CALGARY - Loved ones and friends of an 85-year-old man accused of murdering his wife of 56 years say he had long been suffering from dementia but she did not want to put him in long-term care despite his illness.
Siegfried van Zuiden, who goes by the first name Fred, made a brief court appearance on Wednesday and was ordered to undergo a 30-day mental-health assessment.
Van Zuiden was charged with second-degree murder on Tuesday after he called 911 and police officers responding to the call found Audrey van Zuiden dead in the couple's Calgary home.
Gordon van Gunst said the couple became like another set of parents to him 15 years ago, when he and his wife bought a sailboat business from them.
He said the van Zuidens were soulmates.
"Audrey was the rock behind Fred. They did everything together. They ran businesses together. They travelled everywhere together. They did everything together. I don't ever know of them ever being apart," van Gunst said.
He also said she sheltered her husband from the world as he became increasingly ill.
"Audrey, I know, would never have wanted anything different. The outcome, albeit tragic, wouldn't have ever changed ... her mind."
The van Zuidens had no children.
Family friends sat in a row, weeping and embracing each other, as the frail, confused-looking man entered the courtroom wearing a blue jumpsuit.
Psychiatrist George Duska, who assessed van Zuiden after his arrest, told court he believes the senior has a moderate to severe case of dementia.
"He had minimal understanding of why he is here or the events that have brought him here. He was not oriented to time, place or person," said Duska.
"He thought he was here on a matter relating to a ski accident a year ago.
"He otherwise presented as a very pleasant, courteous gentleman. He was as forthcoming with information as he could be."
The couple's godson, Vince Walker, said it's a sad chapter toward the end of a full life.
Fred van Zuiden wrote a book about his experiences in the Netherlands during the Second World War. When he came to Canada, he founded his sailing business in Calgary.
"This is a very, very great man. He's an accomplished book writer, Canadian bestseller, started a very successful business," said Walker, whose mother came to Canada from England with Audrey van Zuiden.
"True, incredible human being, great Canadian, survived World War 2, escaped from the Nazis.
"This is a horrible way to have such ... an honourable man to be represented in his final times."
Walker said it was important for him and others close to the family to be in court to show van Zuiden that he isn't alone.
"We wanted Fred to see us," said Walker.
"He's not really aware of his surroundings. (It's a) very, very scary time. And we really want him to know that we are here for him and he does have somebody."
The case is next to be in court Nov. 4.