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My Poor, Deluded, Elderly Neighbor Told The Police We’re Trying to Kill Him—and What I’ve Done About It

At 8:30 a.m. the morning of September 5, 2017, my boyfriend, Mike, woke me and said the police were in my living room and wanted to talk to me. I pulled on some clothes and joined them.

“Your neighbor Tom called us and said Mike aimed a rifle at him out your bedroom window last night,” said one of the officers. “He said three of his neighbors raised $750 to hire a hit man to kill him, and Mike is the hired gun.”

“That poor man,” I said in a low, calm voice. “Tom really shouldn’t be living alone.”

Previous encounters

I’m sure you’re wondering why I was so calm and magnanimous about the whole thing, so let’s back up about a year to an earlier incident involving Tom. He was one of the subjects of my 2016 article: THE DISABLED BRANCH OF THE SENIOR MAFIA LIVES IN MY RETIREMENT COMMUNITY, where a similar situation happened: Tom accused our neighbor, Bonnie, of hiring a hit man to kill him. They shouted at each other and Tom said he had a gun and would shoot her. The police came and confiscated his gun. Eviction proceedings began against Tom but his granddaughter got him a reprieve and here he has remained ever since.

I was glad to hear that Tom could stay; he had always been pleasant to me and Mike. And besides, he had some medical conditions that caused his impaired speech, moodiness, and mental confusion. Live and let live, was my attitude back then.

The legal implications

But my attitude changed that morning in September when I was summoned to my own living room to explain my boyfriend’s criminal activities— activities that were merely a figment of Tom’s imagination.

“I even don’t own a gun,” My boyfriend told the police.

“Are you on parole?” the officer retorted.

“No,” Mike answered. What a cynical question, I thought. The officer seemed to be implying that everybody owns a gun, and if you don’t, you must be on parole since it would be a violation to have one. Gosh, a lot of people go through their whole lives without owning a single firearm. I certainly have.

Questions for law enforcement

Several questions have crowded my mind since then. I’m compiling a list in case I feel inspired to call local law enforcement and ask them, questions such as:

  • When the police confiscated Tom’s gun after he threatened to shoot Bonnie, are they under any obligation to return it to him? (If it’s legally his and therefore his private property.)
  • If police must return a firearm to its owner—who is on record as maintaining the delusion that people are planning to kill him—is it unconstitutional to require a psych evaluation before giving the gun back?

Slipping through the cracks

Background checks are for people buying guns at a store. But what about gun owners that start suffering from dementia or schizophrenia after they already own one? It seems those people can easily slip through the cracks. If they aren’t under the care of a professional, there’s no way to track behavior/mood changes, not to mention their ability to look after themselves. It is the latter situation that troubled me about Tom in the beginning.

My neighbors informed me that they’ve seen Tom’s apartment and observed his inability to operate a microwave, keep himself fed, and hang onto his allowance for food and other expenses. He recently sold his bedroom furniture to a neighbor because he was “moving to Virginia at the end of the week.” Of course he wasn’t moving and promptly asked the neighbor to give back his bedroom furniture which she refused to do. Now he has no bed.

Constant delusions

Tom has been under two constant delusions during the year he’s been living here: 1) that he is moving to Virginia in a week (he tells us that on a weekly basis), and 2) his neighbors hate him and have hired a hit man to kill him. Which of his neighbors changes from time to time, but despite the revolving cast of characters, he maintains the delusion that people want to kill him and have the big bucks to hire an assassin to do it right. The reality is that most of us are struggling on Social Security and some have extra help from the kids and grandkids. It would be comical if it weren’t so pathetic.

My most informed neighbors say that Tom’s granddaughter has power of attorney. They have only seen her visit him once since he’s been here and the consensus is that she dumped him here because the family doesn’t want to deal with him. This is not unheard of and is the case for many elderly relatives who are hard to get along with and need more care than they get. But that can be a complicated issue. During the last years of his life, my own father could be difficult and often exercised his right to deny care. We can only help our relatives to the extent that they let us.

Concerns about quality of life and safety

As of this writing, I have sent a letter to the site manager, the property management company, and to the State of Michigan Rural Development (which owns the property) describing the September 5th incident along with my concerns for Tom’s quality of life and for my neighbors’ safety.

It’s hard to know the right thing to do when you live very close to your neighbors and share a common space as we do in this small retirement community. We check on each other regularly, some daily to make sure our neighbors are safe and relatively well, and that gives us a sense of comfort and security. But sometimes it just isn’t enough.

The economics of aging

As an aging disabled person that might be facing these issues myself in the future, I’m disturbed to see firsthand how easily poor, elderly, disabled people can languish in a kind of purgatory until they decline to the point where they must go to a nursing home. Sadly, it seems to boil down to economics. The wealthy go to assisted living, the poor go to nursing homes. Likewise, I’ve noticed that my poor neighbors often go without teeth. The poor get dentures (or remain toothless) and the affluent get a mouthful of dental implants. Medicare won’t cover dental work, eyeglasses, and hearing aids—three necessities that are age-related. The rationale is that being deaf, blind and toothless isn’t life-threatening.

I’m trying to be a good neighbor. Now I wonder what that is exactly. Tom is once again friendly to me and Mike as though nothing happened. I’m glad of that—but I’m also glad I sent my letter to the property manager and owner. We all want to live in a safe, friendly community. What would you do in my situation?

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Nancy W
    2 years ago

    I’m glad Tom has actually moved to Virginia. I hope his sister can get him the help he needs.

    I had an aunt who was alone and delusional. she was unreasonable about anything my mom, her sister, tried to do for her. My Mother got social services involved and had her put under Adult protective services. They got her into a nursing home.

  • Amiracali
    2 years ago

    I had a step- grandmother that had paranoid dementia. It is a very common ailment that can go untreated for decades without the right notification to the county. The country is who took over in the end, which is a shame because ‘everyone, ESPECIALLY’ the government is out to get her. She told me on more than one occasion that there was someone “crouching on her roof” and that someone kept peeping in her lliving room window. The only reason why the county became conservatorship is that all her family were out to get her, so she cut ties with everyone. We didn’t know that she had had 3 hip replacement surgeries, and didn’t pay her Medicare portion for any of them, her house and belongings were confiscated, and she was diagnosed with the paranoid dementia, and placed in a care facility as a ward of the county.

    I would notify county health officials immediately, explain the accusations that have been given towards many of you, and express concern that he doesn’t remember making these claims. They should come to assistance. It is important at this point, that someone Intervene that is trained how to handle this disease. Especially for your neighbor@s health and well being. Hope this helps!

  • Kim Dolce moderator author
    2 years ago

    Amiracali, thank you so much for your sharing your suggestions and personal story about your step-grandmother, this is very helpful. –Kim

  • RobWelsh
    2 years ago

    It is no big secret that our lives can get pretty desperate. Anyone that really understands this toothless, deaf and blind possibility also knows that weapons can bought from anyone in a private sale. They may also realize that just about anything could be used as a weapon. Anyway, getting out of town and away from people is my advice – I need to take it too.

  • Kim Dolce moderator author
    2 years ago

    RobWelsh, I hope you can find the solitude and refuge away from society that you’ve described. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. –Kim

  • marigoldg
    2 years ago

    I’m a retired Licensed Psychologist and Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist. I also have SPMS.

    Unfortunately, there is no central reporting database to monitor people who show delusional or psychotic behavior if they are not seeing a therapist or have not been placed in a behavioral management facility. This means that if someone is having severe or substantial psychiatric and they are not being monitored, then they can get a gun or they can keep any gun they already have.

    The police are obligated to return personal property (including guns/weapons) to anyone who has not been found guilty of a crime. While the police may have confiscated the gun in the prior conflict, if he went to the police department and asked for it back, then they would hand it over. He’s not a felon and was not found guilty of any violent crime, so legally, it’s his property.

    Some of this also depends on whether or not he is under conservatorship. If so, then he would have someone managing his finances, healthcare and living arrangements. Essentially, it’s a legal status that states the person in question is not capable if managing their own needs.

    One thing you CAN do is make a call to your local social services department and express your concerns. They will probably try to make initial contact and intervene — seeing if they can contact immediate family, getting him legally declared unable to maintain self-care, etc. But that assumes Tom would let them into his house for a conversation. They can’t force him to cooperate. However, they can start the legal process to have him moved to a controlled facility. This process would also include moving toward placing Tom under conservatorship, whether under a family member or a professional legally designated conservator.

  • Kim Dolce moderator author
    2 years ago

    Thank you so much for the information, marigoldg, it’s quite helpful. He has since moved to Virginia to stay with a sister, so he’s in presumably good hands now. Hope you’re doing well. –Kim

  • Kim Dolce moderator author
    2 years ago

    Hi Julie, it is a legitimate worry and a complex dilemma that won’t be solved anytime soon. Thank goodness tragedy was avoided. Thank you for voicing your concerns.


  • grizz951
    2 years ago

    If he had his weapon taken away he would have to approach the courts to have it returned to him and prove he was he wasnt a danger I would think, unless the laws in Michigan are different then other places I have lived. Sounds like his family as abandoned him sad might really just be a lonely old guy huh.

  • Julie
    2 years ago

    I hope the gun was not given back. Yes, we have these freedoms but at what point do we deem someone unsafe to have one? I’m not trying to be political here but isn’t this the very thing that has people worried about gun owners? Are they mentally capable of owning a gun? I’m not saying the gentleman is unstable but certainly sounds like an accident waiting to happen if he owns a gun.

  • Kim Dolce moderator author
    2 years ago

    Thank you for your feedback, grizz951. It’s a sad situation indeed. –Kim

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