This is a story about love and loss that began more than 60 years ago in Southern California.
It’s the story of a couple so devoted to each other, family members say, death was preferable to either one outliving their spouse, or continuing to inhabit their frail bodies.
It’s also the story of their daughter who suffered heartbreak of her own, and with her siblings, is left to deal with the aftermath of her parents’ tragedy.
But Kelly Dresser LeCount says she would rather dwell on the love than the loss.
First, the details.
Her 86-year-old mother, Frances, died Jan. 22, three days after authorities say William Dresser, 88, shot his wife in the abdomen at Carson-Tahoe Regional Medical Center where she was undergoing treatment as the result of a fall at her home.
After he was subdued by correctional officers at the scene, Dresser told authorities he had four bullets in the handgun — two for his wife and two for him. He said he planned to kill himself after his wife.
Dresser said after he fired the first shot, the weapon jammed and came apart in his hands, according to reports.
He is in Carson City Jail, charged with open murder in the death of his wife, held on $225,000 bail, and under suicide watch.
“He is so sad he didn’t join her,” LeCount said, describing her parents’ story as a “geriatric Romeo and Juliet.”
“He would not have acted unless she told him to. It was their final, great act of love.”
That doesn’t surprise LeCount, her siblings Victor and Cindy, or anyone who has known the Dressers since they married July 12, 1950.
LeCount agreed to speak about her family because she wants people to know more about her father than this sad chapter in his life.
In an interview Saturday from her Gardnerville Ranchos home, LeCount, 52, said she wasn’t present when her mother was shot, nor was she privy to any conversations her parents may have had about setting such a plan in action.
“It would only be speculation on my part,” she said, “but everybody saw how hurt they were.”
She is convinced her father was carrying out her mother’s wishes.
“Mommy put him up to it. He was just doing what the love of his life requested him to do,” LeCount said.
LeCount said her mother fell at home Jan. 7.
“She wasn’t using her walker, and she fell, landing on the floor with her chin bearing the brunt of the fall,” LeCount said.
The accident left her mother paralyzed, in a neck brace and confined to a hospital bed with no hope of walking again,
“All she had left was her sight, taste, touch and smell,” LeCount said.
She and her siblings checked out rehabilitation centers and nursing homes, but couldn’t bring themselves to move their mother anywhere but home.
They were preparing to bring her back to Johnson Lane with hospice when the shooting occurred.
“I think Mommy and Daddy saw this as a way out of their broken, hurting bodies and on the road to their next adventure,” LeCount said.
LeCount said she and her family were able to say goodbye to their mother who was transferred to Renown Regional Medical Center where she died.
“All the kids and the grandchildren were able to kiss her goodbye while she was in Renown. She looked really wonderful. We all told her we loved her. It was sadly beautiful,” LeCount said.
“I’m not angry. I understand where they were coming from. That’s their love, their life. My father is a stellar human being up to this point. Why would you hold that against a man who was so damn near perfect?” she asked.
Love at first sight
LeCount described her father as a “square peg,” and her mother as the “cheerleader and the one with imagination.”
Her father is a former gymnast who could do hand stands on the rocky desert terrain, took his family fishing and camping, and built houses and boats for his beloved wife.
“Since they met, they were joined at the hip,” LeCount said of their first encounter in 1949. “He was a mail carrier, and she was a pretty girl he saw sunbathing in a neighbor’s yard.”
The Dressers eloped to Pioche where they were married by the justice of the peace who also happened to be the sheriff and Frances Dresser’s uncle.
The family bought property, and eventually moved to Johnson Lane in the early 1970s.
“My parents had a love affair with the state of Nevada,” LeCount said. “They bought in Johnson Lane because my dad said it was the last place you could see sunshine in the Valley at the end of the day.”
They raised their three children in a house filled with music, art, books, creativity, love of the outdoors, and an appreciation for everyone and everything.
“Everybody should be so lucky to have such a wonderful life. It’s like the consummate all-American family with one tragedy,” she said.
Dresser turns 89 at the end of January. The Carson City district attorney’s office has said they are not going seek the death penalty. He has been appointed a public defender.
“I can’t imagine my dad is too long for this world. He just wants to be with Mommy,” LeCount said. “I don’t know where this is going to end. I would like it if he could enjoy his last few days at home.”
‘The depths of our love’
In the midst of dealing with her parents, LeCount suffered her own loss.
Her husband of 17 years, Dan LeCount, died Jan. 17 at age 56.
She described her 6-foot-7, 333-pound soul mate as “a cross between Buddha and Santa Claus.”
He had struggled with health issues for years, but at the time of his death, she said he seemed energized to complete projects around the house, and take her on a pre-Christmas cruise in December.
He died at 6:45 p.m. as the couple settled down after dinner to watch television in their bedroom.
“If he’d died in July, I wouldn’t have been surprised. He was very sick and using a wheelchair,” she said.
A friend, Tim Cooley, had moved up from Los Gatos, Calif., to help Kelly with Dan’s care.
“Dan began to improve, and we took the cruise in December. People who saw him before he died said he looked great. It’s surreal to talk about it,” she said.
She said he was teasing her because she fell asleep during a program they liked, and suddenly asked, “What’s burning?”
“I said nothing’s burning, and he said, ‘I’m just crazy then,’” she recalled. “He leaned back on the headboard, and smiled and died.”
LeCount said friends and acquaintances have offered her everything from hugs and flowers to prescription drugs to help her “deal with it.” She politely declined the narcotics.
“I prefer to be lucid. I know this hurts, but that’s what makes me a functional human being. If you knew us, you would know the depths of our love, the extent of our pain. We’re really spiritual people. I believe the deeper you hurt, the larger your capacity to feel joy,” she said.
LeCount believes in her heart that Dan went on to be able to greet her mother when she died less than a week later.
“My parents dearly loved Dan,” she said. “He made them soup every other week. He was really tight with my mom.”
Her husband was a man of many interests, with a generous heart to match his size.
She met him while he was running Mountain High Records in Gardnerville.
Dan was an all-faiths’ minister, movie extra, singer, musician, and two-time “belly-bucking champion of the world.”
She is planning a memorial on April 18, her husband’s 57th birthday. She’s calling it “Dan’s Celebration of Life Birthday Party.”
LeCount hopes the memorial will be full of friends, family, music and laughter.
“If it takes three days, then I will dance for Dan for three days,” she said.