Minnesota has been in the national news recently because of two unrelated but atypical deaths. The first involves former professional wrestler, Verne Gagne. Gagne wrestled for the University of Minnesota and was an NCAA champion before he began wrestling professionally in 1949. The Twin Cites soon became the center of professional wrestling thanks to Gagne’s leadership of the American Wrestling Association.

Gagne now resides in a nursing home in Bloomington, Minnesota. He is accused of throwing a 97-year old man to the floor last month. The man later died from complications from a right hip fracture due to the fall. Though the death was ruled a homicide, charges may not be filed in the case because both men suffer from Alzheimer’s disease and did not remember what had happened. In a display of compassion, the victim’s family has stated that filing charges against Gagne would be “inhumane”.

This is not the first time Alzheimer patients have bee involved in homicide. A fight broke out between two seniors at a Toronto nursing home in May of 2007 and one man died. But Toronto police decided not to charge anyone because both men suffered from Alzheimer's. Given the sharply rising numbers of seniors afflicted with the disease, it is likely that we will see more of these types of cases.

The second unusual case involves an 18-year-old Canadian college student named Nadia Kajouji. Her body was found in a river in Ottawa weeks after she disappeared last winter. Nadia suffered from depression and her death was considered a suicide. But when Ottawa investigators searched her e-mail, they found that a male nurse in Minnesota had advised Nadia in an online chat room how she could commit suicide. He told her about being depressed for years and that he planned to commit suicide, too. Nadia’s mother believes that the suspect made it sound like a suicide pact and urged Nadia to open a webcam between the two of them when she committed suicide; something investigators think didn’t happen. A similar case happened in England last year and in other suicide chat rooms where people around the world discuss reasons and methods for committing suicide.

The St. Paul PD, the Minnesota Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force and the State Bureau of Criminal Apprehension are all cooperating with the Ottawa Police Department in the ongoing investigation. Prosecutors apparently have some specific charges in mind and may also be looking at state and federal statues.

This case reminds me of Lori Drew of St. Louis, who helped create a MySpace account in the name of someone who didn’t exist to convince Megan Meier she was chatting with a 16-year-old boy named Josh Evans. Megan later hanged herself after receiving a dozen or more cruel messages, including one stating the world would be better off without her. The case was the first time a federal statute was used in a social-networking case. Drew was convicted of misdemeanors, though jurors admitted after the trial that they would have convicted her on three felony counts if they had been given the evidence from prosecutors.

The male nurse from Minnesota has been disciplined by the Minnesota Nursing Board in the past for numerous incidents of poor nursing practices and incidents of abuse of nursing home residents. His license was suspended on February 19th. If he is charged and brought to trial, perhaps he won’t be as fortunate as Lori Drew.

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Comment by Benjamin Sobieck on March 4, 2009 at 1:17pm
Glad to know that nun thing wasn't a figment of my imagination. Now that you've said that, Christopher, I remember the study now. Thanks for helping me put my finger on it.
Comment by Christopher Valen on March 4, 2009 at 2:36am
Thanks for your sympathies I.J. and Ben. I think writing mystery novels is definitely more fun than crossword puzzles although my mother did enjoy working them. She lived a very good 88 years up until the last six months and was not in the advanced stages of the disease, so I'm thankful for that. The "nun" study Ben referred to actually was done at the University of Minnesota. The nuns
lived in southern Minnesota and agreed to donate their brains for research after they died. I believe the study is ongoing. The results indicate that keeping physically and mentally active is important, so keep on writing:)
Comment by I. J. Parker on March 4, 2009 at 12:37am
Yes, very sorry also, Christopher. And writing mystery novels is probably better than doing crosswords. :)
Comment by Benjamin Sobieck on March 3, 2009 at 1:57pm
Christopher, that's tragic about your mother having Alzheimer's. I can't imagine what that must have been like for your family.

From what I've gathered, giving your brain a rigorous workout on a daily basis helps prevent Alzheimer's Disease. I remember reading somewhere sometime about some nuns somewhere who did crosswords every day (OK, so I'm a little vague on the details, but you get the point). Their minds were sharp as knives even as elder folk.

For me, this translates into this: creative writing fends off Alzheimer's. There you go, writers. As if writing itself was not enough, developing your craft can prevent Alzheimer's.
Comment by Christopher Valen on March 3, 2009 at 1:46pm
I went through a similar experience with my mother when she was suffering from Alzheimer's and fell and broke her hip. Her nursing home is a good place with caring people, but the majority of nursing homes are overcrowded and understaffed and can't keep an eye on everyone 24/7. I hope medicine can find a cure for the disease soon or at least discover a way to delay its onslaught. Otherwise, with the ever-increasing life expectancy, I fear it will become a national crisis.
Comment by Christopher Valen on March 3, 2009 at 1:32pm
I wasn't aware of the gender switch, John. But it doesn't surprise me given this guy's history. Minnesota, like other states, has a law that punishes anyone who intentionally encourages, advises or assists others with suicide, but it's rarely used and really difficult to enforce. While the Internet is wonderful in many ways (it allows us to communicate:) predators can easily target vulnerable people. According to figures compiled by Suicide Awareness, 89 people a day die by suicide in the U.S. Unfortunately, some of them may be communicating with predators in online chat rooms.
Comment by John McFetridge on March 3, 2009 at 11:12am
I understood the male nurse in Minnesota used a made-up name in the emails, claiming to also be a young woman.

some real tragedies out there.
Comment by Benjamin Sobieck on March 3, 2009 at 10:51am
I heard about Gagne on KQRS morning show, which I still listen to religiously since moving from the Cities. It's really too bad. Gagne is one of Minnesota's true heroes, unlike that other wrestler who got elected governor in '98.
Comment by I. J. Parker on March 3, 2009 at 8:33am
Interesting. I'm surprised that the staff of the nursing home wasn't charged with negligence.

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