible that Mr Erickson could have become the first convicted murderer spared a life jail term when lawyers argued his plea at a sentencing hearing scheduled in January.

Mr Manera said that given the exceptional circumstances faced by Mr Erickson, his lawyers were preparing to submit that he should be spared an immediate jail term.

But it seems the pensioner had made up his own mind about his fate when he went for a drive on Monday night.

“His last comment to his family was that he did not want to be a burden on them,” Mr Manera said. “There is no doubt that he wanted to end his life.”

If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, call Lifeline on 13 11 14, the Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 or go to the online crisis support chat at lifeline.org.a
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