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Ex-Husband Waited 14 Months Before Telling of Alleged Killings

September 18, 1989 GMT

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) _ The man who initiated an investigation into the deaths of five nursing home patients testified Monday that his ex-wife told him her former lesbian lover suffocated patients while she stood watch.

Ken Wood testified in the trial of former nurse’s aide Gwendolyn Graham, who is charged with five counts of first-degree murder and one count of conspiracy to murder for allegedly smothering five incapacitated patients at Alpine Manor Nursing Home in Walker.

Wood was separated in 1986 and divorced a year later from Catherine Wood, a former nurse’s aide at Alpine Manor. Ms. Wood has pleaded guilty to one count of second-degree murder and one count of conspiracy to murder in the case. She testified against Graham, her former live-in companion, last week.

Wood said his ex-wife called him soon after Ms. Wood and Graham split in July 1987, and Graham moved back to her hometown of Tyler, Texas.

″She said, ’You wouldn’t believe some of the things we’ve done,‴ Wood testified. ″She said that they had killed six people at Alpine Manor.″

Wood said his ex-wife told him Graham suffocated the patients and that she stood watch during at least one slaying.

The patients’ deaths were ruled natural until Wood told police of his ex- wife’s confession in October 1988, about 14 months after their conversation. That led to the investigation of as many as eight deaths at the home in the first four months of 1987.

Graham apparently thought she killed six people, authorities said, but they have only linked her to five deaths.

Outside court, Wood said he waited before going to police because he had promised his ex-wife he wouldn’t tell anyone.

″I thought about the families of the victims; so many people were going to get hurt,″ Wood said. ″But Cathy wasn’t getting any better. I sensed a lot of guilt. She couldn’t let go of what had happened. ... I went to police because she needed help.″

In other testimony Monday, Heather Baragar, also a former nurse’s aide at Alpine Manor, testified that she and Graham had become lesbian lovers around the time the alleged slayings began in January 1987, and continued their relationship until December 1988, when Graham was arrested.

Baragar said Graham told her she had killed six people at the nursing home, but Baragar said she didn’t believer her. Then Graham started telling others, said Baragar.

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″She joked around about it,″ Baragar said. ″She’d say, ‘I killed six people.’ ″

Another witness, Navy Ensign Deborah Kidder, testified she spent a day with Graham in 1987 in Texas. She said Graham admitted suffocating ″about half a dozen″ patients at Alpine Manor.

Kidder said she didn’t go to police because ″it was incredulous. I didn’t believe it.″

The prosecution was expected to rest Tuesday. Graham is expected to testify.