Dying daffodils were the first sign something was wrong. Graham and Marjorie Glover were at home in Swansea a month after celebrating their golden wedding anniversary on the Orient Express. Their eldest daughter, Nicky, was visiting. She remembers her parents as a warm, loving couple. They still held hands and, in summer, Marjorie liked to watch from her sun lounger as Graham tended to his flower beds.
“The front garden was always immaculate,” Nicky says. “They lived in a beautiful bungalow with a zigzag bed that was a mass of flowers in spring.” But the yellow bloom had withered and the dead plants were still in the ground. “Dad never left the daffodils in dying like that.”
Two days later, Nicky, who’s now 49, was walking into a service station on the M5 as she drove home to Yorkshire. Her phone rang. It was her father. “He sounded awful. At first I thought he’d gone into work and been taken ill, but then he said he’d taken some tablets. ‘Dad, what have you done?’ I asked. He said, ‘there’s nothing you can do for me now’.” Nicky stopped walking. “Dad,” she asked, “where’s Mum?” When her father replied, Nicky remembers screaming so loudly that she stunned the busy service station into silence: “Mum’s dead.”
Graham, 73, had murdered Marjorie, who was 70 and the only love of his life. He smothered her with a handkerchief while gripping her neck with his other hand. Afterwards, he sat talking to her body before taking an overdose of paracetamol washed down with whisky. Then he called his daughter, who dialled 999. “If I hadn’t been so quick off the mark, he might have died,” Nicky says. “Part of me wishes he had, but then we wouldn’t have found out why he did it. We needed to know.”
Ten years after their mother’s murder, Nicky and her sister, Lisa, 43, sit at the dining table at Lisa’s house in Pontardawe, a small town outside Swansea. They each have a mug of tea and share a box of tissues. It is the first time they have felt ready to come together to recall that weekend and the full horror of what followed. They feel they need to tell their story.
“I’ve been dreading this but if it rang a little warning bell that prevented some little family being torn apart like ours was, or just heightened awareness, it will have been worth it,” Nicky says. “Because it wasn’t my Dad that killed my Mum, it was his illness.”
The daffodils were a visible sign of the dementia that had been slowly damaging Glover’s brain for years. High cholesterol had contributed to momentary pauses in its blood supply. These transient ischaemic attacks, or mini strokes, had passed unnoticed, or as “funny turns”. But, over time, the damage they caused was affecting Glover’s ability to think rationally.
After Nicky had pulled out the flowers herself, her father joined her in the garden. She asked him what was wrong. “There was this stony silence at first. Then Dad told me they were about to split up and that Mum was involved with another man. I couldn’t believe what he was telling me.”
Graham never gave up his belief that Marjorie had been having an affair, despite all evidence that it was impossible. He later admitted to watching the house from his car, and following his wife to the hairdresser. “At one point he had my 70-year-old Mum climbing over a wall,” Nicky says. “She had arthritis!”
According to the Alzheimer’s Society, 800,000 people in Britain have one of dozens of types of dementia. Glover had vascular dementia, the second most common form after Alzheimer’s. It can cause memory problems, confusion and depression. Symptoms may also include delusions such as morbid jealousy - the unswayable belief that a partner is being unfaithful. In rare cases, this can lead to violence or even murder.
Nicky woke up still reeling from her father’s claims the night before. Marjorie asked what her father had been saying. “She could tell I wasn’t right, but I told her I didn’t want to get involved,” Nicky says. She had decided she would go home the next day as planned and then return to sort things out. “It haunts me to this day that Mum died not knowing that - before I could do anything."
After an anxious evening and a second sleepless night, Nicky said goodbye to her parents. Her father hugged her and told her not to forget how much he loved her. At some point in the following two hours, before the phone call, the couple argued about the imagined affair in their kitchen, a row that resulted in Marjorie’s murder. The next time Nicky saw her father, it was through glass at Swansea prison.
Lisa keeps a “memory box” under a bed upstairs. She brings it to the table and pulls out a souvenir plate from Hong Kong decorated with a photo of her parents. They took regular holidays while continuing to work in semi-retirement. Graham was an insurance broker and Marjorie a hairdresser. “They were so devoted,” Lisa says. “When I first had kids Mum would come up and help before going back to get my father’s tea. I asked her what would happen if she didn’t. Nothing, she said - she just liked being there when he came in from work.”
Nicky, who has travelled back to Wales from South Yorkshire, where she lives with her husband, Garry, remembers a “very happy, ordinary” family. “We had the best of everything,” she says. “Tennis lessons, swimming lessons, brownies, guides - whatever we wanted to do.” Mum was a “bubbly, glamourous woman who lit up any room.” Dad was “a lovely, docile bloke, very gentle - he never laid his hand on anybody before this.”
But the sisters saw a shadow of their father after three days in which he had been treated for his overdose and locked up. “His hair had gone from grey to snow-white,” Lisa recalls. “When he tried to smile he looked like all the life and joy had been drained completely out of him. He didn’t look like Dad anymore.”
Nicky describes that first stage of grief as a “gaping hole - we were just bouncing off who ever told us what to do.” As well as feeling as if they had lost both parents, the sisters faced a storm of media interest in a quiet community shaken by murder. News crews descended on the Glovers’ street as gossip spread about a murderous pensioner. But the sisters never blamed their father.They believed he was a second victim of his illness, even before scans revealed the extent of the damage to his brain. “I was angry because I wanted something more substantive, a really good reason for all this happening to us,” Lisa says of her father’s delusions. “But I wasn’t angry with him.”
Nick Fox is a professor of neurology at University College London and one of Britain’s leading dementia research specialists. He says delusions can also include the belief that somebody is still alive, that somebody has stolen something or that a partner has been replaced by an imposter. He says extreme violence is, thankfully, rare. Professor Fox emphasises the importance of healthy living. High blood pressure, cholesterol, or diabetes can all affect the brain’s crucial supply of blood, often insidiously. “Anyone concerned should seek help from a doctor,” he says. “It may be nothing but it may well be something very treatable.”
While there are ways to resist some dementias and alleviate some symptoms, there is no cure. Fox is part of the race to find one. The number of sufferers is expected to reach a million by 2021. One in three people now aged over 65 can expect to develop it. “I don’t think society has fully woken up to what demographic change means unless we can find therapies,” Fox says.
A secondary challenge is the stigma of dementia. Almost half those who have the condition are not diagnosed, despite many realising they are unwell. “We need more understanding of dementia rather than giving people grief at Sainsbury’s when they’re a bit slow,” Fox says. “There is also a culture that says you have to soldier on and not talk about possible symptoms. People shouldn’t feel they are failing if they need help.”
Glover was committed to a secure psychiatric hospital after three months in prison. Five months later, he pleaded guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility and was ordered to remain at the hospital. Despite his remorse and sense of loss, he would not let go of his delusions, while others developed. At one point he believed his carers were trying to kill him, and that Nicky was on their side. “He was very poorly,” she says.
Between visits to their father, the sisters had to rebuild their own lives. Nicky, who works as an admin assistant, struggled with the sense of guilt she felt for not reacting quickly enough to her father’s revelations. Lisa, a fitness trainer for people with health problems, has suffered from depression, with added pressures from her own family. She has three children with her husband, Carwyn, who were aged five, four and two at the time of the murder. Catrin, the eldest, was was aware that Granny had not died peacefully. “She told me about a nightmare she was having with a bogeyman in this leather jacket,” Lisa says. “I thought, God, that’s my father’s jacket.”
The family took advice and decided to tell the children what had happened, clearly and calmly. Lisa pulls from the memory box an activity book designed for bereaved children. A page headed “How Did they Die?” invites the reader to draw a picture. Lisa had written “Grandpa killed Grandma” but the page is otherwise blank. “They didn’t want to do it in the book,” she says. A separate piece of paper shows a drawing of a kitchen. On one side, a man stands with a sad face. On the other side, a woman, also with a sad face, is lying on the floor wearing a floral blouse.
Later, Nicky, who doesn’t have children, remembers Catrin counselling her before she visited the psychiatric hospital. “Don’t be mad with grandpa, she said, his brain is broken’.” Lisa says it took more than a year for the children to overcome the trauma. Grief still affects the whole family, she adds, but they have “learned to live alongside it.”
As well as raising awareness of dementia, the sisters want to address those who shunned them for their loyalty to their father, and restore his image. “People who were quite close to us wouldn’t have anything to do with us because they refused to accept Dad was mentally ill,” Nicky says.
“I remember standing in the queue at WHSmith one day and everyone gossiping,” Lisa adds. “They said something about this pensioner brutally murdering his wife and I thought, if only you knew how docile he was, you don’t know what you’re talking about. He was ill.”
In 2005, Glover was diagnosed with cancer. He died in hospital the following summer, almost three and a half years after killing his wife. “I had this image in my head that if there were a heaven my Mum would be stood at the gates saying, right, you’re going to be sorry for this,” Nicky says. “But he died very peacefully in his sleep and there was only a tremendous sense of calm. He wanted to be with her."