Ailing man kills wife before gun jams

Murder-suicide plot goes awry, police say

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A man charged with killing his wife inside their Bloomfield home this week recently found out he was terminally ill, Pittsburgh police said.

Phillip Willett, 79, remained at a local hospital guarded by police and awaiting arraignment Friday night. Police said on Thursday Mr. Willett told his wife, Catherine, 79, that he didn't want to live anymore before shooting her once with a handgun that jammed when he tried to kill himself.

"It looks like he knew that he was close to death and he made the decision to take her with him," major crimes Lt. Kevin Kraus said Friday. He said Ms. Willett was not sick, contrary to some early reports.

Martha Villani, Ms. Willett's sister, told police she and another sister were on the first floor of the home in the 4600 block of Rosina Way on Thursday night when they heard Mr. Willett "banging around" upstairs, police wrote in a criminal complaint.

Ms. Willett went to check on him, and Ms. Villani said she heard the two arguing. She heard Ms. Willett say, "Don't do that," "Why are you doing this, I love you" and "Please Phil, I love you."

Ms. Villani told police she then heard Mr. Willett say, "I am in so much pain" and "I don't want to live anymore."

Then, while sitting on the bed, he pointed a gun at his wife, who had backed out of the room onto the landing, and fired one shot, Ms. Villani told police.

Officers responded around 8:25 p.m. to find Ms. Willett lying on the floor with a gunshot wound to the head, Lt. Kraus said. She died at the scene.

Patricia Kuhn, 72, a next-door neighbor, said she knew the Willetts for decades.

The couple was married more than 30 years, she said, and got along well together.

She remembered them having cookouts out back with other members of the tight-knit family in the summer. The couple, formerly of Mt. Lebanon, had moved into Ms. Willett's family home in Bloomfield a few months ago, where Ms. Willett's two sisters also lived.

"It's hard to believe," she said repeatedly. "We were lifelong friends. ... They were nice people."

Mike Manko, spokesman for the Allegheny County district attorney's office, said in an email that the DA's office "has been in contact with homicide [detectives] and the medical examiner to further develop the fact pattern and timeline that led to this shooting."


Molly Born: mborn@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1944. Staff writers Liz Navratil and Lexi Belculfine contributed.

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