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71-Year-Old Vermont Woman Beats Husband To Death After 43 Years Of Marriage
When a friend told Hope Shreiner she was worried about a "murderer running around,” Schreiner whispered to her, "Don't worry, I did it."
Over 43 years of marriage, Robert and Hope Schreiner had made it past the “seven-year itch,” survived “empty nest syndrome,” and settled into retirement. It seemed as if the couple had a long-lasting, successful relationship, but their picture-book story ended the day Hope “snapped” and bludgeoned Robert to death.
Originally hailing from Claverack, New York, Robert was a landscape architect and Hope was a nurse. When they married in the early ‘60s, they each brought several children with them. Robert had three sons from his first marriage, and Hope had five children already. Robert adopted Hope’s kids, and the two of them went on to have a son together, Scott Schreiner.
After both retiring, Robert and Hope moved two hours northeast, to the small town of Townshend, Vermont. Robert, who was hampered by mobility issues from a near-fatal car accident years earlier, battled numerous health problems in his 70s. He lost a lung to cancer and suffered from chronic pneumonia and glaucoma.
Hope said her husband of more than four decades had become a "hard man to know,” claiming he was mentally abusive, according to Vermont newspaper Barre Montpelier Times Argus.
"He's impatient with me," she told Vermont State Police murder investigator Sgt. Robert McCarthy after his death. "He yells at me and watches me because I don't always do what he wants right away... I think it's gotten worse as he's gotten older."
In the months before her husband’s murder, 71-year-old Hope began an affair with Donald Bouret, 77, who said the relationship lasted three months and that the two met up for sexual rendezvous every few weeks, according to the Barre Montpelier Times Argus. Hope dreamed of starting a new life together, asking Bouret if their relationship could grow if Robert was out of the picture, reported the outlet.
“I told her, ‘Definitely not,’” he later testified. “I didn't think we were compatible.”
Despite the health scares and infidelity, the Schreiners appeared to be planning for the future. They had recently sold their house and were in the process of having a new home built just up the road.
Any hopes of a renewed life together, however, came to a tragic halt on the afternoon of June 2, 2004, when Schreiner called 911 to say she had found her husband bleeding in their driveway.
“I don’t see his chest moving … There’s blood out of his nose … It looks like he fell,” she can be heard saying on the call, which aired as part of CNN’s “Nancy Grace” show.
When the dispatcher told her to ask if he was OK, she said, “He’s not responding.”
Emergency responders arrived and declared Robert dead at the scene. He was 78 years old. He was beaten and bloody, with several head wounds. From the dried blood around the body, EMTs estimated he had been dead for two to three hours, according to court documents.
The medical examiner determined blunt-force trauma as the cause of death, and wedge-shaped puncture wounds were found on Robert’s head. It was also discovered that Robert had ingested a large dose of the sleeping aid Ambien in the hours before his death, equivalent to about seven 10-milligram pills, according to the Rutland Herald.
It was approximated that the pills were consumed around 8 a.m. on the day of the murder. While Robert had a prescription for Ambien, he had stopped taking the medication in April 2004, with his last refill occurring in September 2003.
In the days after her husband’s death, Hope began saying disturbing things to her family and friends. Friend Louann Boeckem expressed fear about a "murderer running around" their rural community, but Hope whispered to her, "Don't worry, I did it," according to the Barre Montpelier Times Argus.
When daughter Stephanie Striet asked how her adopted father died, she claimed, "[Hope] looked right through me and said, 'I can't tell you.’”
“I just snapped,” Hope told neighbor Diana Wichland, reported the Rutland Herald.
“She said, ‘I put sleeping pills in his coffee.’ And then she just kind of rambled on about playing tennis and he hadn't died. He didn't die. And then she said there was so much blood and then she said, ‘I used a bag,’” Wichland told Vermont State Police detectives.
Police later found several bags covered with Robert’s blood hidden in a bag of dog food in the Schreiners’ basement, according to court documents.
As news of Robert’s death traveled around the small town, investigators spoke with Susanna Palmer, who volunteered with Hope at the Townshend library.
"Hope said to me, 'I want to get rid of my husband,'" Palmer said, according to the Rutland Herald. "I mean, I just laughed and said, 'What do you mean? Are you going to poison him?' And she looked me right in the eye with this rather intense look and said, 'Yes. Ah, no, no I just want to get him into the VA in Bennington.’”
The day after Robert’s funeral service, detectives arrested Hope and charged her with first-degree murder, according to the Rutland Herald.
Scott Schreiner had no comment when asked about his mother’s arrest for killing his father, telling reporters, “I just buried my father yesterday, and I'm still grieving.”
By the time Hope went on trial in March 2006, the family bonds that held her and Robert’s children together had ripped in two. Robert’s sons from his first marriage and Stephanie Striet believed Hope was a killer, while the rest of the family rallied behind her. Hope opted not to testify in her defense and collapsed during deliberations, according to the Rutland Herald.
Ultimately, Hope was found guilty of second-degree murder on March 24, 2006, the Rutland Herald reports. She was sentenced to 17 years to life in prison, becoming Vermont’s oldest female inmate and its second-oldest inmate in custody.
In 2014, at the age of 81, Hope was granted medical furlough and moved to a nursing home in Vermont. State officials said this was due to a “terminal or debilitating” illness, according to the Associated Press.
She will be eligible for parole in 2023 at the age of 90.
To hear more about the case, watch “Snapped” on Oxygen.