El Cajon

An elderly man, apparently despondent over the failing health of his wife of 50 years, shot her Monday and then turned the gun on himself in their El Cajon home, police said.

A home-care nursing assistant arrived at the couple's home about 11 a.m. in the 1200 block of East Washington to check on the condition of 74-year-old Margaret L. Smelser. After knocking on the door, the nurse entered the home and discovered the woman's body with a fatal gunshot wound to the mouth, Detective Randy Narramore said.

The nurse also discovered the body of Vernon Lloyd Smelser, 75. The retired Navy man was found kneeling on the side of the bed with a gunshot wound to the right temple. Both victims were found in the living room.

A .38-caliber revolver was recovered nearby.

Narramore said no note was discovered. Detectives said they could not determine how the slayings were arranged by the couple, adding that there was no indication of foul play.

Margaret Smelser had been in the hospital for the last year undergoing treatment for a severe case of diabetes and a heart ailment, police and neighbors said. "She was an invalid, and she needed a lot of oxygen and a lot of care," Narramore said.

According to neighbors, the couple moved to East Washington Avenue in 1951. They were described as good neighbors who celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in November.

"I hadn't seen them for a while," said neighbor Russell Cleek, 68. "Margaret was in and out of the hospital for the past year. Vernon was a happy-go-lucky guy. He was the guy that protected the neighborhood at night and slept during the day."

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