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A Rancho Bernardo story of love, murder, and suicide

Mother & Son

Phil followed her from room to room, standing a foot from her face, screaming, “School! School! School! School! School! School! School! School! School!”
  • Phil followed her from room to room, standing a foot from her face, screaming, “School! School! School! School! School! School! School! School! School!”
  • Image by Catherine Kanner

Barbara Dunne was exhausted. Yet she was relaxed, too, a feeling she hadn’t experienced in months of turmoil. First her mother died in the summer of 1978, then she’d cared for her father until he entered a hospital in the first few days of January. 1979. Barely a month passed before he died.

Barbara Dunne. Phil would put his arms around Barbara and hug her. He’d blow her good-bye kisses. He  would even try to say her name — not Barbara, but Bar-Bar-Bar.

Barbara Dunne. Phil would put his arms around Barbara and hug her. He’d blow her good-bye kisses. He would even try to say her name — not Barbara, but Bar-Bar-Bar.

On Wednesday. March 14. 1979, Barbara had tired herself in moving her belongings from an apartment in the Casitas, a 385-unit complex in Rancho Bernardo, to her late parents’ home a few miles away in the Greens North section of the same upper-middle-class suburb.

Thursday morning she’d taken her parents’ income-tax-returns, which she'd just finished filling out herself, to a certified public accountant. On getting his approval. a sense of accomplishment came over her. Because this was their last return, the task had been emotionally difficult; her mother’s affairs were in probate while her father’s were in trust, and the whole thing had been quite complicated.

Doris Kamens. A Caesarean section was advised because Dorie had a small pelvis. Morris wouldn’t hear of it.

Doris Kamens. A Caesarean section was advised because Dorie had a small pelvis. Morris wouldn’t hear of it.

Drained emotionally and physically, Barbara Dunne — a forty-eight-year-old former law-office manager — put on her pajamas Thursday night before even making supper. Then she went into the little office she’d fixed up and turned on the television. After Mork and Mindy, while waiting for Quincy, the work of these two difficult days caught up with her. She fell asleep.

Just before nine o’clock, the phone rang.

“Is this Barbara Dunne?” a calm voice inquired matter-of-factly.

“Yes. ’’

“Is this the Barbara Dunne who is the friend of Doris Kamens?”

“Yes.”

The woman at the other end of the line introduced herself as a volunteer from FISH, a local organization that provides help to people in need. She explained that she had gone to Doris Kamen’s apartment (near the one Barbara had just vacated) to check on the outcome of an audiology examination and a psychological evaluation of Phil Kamens, Doris’s thirty-year-old mentally retarded son.

“I found a note on the doormat.” the woman went on. “The lights are on in the apartment. The car is here. I knocked, and there was no answer. I’m very worried. Do you have a key?”

“Yes,” Barbara shot back. “I’ll be right there. ”

Throwing on some street clothes, Barbara rushed to the car and started a seven-minute drive — in the rain — to the Casitas apartments. On the way. her mind raced as fast as the engine in her late parents’ 1968 Cadillac.

If Dorie wasn't home, her Chevy Monte Carlo shouldn't be there either. Maybe she’s taking Phil for one of his afternoon rides. She usually starts out whenever it gets to be dusk. Dorie does that. Tries to hide her son, and herself, from the reality of daylight. Little things, usually. Like when she makes a doctor’s appointment for Phil, it always has to be the last one of the day.

On their drives Phil loves to sit next to Dorie, watching the world go by. a world he doesn’t fit into. And when Dorie stops the car - sometimes at Lake Poway to feed the ducks, sometimes at the beach to see day turn into night - if Dorie isn’t quick enough in getting around to the passenger side. Phil hits the horn, smiling and laughing at the racket he’s creating.

Barbara pulled into the Casitas parking lot and saw immediately that the Monte Carlo was in its assigned space. She ran into apartment 105, past the kitchen, down the hall, glancing into Phil’s room long enough to see that he’d been carefully tucked into bed. Dressed in knitted ski pajamas, he was flat on his back — looking the same as he had every other time she’d seen him asleep.

Dorie's bedroom was darkened, but there was enough illumihation coming from the bathroom for Barbara to see. Dorie was on her side, though only slightly. She had on a high-neck, long-sleeve nightgown. Her face was unlined and at peace.

Barbara walked over to the bed and picked up Dorie’s hand. It felt like ice. “Oh, Dorie,” she sighed, knowing that Phil must be dead too. His mother wouldn’t go without him.

Just as Dorie had always kept her apartment neat and orderly, so she had taken care of her final affairs in an orderly fashion. On the dining room table, she’d laid out and arranged an undated, unsigned suicide note, a last will and testament, a • declaration of trust, and all the other birth-death papers so necessary at times like these. There was even a letter addressed to the police.


Doris Kamens was as fastidious and finicky about her personal appearance as she was about the appearance of her apartment. For example, although she knew it wasn’t true, she liked to believe that if sunlight hit her face directly, it would cause wrinkles. She worried about things like that — even though wrinkles were one problem Dorie didn’t have.

When she was working as a receptionist for the San Marcos school district, she got up at a quarter past five so she’d have enough time to put on make-up and still get to work by eight. And once, when Phil had to be taken to the hospital because of dehydration, Dorie was called immediately but showed up forty-five minutes later, explaining that she had to put on rouge and mascara and lipstick.

Prematurely gray and allergic to hair dyes, Dorie had to use a special spray to color her hair a shade or two darker than her hazel eyes. Arranged in a collar-length page boy, her hair always glistened, and it always set just right, with a couple of curls over the ears. She was an attractive woman, five foot two and weighing 122 pounds, with petite features. None of her friends knew that she’d turned sixty on June 14, 1978, and she liked it that way. When Barbara met Dorie in the fall of 1977, Dorie told her she was fifty-two, upping it later to fifty-eight, then fifty-nine.

Although she could wear greens, yellows, and beiges well. Dorie’s favorite outfit was a gray and white pinstriped pantsuit, complemented by a black turtleneck. She knew clothes, and bought things that lasted. To stay in style, she’d have her pantsuits altered and match them with scarves and other accessories.

Dorie Kamen’s vanity seemed based on two things. Quite a while back, she’d had a radical mastectomy. And then, more recently, she’d undergone vein surgery on her legs, an operation that left scars.

Dorie lived alone — and had done so since her second husband Morris, died some five years before in Los Angeles. In that time she'd come to the conclusion that, even if she did meet another man, he could never love her.

Despite her troubles, Dorie had a delightful sense of humor and a special gentleness that drew people to her. She was so gentle — faint-hearted, really — that she couldn’t bring herself to watch Westerns or mysteries on TV. If the show didn't feature music, she could care less about it.

Still, Dorie kept up barriers, and Barbara became a close friend only because — after sensing how lonely Dorie was — she forced herself on the tiny woman. This was no easy task, for Dorie would rarely ask anyone for a favor. Somewhere deep inside was the notion that people, even friends, would resent her because of her problem. So, ordinarily, she’d back away from potential friends before the subject of Phil ever came up.


Born and reared in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Dorie Kamens was in her early twenties when she married Bob Brazy in 1940. Bob’s father Nick owned a fur store in Fort Wayne, and Bob went to work for him right out of high school. After a few years, however, he decided to strike out on his own. Packing up his family, which now included two-year-old Bobby, Bob headed for Oakland, California, and the new and thriving West Coast fur trade.

The Brazys had several good years together before marital troubles developed and Dorie moved back to her hometown with Bobby. Her husband soon followed. They agreed, however, that their relationship was finished, and they divorced. Bob remarried, and, a while later, so did Dorie.

As it happened. Dorie's new husband. Morris Kamens, also worked for Nick Brazy's fur store; he'd been the out-of-town salesman for years. But after taking Dorie for a wife, he could see that his future didn’t lie in the fur business — at least not in Fort Wayne. And so Morris, too, decided to head for the golden land that was California in the late Forties. Morris, Dorie, and Bobby moved to the small town of Sepulveda, in the San Fernando Valley just north of Los Angeles. Morris got a job as a salesman; Dorie got pregnant.

While she was carrying her second baby. Bob Brazy decided he wanted his son back. A battle ensued, and Bob initiated a custody suit, forcing Dorie to return to Fort Wayne to testify. After a heated confrontation, the court awarded custody to Dorie, allowing visitation rights to the father.

All of this made Dorie’s pregnancy difficult. Yet, instead of going to an obstetrician, she continued seeing a general practitioner who was a friend of Morris’s. At the beginning of her labor, a Caesarean section was advised because of the fetus’s large size and because Dorie had a small pelvis. Morris wouldn’t hear of it, and Dorie reluctantly agreed with him. The result of their stubbornness, at least in the minds of Morris and Dorie, was thirty-six hours of labor and a brain-damaged son, Phillip Kamens, born November 14, 1948.

At ten months Phil still couldn’t pull himself up on the side of his playpen. But Dorie and Morris wouldn’t let themselves speculate about their son’s mental development until almost a year later. And it wasn’t until Phil was almost five that his parents took him to UCLA Medical Center, where a neurologist diagnosed him as profoundly retarded.

By then the Kamenses had bought a new home in Van Nuys. Though Morris had come down with a heart condition, he had a job selling children’s clothes to such stores as Robinson’s and Bullock's. But increasingly, he had to go on the road, leaving Dorie to fend for herself and her boys. Bobby, having developed a fondness for his natural father, was spending a lot of time with Bob — who had since moved back to California — and later he went to live with his father. Phil, having developed some behavioral problems, was getting harder and harder to handle.

Morris’s heart condition deteriorated to the point where he couldn’t keep up with the travel demands of his job. So he and an artist-friend started a small graphic design company. Morris served as salesman, promoting their line of Hawaiian-landscape napkins. They also made and sold specialized greeting cards. But after a while, Morris couldn’t even do this, and the small business went under.

Dorie went to work in downtown Los Angeles as a buyer for Napier Jewelers, a job she enjoyed immensely. But she felt guilty about leaving Phil in the care of a woman who stayed in the house during her work hours. When Morris’s health continued to worsen, Dorie had to make some painful decisions. Her husband was dying, and her son, by then eleven, was regressing. She put Phil in a ten-bed private home for the mentally retarded in Van Nuys and took a leave of absence from her job so she could stay at home with Morris.

Phil had been in the home for eighteen months when, during one of her regular visits, Dorie saw the man in charge yell at the kids, "Eat everything on your plates — even if you get sick!” Right then and there, she took him out.

Dorie soon heard of a state mental facility that was opening in Pomona. Although the waiting list was long, she and Morris pulled enough strings to get Phil admitted to Pacific State Hospital in June, 1963. Both were overjoyed; for the first time, their son would get the professional care he needed.

For the next four years, they continued to believe their son was in good hands. Their faith was broken, however, when Dorie discovered that the hospital staff wasn’t allowing Phil to do things he’d been trained to do. Dorie became furious. Phil was able to dress and groom himself, to eat with knife and fork, and to go to the toilet. But in his unit the bathroom door was always locked, and a child had to ask permission to go. If he had an accident it was deemed his fault, and he was punished for it.

Dorie set about trying to find a more appropriate home for Phil and, through a group of Valley parents with mentally retarded kids, learned about a place called the Home of Guiding Hands, a large private residential home in San Diego County. From the moment she saw it, Dorie loved the home. Set on more than ten acres of land in Lakeside, the cluster of one-story brick and cinder-block buildings, interwoven with small yards and shrubbery, was a far cry from the sterile and isolated environment of Pacific State. Both Dorie and Morris believed that the social workers, psychologists, recreation aides, doctors, nurses, and special-eduation teachers were giving the best of care to the home’s 200 residents. Yet they hesitated to put Phil in still another institution. He would be much farther from home, and he might feel abandoned. But Dorie finally decided that keeping Phil at home would prevent her from doing a lot of things. And, more important, it wouldn’t be fair to her son. He needed an environment where he’d have a chance to grow to his full potential. In July, 1967, Dorie withdrew Phil from Pacific State and enrolled him the next month in Guiding Hands.

While Morris was still well enough, he’d make the two-and-a-half-hour drive-from Van Nuys to Lakeside. After staying overnight at a motel, Morris would pick up his son and drive him back home for the weekend. Neighbors would see the two of them out in the yard playing ball and wonder about the sickly looking boy. Later, Dorie and Morris flew down at least once a month to bring Phil home for visits. At one point they even had it worked out where he’d be put on a plane in San Diego to fly to Burbank alone. But on one trip he fell asleep, and when the stewardess couldn't wake him, she panicked. From then on Phil had to be accompanied by an adult.

When Morris no longer had the strength to leave his bed, the trips to San Diego stopped. And before long, after almost a decade of illness, surviving one heart attack after another, Morris died, leaving Dorie to care for her man-child. She tried to return to the job at Napier Jewelers, but the manager turned her down — she’d taken too much time off. She worked at a variety of low-paying jobs after this, and even tried taking secretarial courses that might lead to better work.

Meanwhile, Dorie kept up the weekend trips to Lakeside, driving her aging Cadillac because she couldn’t afford air fare. One day, about a year after her husband’s death, she told her neighbor across the street, “Eileen, it’s so difficult to keep going. My car isn’t that good anymore. And I’m really seriously thinking about selling the house and moving down there.” Feeling she had to explain, she added, “Because, after all, Phil is the only one I have, and I’ll be closer to him.” Against the advice of friends, her doctor, and lawyer, Dorie sold for $60,000 the house she, Morris, and Phil had lived in for twenty years.

At first she got an apartment in San Diego near the coast, but after a year and a half, she moved inland to Rancho Bernardo. She figured she could find work there, and more important, the Home of Guiding Hands was only twenty minutes away. She moved into the Casitas, taking a two-bedroom, one-and-a-half bath unit on the first level. It overlooked a set of terraced Japanese pools stocked with colored carp. In the fall of 1977, she got a job as a receptionist for the San Marcos School District, because that meant her vacations would coincide with Phil’s and they could spend even more time together. For the first time in a long while, Dorie was happy. Barbara Dunne lived across the way and one floor up from the apartment Dorie rented. When Barbara first caught a glimpse of Phil on one of his weekends at home, she guessed he was a twelve-year-old boy who hadn’t yet shot up.

He had brown, naturally wavy hair, bushy eyebrows, a slightly protruding jaw, and light golden brown eyes. His face was that of a boy’s — totally guileless — but then again it wasn’t. Although Dorie shaved him every morning, Phil always seemed to have a five o’clock shadow. At twenty-eight, he was the same height as his mother; he seemed shorter, however, because of his stooped posture. Even though he didn't weigh a hundred pounds, he had well-shaped shoulders. But his fingers and toes were short and stubby, and cerebral palsy had left him with little control of his tongue. In a fall at the home, he’d broken two front teeth.

A bright shirt, corduroy pants, and a pair of oxfords — that was Phil’s day-to-day attire. With a twenty-two inch waist and a twenty-four inch inseam, his slacks always needed altering, but, somehow, Dorie got Montgomery Ward to do it free of charge. She bought his shoes for thirty-five to forty dollars from a store that stocked small sizes.

It took a while for Barbara to make Dorie’s acquaintance, and even longer for Dorie to introduce Barbara to her son. But when she did, Phil took an immediate liking to her. He’d put his arms around Barbara and hug her. He’d blow her good-bye kisses. Phil would even try to say her name — not Barbara, but Bar-Bar-Bar. Dorie was amazed.

Toward the end of 1977, Dorie started opening up to Barbara, especially when she learned her new friend had a mentally retarded nephew. Dorie described the horrible places — both mammoth institutions and mom-and-pop boarding homes — where her son had been. She told how happy she and Morris were to find the Home of Guiding Hands. But then, after she realized how much Barbara cared, Dorie talked about her growing dissatisfaction with the home. In October, 1977, Phil had been moved from a unit of twelve patients, where he’d lived for years and where he’d made friends. He’d been transferred to a unit of twenty-five residents, geared for those twenty-one years old and over who were severely to profoundly retarded. Many couldn’t speak, or had physical handicaps. Called Unit 7, it was designed for patients, residents, clients — whatever euphemism one wanted to use — like Phil, who needed more help than most patients and who had trouble communicating their needs. Most of the unit’s residents attended a three-hour daily class. A few also went to a one-hour daily workshop. Occasionally, there were day trips to the zoo or the beach. On any single shift, the staff on Unit 7 varied from four workers to one.

Dorie told Barbara that during recent months, every time she went to get Phil he was either sick or hurt. Once, he’d been so dehydrated (a frequent occurrence because of bad eating and drinking habits), she had to take him to a hospital. Another time, while in class, he’d fallen out of his chair, broken his nose, and had to have four stitches over his left eye. Shortly after that, Phil was found to be running a high fever. Workers at the home rushed him to the hospital, where he went into convulsions. Dorie believed the Guiding Hands staff should have tried to get Phil’s fever down before moving him. A few days after this incident, Phil returned to the home, and Dorie went to see him. She found him in his underwear, playing on a cold, wet floor.

Throughout the spring of 1978, Dorie reported similar incidents to Barbara. When Phil came down with bronchitis, she brought him home, took him to a doctor, and, when she thought he was healthy enough, returned him to the home. On her next visit, Phil was coughing and wheezing. Again and again she took him home to get well. On one occasion when he was home, she took Phil to a doctor; with X-rays, it was discovered that Phil had two broken toes.

All of this, plus the termination of her job in June, nearly overwhelmed Dorie. One night, around two o’clock, she called Barbara to say her heart was racing and skipping beats. Barbara took her to a hospital, where she stayed for a couple of days. The doctor said it was just nerves.

Off and on during July and August, Dorie nursed Phil at home, especially for his respiratory problems. But she couldn’t understand why he was so sick during the summer. On September 14, 1978, Dennis Zelmer, Phil’s social worker of three months' standing, called a meeting at the Home of Guiding Hands to discuss Phil’s failing health. In addition to Dennis, the session included Dorie, a nurse from Dennis’s office (the California Department of Developmental Services), and the home’s director of nursing (who is no longer employed there).

Dorie wanted to change the timing of her son’s medication; she thought Phil wasn’t eating properly because of it. The nursing director got angrier by the minute as the discussion went on, ultimately telling Dennis she felt Dorie was trying to push the home into giving special treatment to her son. Refusing to modify the medication, the nurse turned to Dorie and shouted that people like Phil get bronchitis and then pneumonia and then just die. The woman closed out her verbal attack by saying the home couldn’t provide the kind of care Phil needed, and recommended that he be placed in a skilled-nursing or intermittent-care facility. The remarks enraged Dorie, and they convinced Dennis Zelmer that Phil would better off in a place with round-the-clock medical supervision.

During November, Dennis drove Dorie to see two facilities; Hilldale Convalescent Center, a skilled-nursing home in La Mesa with many cerebral palsy patients; and Point Loma Guest Home, a small group home that catered to geriatric patients but was also beginning to take in the developmentally disabled. For various reasons, Dorie hated both of them. At this point, after seeing firsthand the other options, Dorie decided the best solution was to.get Phil healthy and back into the Home of Guiding Hands. After weeks of feeding and nursing him, he looked better — he could even walk again. But then the coughing started once more. Dorie took him back and forth to doctors, who kept prescribing different medications. There were so many new ones she often got confused about dosage and durations between pills. Friends suggested setting up a written schedule, but she never got around to it.

About the middle of November, Dorie called Barbara to say she couldn't get Phil to do anything. When she came downstairs to' apartment 105, Barbara saw that Phil was dehydrated again and almost unconscious. Whenever he did manage to rouse himself, he coughed terribly. Phil was admitted to Escondido’s Palomar Hospital for a few days. When he came home, he was on still more new medications, drugs that slurred his speech, blurred his vision, and made his gait so wobbly that he’d take three steps and fall fiat on his face.

During December, both Dorie and Phil had their ups and downs. Because of the pills he was taking, Phil didn’t want to eat or drink, and he still had that chronic cough. Just before Christmas, he was taken to Palomar again — this time in an ambulance. Blood tests showed that he had far too much phenobarbital in his system, and detoxification procedures were begun. Upon learning Phil wouldn’t get out before Christmas, Barbara began coaxing Dorie to take some time away. She agreed to spend Christmas with her son Bobby, who was living in Arizona.

When she returned to Rancho Bernardo on December 26, she was greeted by good news and bad news. During Phil’s hospital stay, doctors had discovered that he had bacterial pneumonia. All of his medications — phenobarbital, Dilantin, Diamox, Ativan, Convid, Meprobamate, and Valium — all these had repressed his respiratory system, which caused constant coughing and bronchitis. As soon as he was taken off the drugs he started eating and gaining weight, climbing back from seventy to his normal one hundred pounds. He’d improved so much by the time Dorie got home that he could be released. For the first time in more than a year, he looked healthy and apparently felt good.

But Dorie also learned that MediCal would only pay for part of Phil’s hospital stay. The state claimed that, according to nurses’ reports, he was well enough to leave four days earlier than he actually did. MediCal wanted Dorie to pay $600 for that extra time. Meanwhile, Dorie got a letter from the Home of Guiding Hands saying that as of November 13 Phil had been discharged; consequently, because he’d never been officially withdrawn, she owed them $885 — a month’s room and board. Dorie was completely crushed by this development. Her plan had always been to get Phil back on his feet and into the home. But now. . . .

To have her son home for any length of time, Dorie realized, would be financially devastating. To pay for care at Guiding Hands, Dorie turned over Phil’s SSI payment (Supplemental Security Income for the disabled, provided by the Social Security Administration); the San Diego Regional Center for the Disabled, a state-funded organization, picked up the rest of the tab on a contract with the home. But with Phil permanently at home, Dorie would have to depend on the SSI payment, her unemployment check, and interest on the money from the sale of the San Fernando Valley home. It wouldn’t be enough.

Having Phil at home drained her not only financially, but emotionally as well. Taken off Valium, with a reduction in his intake of phenobarbital, Phil got a little louder, a little more difficult for Dorie to handle. About the only thing that really upset him, however, was when his mother would yell. Then he’d assume a Rocky-esque stance, bobbing and weaving, throwing a few left hooks and right jabs into the air. Occasionally, he’d even let out an Indian war whoop. Gripped by anxiety and indecision, Dorie was yelling more and more, and Phil was letting out more and more war whoops.

On January 4, Barbara Dunne’s father went into the hospital, and Barbara spent much of her time with him. Dorie was left virtually alone with her worries and fears. Some days she managed to get by, but at the end of others, she’d find herself in tears. She began taking drugs: Miltown and Valium during the day, Dalmane at night. A month later, when Dorie learned of the death of Barbara's father and of Barbara’s decision to move to her late parents’ home. Done started going to pieces.

By the time the movers came at 8:00 a.m. on March 14, Dorie was almost hysterical. Barbara tried to be reassuring; she pointed out that things wouldn’t change, that instead of living one floor up and across the way, she’d be living just seven minutes down the road. But Dorie just couldn’t pull herself together. All she knew was that her best friend was leaving. With every load the movers hauled away, she became more unhinged.

Phil’s latest evaluations only made matters worse. One reason why Dorie had hesitated to put her son into another home was her lingering hope that a new battery of tests (started in January at Children’s Hospital in San Diego) would show some improvement in his overall development. The exams confirmed the obvious, however, and Dorie was forced to realize her son would always have the mental age of a two- or three-year-old. Moreover, doctors determined that Phil needed glasses, and that he had athetoid cerebral palsy, a kind of paralysis that causes constant involuntary writhing of hands and feet.

Dorie felt more trapped than ever. After spending half a lifetime trying to make things better for her son, it had come to this — a thirty-year-old baby who followed her from room to room, standing a foot from her face, screaming, “School! School! School! School! School! School! School! School! School!” Phil wanted to go back to the home, to his old three-hour-a-day special class. Dorie got the message, but couldn’t do anything about it.

She called Dennis Zelmer, Phil’s caseworker, to tell him the new exams showed no improvement, and to ask if he knew of a family-care home (a small facility with foster parents and a staff-patient ratio of around one-to-three) where Phil could be placed. After checking around. Dennis called back to say he couldn’t find anything for Phil that day but that he thought he could get him into Alpine Convalescent Center, a skilled-nursing facility, right away. “If you feel you’re in danger, it should be done,” he said. But Dorie said no. The place reminded her too much of Pomona’s sterile Pacific State Hospital.

Knowing that Phil liked to go for rides, Dennis suggested that Dorie might try taking him out twice that day in an effort to calm him down. If that didn’t work, he told Dorie to have a friend come over or to call the police. He promised to continue looking for a place for Phil the next morning, and Dorie said, “Okay, go ahead.” Dennis then reminded Dorie that she and Phil had an appointment with a psychiatrist on March 16; he suggested that maybe the doctor would prescribe medication that would help Dorie handle her son. As Dennis hung up the phone, he felt he hadn’t done enough. Earlier, the psychologist who evaluated Phil had called Dennis to say, “I’m very concerned about the amount of stress Mrs. Kamens is under. ... I can’t emphasize to you enough my concern.”

That Wednesday Dorie cried for help a number of other times. She placed calls to her own therapist; to Phil’s physician. Dr. Arthur Nicolaysen; and to Irene Walker, a night nurse who had cared for Phil on occasion. Irene, who also had worked for Barbara Dunne, taking care of her ailing father, called Barbara to tell her that Dorie was beside herself but didn’t want to call Barbara because she knew her friend was too busy moving. Barbara called Dorie after hearing this, and kept her on the phone for as long as she could. Later, Irene called Dorie, and consulting afterward by phone, Irene and Barbara agreed that Dorie had calmed down. After all, she’d gotten hysterical before. (In such cases, Dorie would become so upset she’d run in place, moving neither forward nor backward. At such times she couldn’t even get a complete sentence out. All she could do was stand there, shaking from head to toe, speaking incoherently.) So Barbara wasn’t surprised when she called back about six o’clock and found Dorie calm, almost as if she’d re-examined her options and discovered they weren’t so bad after all. “How’s everything?” Barbara asked. “Well, Phil seems better.”

Barbara could hear a record playing in the background. Knowing how much Phil liked music, she pictured him rocking back and forth as he liked to do, listening to one of his favorite pieces.

"I’ve got to go to my accountant tomorrow. You know, about my dad’s and mom’s income tax. I’ll call you after I get back. I don’t know if I’ll be able to get over to see you Thursday, but I’ll definitely try to make it Friday.”

“I’m sure something's going to work out,” Barbara said. “Irene called the regional center office, and between us we’ll get some help. But we just can’t do anything tonight.”

The next morning, March 15, Dennis found a family-care home with a vacancy. After trying to reach Dorie by phone, he sent a nurse to apartment 105. When she knocked and got no answer, the nurse left a note saying that Dennis could show her a new place for Phil that day.


According to the San Diego County coroner’s office, sixty-year-old Doris Kamens and her thirty-year-old son Philip died on either March 14 or 15, 1979. She died of a massive overdose of phenobarbital and Dalmane, he of a much smaller overdose of phenobarbital. After comparing the physiological deterioration of the bodies, the coroner’s office determined that Phil had died before his mother.

A few days later, Barbara Dunne received this hand-written note in the mail:

  • My Dearest Barbara,
  • Dennis had no immediate help. Dr. Nicolaysen said he couldn’t help me. It was up to Dennis.
  • Nothing immediately available but to phone the police and have Phil taken into custody by the police.
  • This I couldn’t do. Phil couldn’t handle this and he has had enough abuse and struggle in life.
  • I cannot endure anymore.
  • Please forgive me. There is really nothing left to do.
  • I love you and thank you for your wonderful friendship.
  • Forgive me,
  • Dorie

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