For years, William Jacobson Jr. lived diagonally across the street from the home that his late brother’s widow shared with her son.
He said Elizabeth “Bettie” Jacobson — a “very quiet, very conservative” octogenarian with three dogs, a bird and a cat — cherished her job of 19 years at Winn-Dixie and taking care of others.
Phillip Hayden, 53, moved into the home at 26305 Alamo Road about two or three years ago to help his mother care for the property, Jacobson said. Hayden, he said, “was good to his mother” and “did anything she asked him.”
That’s why Jacobson is finding it hard to digest a Hernando County Sheriff’s Office report that Hayden shot and killed his 80-year-old mother and two of her dogs before turning the gun on himself. The bodies were discovered Saturday evening.
“They seemed fine. They always seemed happy,” said William Jacobson, 73. “It was a shock to me. You’d never know there was something wrong.”
Deputies say the discovery unfolded after an employee at the South Broad Street Winn-Dixie supermarket called the Sheriff’s Office about 6:35 p.m. Saturday, saying Bettie Jacobson hadn’t shown up for work.
The Sheriff’s Office said evidence suggests Hayden shot his mother with a handgun, then shot her two dogs before killing himself. The door was locked when deputies arrived, and there were no signs another person was involved, authorities said.
Records show the only criminal charge in the state against Hayden was a misdemeanor in 1981, which was dismissed.
Property records show Bettie Jacobson owned the Deer Haven Estates property since 1982. Her late husband, Thomas W. Jacobson Sr., died in 2005 after he had a heart attack while driving home. According to William Jacobson, Hayden was her son from a previous marriage.
Over the years, Winn-Dixie assistant grocery manager Daniel Beeman said, Bettie Jacobson has worked in the deli, bakery and — for the last six years — the seafood department, where she “did a little of everything.”
She knew the names of everyone’s family members and children and often inquired about their health. She also loved reminiscing about “the good old days,” and pulling out photos to prove it.
Jacobson told co-workers she had 10 kids by age 29 and joked she also had several “four-legged children” — her dogs. She knitted Beeman’s son, now 9 weeks old, a pillow before the birth.
“She always used to talk about lobster fishing with her father, so working in seafood was nothing to her,” Beeman recalled. “She was just one of those people who you could stand there 30 or 40 minutes talking to her. … A lot of people looked at her like a grandma.”
Jacobson was scheduled to work at noon Saturday. When co-workers called her for six hours and got no answer, they asked authorities to check.
Beeman said “a lot of people” knew one of Jacobson’s sons lived with her, but never met him.
William Jacobson said Hayden worked for a junk yard in the past. He also may have run a lawn care business.
Jacobson said he last spoke to Hayden on Friday, when the younger man sought assistance with yard work. Jacobson and his girlfriend called the home Saturday, but no one answered.
It wasn’t until the late afternoon when deputies arrived that they knew something was wrong. Jacobson walked down the road, but a deputy told him to return home. That night, authorities visited his home with the news.
“It broke my heart, when they said they were dead,” he said. “I didn’t even think they had a gun.”