Mike Kapfer knew the moment he saw Susan working in a small diner in North Dakota that she would be his wife.
She knew it, too. She was just a teenager, but they soon married.
Decades later they were still in love. He would buy her small gifts of jewelry and trinkets and hide them until the time was right to surprise her.
When the youngest of the couple’s two sons, Kit, sorted through their belongings on Monday, he found a pair of diamond earrings hidden behind cleaning supplies in a cabinet at their Las Vegas home. A giftwrapped box with a sapphire necklace was tucked away behind the bed.
Susan, 50, never saw the presents. The disease that had ravaged her husband prevented him from remembering where he had hidden them.
In his last weeks, Mike Kapfer, who was in his 50s, was physically and mentally debilitated. He spent his days and nights in a bed at Valley Hospital and Medical Center. Susan knew she had lost him. He couldn’t put a straw in his mouth. He would laugh hysterically, like a boy, at cartoons and musicals on the hospital room television.
“My thought was, ‘At least he’s happy.’ But it wasn’t him. My dad never laughed,” Kit Kapfer, 27, said Tuesday.
His father always had feared that kind of deterioration. His mother was in despair at the thought of losing her husband after 32 years of marriage.
On Monday morning, about 4:50 a.m., Susan used the gun she had brought to the hospital and fired once at her ailing husband, killing him. She then shot herself once and later died.
She left a suicide note in her car, dated three days before the shooting. It doesn’t explain why she killed herself, Kit Kapfer said. In the note, Susan compared the couple’s relationship to that of Romeo and Juliet.
She also lashed out at the hospital and its staff for their insensitivity during her husband’s two-week stay.
“They just treat people like junkies,” Kit Kapfer read from his mother’s note.
The note ended in bold letters with, “They just don’t care.”
Kapfer suspects, and doctors had mentioned, that his father might have had Huntington’s disease, a rare neurological condition that erodes nerve cells in the brain, causing uncontrolled movements and mental deterioration, according to the Mayo Clinic’s website.
For the last six years, Mike Kapfer had experienced episodes in which he just wasn’t himself. He had difficulty remembering the people around him, and sometimes his motor skills were impaired. But the spells passed in a day or two, and he chalked them up as side effects from the numerous medications he was taking, Kit Kapfer said. Mike Kapfer couldn’t remember anything that happened during the episodes.
The senior Kapfer was a bail bondsman, bounty hunter and private investigator in Kingman, Ariz., where he had a second home. He had injuries from on-the-job scuffles and gunfights that required surgeries. A bullet lodged in his leg made his nerves tingle before it rained. He also had suffered from pancreatitis after one of the surgeries.
His condition worsened in July. He checked into a hospital in Kingman, where for two weeks doctors tried to find what was wrong with him, Kit Kapfer said.
His father’s condition improved, and he was released. The next day he got into his pickup and drove to Las Vegas.
He was stopped by authorities at Hoover Dam after he ran over some traffic cones. Police cited him for reckless driving and sent him on his way. Soon after, he hit a garbage bin and was stopped again. Police had him wait until his wife and son arrived to take him to his Las Vegas home.
By morning, Mike Kapfer’s condition hadn’t improved, and his wife took him to Valley Hospital. Kit Kapfer said his parents had health insurance and had not fallen behind on any medical bills.
At the hospital, doctors performed tests to determine what was wrong with Mike Kapfer. He did not get a diagnosis during his stay, part of which was spent in the intensive care unit.
Kit Kapfer said staff members were uncaring, requiring his father to press a button to call a nurse instead of having a nurse check on him regularly. He said his father did not have the ability to press the button. He said nurses and doctors did not come around often and left his mom with only a hard wooden chair to use while visiting his father.
“They were treating my father like a homeless person addicted to drugs,” he said.
Gretchen Papez, the hospital’s marketing director, said in a statement that her sympathy goes out to Kit Kapfer and his family.
“Our expectation is that all of our patients and family members are treated with kindness and compassion as we understand the stress they may experience during any hospital stay or procedure,” she said.
Because of federal privacy laws, the hospital cannot comment further, she said.
Anger has mingled with Kit Kapfer’s grief. He believes greater care for his parents could have prevented what happened.
Contact reporter Lawrence Mower at email@example.com or 702-383-0440.