Relatives Sentenced For Murder -- Daughter, Granddaughter Get Total Of 55 Years

Suzine Van Sickle was a retired beautician who loved to read, sew, grow flowers and take photographs. In her later years, she pored over flower books and crocheted afghans.

Three years before her murder at the hands of her closest relatives, she and her husband, George, had received a $100,000 settlement from injuries he suffered on the job. She also received Social Security, got his pension when he died and benefited from Medicaid.

But at the time of her death, authorities found just $5.41 in two bank accounts, a zero balance in another and a fourth account that was overdrawn.

Yesterday, a King County Superior Court judge imposed sentences totaling 55 years for the professed loved ones who poisoned her with doctored clam chowder last fall and then smothered her with a pillow.

Judge Frank Sullivan imposed an exceptional sentence of 35 years on Van Sickle's daughter, Jimmie Jean Shumway, 59, of Federal Way, who had power of attorney for her mother. Shumway had "essentially pillaged a substantial future" for the 79-year-old Van Sickle, the judge said.

He called the case a "classic case of extreme vulnerability of a victim," noting that Van Sickle, in the months before her murder, needed 24-hour care, was incontinent and could not fix her own food.

Alexis M. Shumway, 29, a granddaughter who lived at the family home in Columbia City, was sentenced to 20 years.

"They (the daughter and granddaughter) made the decision that her life was no longer of value," Deputy Prosecutor Kerry Keefe said before the sentencing. "Their motivations were greed and their own selfishness, rather than loving care and comfort of their own flesh and blood."

Van Sickle died Nov. 18, 1990, after a 20-minute struggle, during which the two women held a pillow to her face after first trying to kill her with poisoned food. Neither spoke at the sentencing and showed little emotion. Their attorneys said they will appeal.

Deputy Prosecutor Lisa Marchese said before the sentencing that the nursing home where Van Sickle once stayed had notified the state Adult Protective Services that she might be in peril after the daughter and granddaughter moved her home.

The removal was made despite the pending appointment of a legal guardian, Marchese said. Kathleen Burge, a social worker for Adult Protective Services had written Jimmie Jean Shumway two months before the murder, asking for details on Van Sickle's finances and how the two women planned to care for Van Sickle.

The daughter never responded to Burge's letter. Burge testified that she did not pursue the matter and did not telephone Van Sickle's home or visit her.

"The nursing home did everything right," Marchese said. "The signals were all there for APS, including $40,000 in fees owed the nursing home. The APS dropped the ball."

Keefe and Marchese had asked for lesser punishment for the granddaughter because she reported the murder to Seattle police.

Before the confession, Van Sickle's doctor had classified the death as from natural causes.

A neighbor of Van Sickle, Freida Hein, remembers how Van Sickle for years made her own clothes and was talented in photography.

Hein, 76, said that a year before Van Sickle's murder, she had gone to the house to visit, bringing Van Sickle a birthday cake.

"They didn't even tell her it was her birthday," Hein said.