Mercy Killing and Suicide Shock Officials at Cedars
Steven Charles Jenkins lay for three weeks in an intensive care room at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where he had come to die, another victim of AIDS.
Intravenous tubes fed him painkilling doses of morphine. Pneumonia clogged his lungs. A progressive eye disorder blurred his vision, threatening to blind him. Too ill to stand, he was virtually motionless. Sometimes, he would hallucinate.
But each morning, the reed-thin, 35-year-old patient received a visitor. His longtime companion, Philip Lee Saylor, was a regular on the fifth floor of the hospital. Sometimes, his visits in Jenkins’ private room would last for hours. All the nurses knew him.
By Tuesday, though, Saylor had seen enough. After missing his regular morning visit, Saylor, 40, came calling in the late afternoon. This time, intent on providing something other than moral support, he smuggled a .38-caliber revolver into Jenkins’ suite. He shot Jenkins through the head and then fired a second bullet into his own brain.
A suicide note was found in the hospital room, a hospital official said later. It offered no reasons, only instructions on whom to contact.
The grisly incident, which authorities described as an apparent mercy killing and suicide, came only hours after Saylor had spoken with the doctor who was treating both men and explained why he had missed his morning visit.
“I had spoken to him for about 10, 15 minutes earlier that day,” Dr. Phillip C. Zakowski said Wednesday. “(Saylor) said he had a little flu and wasn’t feeling well--that’s why he wasn’t in to visit the patient. Normally he spent hours and hours in the patient’s room. Whatever free time he had, he spent there.”
Los Angeles police detectives said Wednesday that they had received unconfirmed reports from the hospital that Saylor also had AIDS. Zakowski declined to comment on the reports, citing patient-doctor privacy, and said only that Saylor was a patient whom he met with frequently. A coroner’s examination of both men was scheduled for today.
In talks about Jenkins and his own medical matters, Saylor appeared to be “a very intelligent, observant individual” who knew that Jenkins was dying, Zakowski said.
“It was clearly a difficult thing for Mr. Saylor to observe . . . the continual deterioration . . . of someone he obviously felt so close to,” the doctor said.
Zakowski said Saylor was misguided if he believed that he could help Jenkins by taking his life. Jenkins probably would have died painlessly under morphine anesthesia in a week or two, the doctor said.
“I understand what Mr. Saylor was going through emotionally,” Zakowski said, “but allowing us to use morphine would have been a much more humane way. What I had recommended was to continue supportive measures, keeping him comfortable, feeding him, keeping him pain-free. . . . That is a very comfortable, painless way to let nature take its course.”
Saylor, who until recently ran an antique store called Abner’s Yellow Barn Furniture Emporium in Van Nuys, was the only visitor that doctors or nurses could recall Jenkins receiving in his final days.
The antique store, run from a leased barn built by Southern Pacific Railroad in 1912, appeared out of business this week, its sign lying face down on the side of the building. Saylor had made passing references to the company being inactive, according to the doctor.
“I don’t know if it was in response to Steven being sick or not,” Zakowski said.
The shooting shocked doctors and nurses at Cedars, who saw no sign that it was coming, hospital sources said.
Lauren Hinson-Brown, a registered nurse at Cedars-Sinai who specializes in the care of AIDS patients, said Saylor recently turned down her offer to arrange psychological counseling for him.
“Realizing Mr. Jenkins was very ill, I asked him if we could help him with anything,” she said. “But he refused. He declined any assistance.”
However, Saylor’s doctor said he talked “daily” with Saylor and this seemed to be sufficient counseling.
“He did not express a need--or really show any need--for psychological support beyond that which he was receiving already,” Zakowski said.
For several years, Jenkins and Saylor led what appeared to be reclusive lives at a fashionable West Hollywood apartment complex populated by members of the entertainment industry. They came and went late at night, rarely speaking with anyone, according to neighbors.
Their second-floor veranda, overlooking a lush Spanish-style courtyard and fountain, was the only one in the building entirely secluded by creeping vines.
“They used to argue late at night, pretty loud, or play the TV really loud all night,” said actor William McNamara, 24, who lives in the complex.
Dennis Bansmer, 34, a film costume designer, lived downstairs from Saylor and Jenkins and reported seeing the heavyset Saylor checking his mail less than two hours before the shootings. Saylor did not seem upset at the time, Bansmer said.
“Phil was always very pleasant,” he said. “They were just private.”
The killings occurred just a month before the medical center was to open a new, 22-bed AIDS unit, designed to provide additional psychological support--among other services--for victims of the disease.
But hospital officials said the new unit would not necessarily have prevented the incident.
“I’m somewhat surprised we don’t see more of this,” one hospital staff member said, asking not to be named. “A lot of patients talk about this. (But) at the end, once they’re in that situation, most of them actually talk about more therapy and support and they want their lives prolonged.
“It’s always shocking to hear about something like this,” he added. “The two of them were very close. I’m sure they talked about it some time ago.”
In the aftermath of the shooting, the scene in Suite 5906 at Cedars was one of chaos. Jenkins’ body was on the bed, and Saylor’s was on the floor nearby. Police said the room was covered with blood; they wore masks and gloves as they picked over the scene. Hospital psychiatrist Dr. Geoffrey Newstadt said a note was found by coroner’s workers.
He said the note, which gave no rationale for the act, was in keeping with the men’s behavior in their final days. He and other hospital staff members said they had given no clue to their plans.
“It seems to me very clear that this couple had a suicide pact,” Newstadt said, “and they were going to keep it a secret from everybody.”
Times staff writers Stephen Braun, Kenneth J. Garcia and Eric Malnic contributed to this report.
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