Toronto

Alleged nursing home murder victim remembered by son on birthday

The son of Arpad Horvath, the last person allegedly killed by nurse Elizabeth Wettlaufer, marked his late father's birthday with a traditional bottle of wine and reflection about the upcoming judicial process.

'I saw him for lunch the day before and he leaned in close and told me to pray'

Arpad Horvath Jr. says he finds strength sitting by his father's graveside. The folding chair is a mainstay in the back of his pickup truck, as he tries to visit once a week. (Amanda Margison/CBC)

Arpad Horvath did not live to see his 78th birthday this week but the man who dodged death in Communist Hungary, built a prosperous life in Canada yet allegedly died at the hands of his nurse, was remembered with wine by a son looking for justice. 

One of eight elderly patients at the centre of a first-degree murder investigation in two Ontario long-term care homes, Horvath's son marked his father's birthday Monday at his grave site by popping a cork on a bottle of his father's favourite red. 

"I promised him years ago, when he was still alive, that I was going to bring wine and pour it on his grave and spend some time with him on his birthday but this year it is really hard," Arpad Horvath Jr. said.

Sitting on a folding chair next to a gravestone with an epitaph that reads "I run my own destiny," Horvath's son tears up when he talks about the unsettling knowledge that his father may not have died of natural causes. 

Seven other families are also dealing with that knowledge, a shock that unsettled their lives last month when Elizabeth Tracy Mae Wettlaufer was charged with eight counts of first degree murder. 
Arpad Horvath was in London's Meadow Park long-term care facility in London for the final year of his life. (Horvath family)

Wettlaufer has yet to enter a plea.

"My father could have lived another two, three or five years. I don't know, but that is what really hurts," Horvath Jr. said. 

Last words to son: 'Pray'

According to his son, Horvath lived in real danger when he was a teenager, dodging death and escaping Hungary by bribing a soldier with a pack of cigarettes. 

Five decades later, court documents show the man who raised a family and built a successful tool-and-dye business in southwestern Ontario is alleged to be Wettlaufer's youngest and last victim. 
Tracey Mae Wettlaufer of Woodstock, Ont., is charged with eight counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of eight nursing home residents. (Facebook/Canadian Press)

The oldest, 96-year-old Mary Zurawinski, died three years earlier in 2011 in Woodstock's Caressant Care long-term care home. 

Horvath's son recalls meeting Wettlaufer in the hallway of London's Meadow Park long-term care facility, the place his father called home for the final year of his life, but he has no specific memory of her involvement in his care.

What he does remember are the "cryptic" last words his father said to him before slipping into a coma and dying the following week. 

"I saw him for lunch the day before and he leaned in close and told me to pray. He was not a religious man and when I asked what I should pray for, he just repeated again that I should pray." 

Horvath Jr. said that last message now troubles him and is one more reason he wants the judicial process to start. 

Waiting for justice

Wettlaufer, who is being held in custody at the Vanier Centre for Women, is scheduled to be in court Friday for a second appearance by video link. 
Arpad Horvath Jr. promised his father years ago that he would bring and pour wine on his father's grave to mark his birthday. (Amanda Margison/CBC)

Horvath Jr. said police have been in contact about the investigation but he credits the phone calls from counselors at victim's services for helping him the most. 

"I was with him everyday in the nursing home so I will be with him everyday in the courthouse," Horvath Jr. said, promising that Wettlaufer will see his face. 

Another family member, Andrea Silcox, whose father James was alleged to be Wettlaufer's first victim in 2007, has also said she will be in court to witness justice. 

While the eight alleged murders date as far back as 2007, Wettlaufer was only arrested after she allegedly provided information about the crimes to staff at Toronto's Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH).

Before being formally charged, police obtained a peace bond prohibiting Wettlaufer from possessing insulin. 

Advice from late father 

Sitting by his father's graveside, Horvath Jr. said he finds the strength he needs when he comes to visit the cemetery.
     
He said the folding chair is a mainstay in the back of his pickup truck, as it is not only a birthday gesture, but a visit he tries to make once a week. 
Arpad Horvath Sr.'s epitaph 'I run my own destiny.' (Amanda Margison/CBC)

When asked what advice his father would give as he and seven other families grapple with a potentially long murder trial ahead, he pauses and looks at his father's epitaph.

"I think he would tell me to keep moving forward, that this is not in your control and whatever happens, happens." 
     

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