John “Jack” Furman, the former Second World War special forces soldier accused of killing his roommate in a Vernon, B.C. dementia ward last August, has died. His friend, John Hart, said he “passed away peacefully” in a palliative care unit in Kamloops late Tuesday (Jan. 28) night.
Furman, 95—a highly decorated, highly trained soldier—was initially charged with second-degree murder in the death of 85-year-old Bill May, a retired executive at a glass company near Vernon. Furman is believed to have been one of the oldest Canadians ever charged with murder.
The charge against Furman was dropped by Crown prosecutors three months later, after tests confirmed his advanced dementia left him unfit to stand trial. Friends of Furman say he had no recollection of the assault.
Furman’s case was among five care home murders in 2013 explored by Maclean’s this January in the story “Old and Dangerous,” an examination of violence by residents in care. Furman’s case was a tragic, if extreme, example of the challenges residential care homes face in dealing with an increasing older residential population with higher levels of dementia.
Furman, who had been living in his home until this summer, was placed in the Paulson Residential Care dementia unit after it was determined he was unable to look after himself. He was moved into a shared room with May, who was killed just days later.
After the assault, Furman was transferred to a secure unit at the Overlander Extended-Care Hospital in Kamloops, a facility for patients in acute psychiatric distress. For a time he shared the facility with a 71-year-old brain injured man who was accused of an assault that led to the death of Jack Shippobotham, 79, a fellow resident in a dementia ward at the Overlander care home in Kamloops.
The 71-year-old man, who was never identified, died of natural causes at the facility before it could be determined if he was fit to stand trial. The inability to prosecute assaults and murders in care is typical. Experts say the judicial system is a blunt and ineffective tool for dealing with the growing problem.
Furman was one of the last surviving members of the First Special Service Force, an elite Canadian-American unit trained in mountaineering, aerial and amphibious assaults and lethal hand-to-hand combat. They often stole behind German lines to fight and kill. Their exploits during part of their Italian campaign were featured in the Hollywood move The Devil’s Brigade.
It’s impossible to know if Furman’s wartime experience and possible flashbacks played a role in May’s murder. May’s sons later said they don’t hold Furman responsible for their father’s death, but they wanted it known that May was also a hero—to his family, friends and his former employees at the glass plant he helped manage.
There are measures that must be taken to better protect vulnerable seniors, his son Scott May said. “I just don’t want anybody else to go through this, because this is really lousy.” The B.C. Coroners Service is investigating the care home deaths of both May and Shippobotham in hopes of finding some solutions.
Furman’s friend Hart says he’ll miss his quick wit and company. He was “a father figure and a true friend,” Hart said. “His buddies will welcome him.”