Patricia Ward was a 66-year-old professor from Long Island. She lived at home with her 35-year-old son, Derek Ward. Patricia taught language arts in a program that prepares high school students for college and she had worked there for around 28 years. She was very well-known, well-liked and well-respected among the campus.
For years, Derek had suffered with mental health problems which went back around ten years. His psychiatric problems began to worsen, following the death of his grandfather in August of 2013.
Derek also had quite a lengthy criminal record. He was unemployed and had an arrest recording which dated back more than ten years. He had served time on drugs and weapons charges and had been on probation for a while.1 In 2006, he was found in the possession of a .9mm handgun and 100 Valium pills.2
According to neighbours, Patricia and Derek seemed like any regular mother and son duo. There were never any arguments that the neighbours could hear, nor was there any record of domestic violence complaints. Some did notice, however, that Derek was always with his mother. As one said: “I did notice that it did seem she was very protective, making sure he had certain things. I’d hear her ask ‘do you have your wallet?’”3
Patricia truly doted on her son and did everything in her power to help him battle his psychiatric problems.
It was the day before Halloween of 2014, when neighbours of the Ward family witnessed Derek dragging a decapitated body from the apartment that he shared with his mother. He then kicked the decapitated head across the street before walking off.
Since it was so close to Halloween, the witnesses simply thought that it was nothing more than a macabre prank, or even a grim decoration. The body was near a home that was decorated with pumpkins, cobwebs and a fake graveyard so it didn’t look too out of place…
Dale Silverman, who lived nearby, later drove past. She described the scene: “I saw what I thought was a head in the street. I saw long, black hair and the head face down.” She described how the body was completely straight out with the legs together and the hands at the side. “It looked fake. I thought it was a stupid Halloween prank.”4
When somebody finally went to inspect the body, they recoiled in horror when they discovered that it wasn’t a Halloween prank at all. Derek had dragged the decapitated body of his own mother into the street and then kicked her head down the street.
It wouldn’t take long before it was uncovered what happened to Derek afterwards. After killing his mother, he had walked around a mile away from his home and jumped in front of a Long Island Rail Road train. He was struck and killed by an eastbound train near the Farmingdale station. His suicide would quickly be linked with the murder of Patricia.5
According to police, Derek had stabbed his mother to death, beheaded her and then sat in the blood-spattered apartment for several minutes before dragging Patricia’s mutilated body down the stairs and into the street.
As news of the grim murder swept throughout the area, Detective Lieutenant John Azzata said: “It appears this was a murder-suicide.” It was determined that Patricia had suffered multiple stab wounds and broken ribs. Inside the apartment, police found the murder weapon: a knife.
Tributes for Patricia would come flooding in. “We are in shock,” said Patrick Calabria, vice president of institutional advancement at Farmingdale State College. “The staff in her department is teary-eyed. We are providing counselling to the staff who need it. It’s a very sad day. A lot of people are taking it very hard.”
In the wake of the murder-suicide, it would be uncovered that Derek had not been taking medication and had been scheduled to see his psychiatrist.
According to his uncle, Rev. Robert Lubrano, Derek had not had medication for around four days when he killed his mother. He stated: “She’s dead because he had a mental illness, and we didn’t know how serious it was. We’re in terrible shock. She was a wonderful person. He was a sick, sick kid.”6
According to Rev. Lubrano, Derek had never been violent towards his mother, and he blamed the murder-suicide on lack of access to psychiatric help. He said that Patricia was in the process of getting her son the psychiatric help that he needed, and an appointment was booked with a psychiatrist for two days after her murder.
Patricia had struggled to find a psychiatrist for her son. Derek was too old to be covered by her insurance and she had difficulties finding a psychiatrist that would accept Medicaid. When she finally found a psychiatrist, she was paying $200 for a 20-minute visit. Patricia worried more than anything that her son would take his own life.[npte]New York Daily News, 31 October, 2014 – “Farmingdale Mom Was Beheaded by Disturbed Son”[/note]
Family said that in the lead up to the murder-suicide, Derek had become increasingly unstable, and they had tried to encourage Patricia to call the police. Patricia refused. She feared that the police would lock her son away. While Derek had psychiatric problems, he had never been diagnosed with any specific mental disorder. He heard voices in his head and family speculated he had schizophrenia.
As Rev. Lubrano said: “He was a really good kid… Whatever happened after my father died, it broke him.”
- Long Island Examiner, 29 October, 2014 – “NY Man Decapitated Mother”
- Farmingdale Observer, 5 November, 2014 – “Murder-Suicide Shocks Downtown Farmingdale”
- New York Post, 29 October, 2014 – “Mom Beheaded by Son Was Beloved Professor”
- Associated Press, 29 October, 2014 – “Man Decapitates Mother, is Killed by Train”
- International Business Times, 29 October, 2014 – “Patricia Ward Beheaded by Son”
- Huffington Post, 31 October, 2014 – “Derek Ward, Man Who Beheaded Mother, Was off Medication”