There is a stillness to the house at 1610 West 2nd Terrace in Northeast Lawrence. Weeds and brush line the strip where the curb meets the street out front, garden tools rest untouched along the home’s tan siding and dead leaves cover the yard.
An olive Toyota sedan with handicap plates is the only vehicle outside the home now, but on a cold, rainy morning last week, public safety vehicles swarmed in response to a reported shooting. Police activity — crime scene examination, interviews with residents — filled a neighborhood of people who largely keep to themselves but would answer their doors to help an aging neighbor who needed help caring for his ailing wife.
Larry L. Hopkins now sits in Douglas County Jail awaiting his next court appearance. He's charged with first-degree murder following Tuesday’s shooting death of his 61-year-old wife, Margaret E. Hopkins. Police allege that Larry shot Margaret because of her ongoing health problems. Meanwhile, family and neighbors this week told the story of a couple whose failing health often proved too much for them to manage alone.
On Friday, one of Margaret’s few surviving family members, sister-in-law Theresa Benson, planned to drive from her home in Overland Park to Lawrence to begin making funeral arrangements.
“I’m still trying to process it all,” Benson said. “It was very shocking. As we all age we all have our issues, but we just try to take care of each other.”
Margaret Hopkins grew up in Overland Park. After graduating from Shawnee Mission North High School, Hopkins left home for college and settled in Lawrence, where she would spend the rest of her life and for a time serve as a social worker.
In 1989, Margaret married Larry Hopkins, later described in a Journal-World article as a “hunter and competitive shooter” and who would soon begin a 19-year career with the Spencer Research Library at Kansas University. Benson said Larry had previously served in the military but was unsure which branch.
Not long after overcoming her own fear of guns, Margaret became one of the subjects of the 1994 Journal-World feature called “Women & guns.” According to the story, she had grown up in a household that included “a father who was alcoholic and schizophrenic and who regularly threatened his family with a shotgun.” At the time the story was written, she said, she would target shoot at the Millcreek Rifle Range near the Kansas River in De Soto, favoring a .38-caliber revolver. For the story, a handgun was photographed near her as she held one of the couple’s many cats.
At their home on West 2nd Terrace, where they moved after their marriage, the Hopkinses soon accumulated a number of pets, mostly cats.
And a once-verdant garden was a source of pride and subject of another Journal-World feature in 1998. In the story, Larry prepared 300 bulbs to be planted while Margaret showed a reporter around the garden, pointing out an 85-year-old mother-in-law plant and a sculpture she made in high school.
The construction of a ramp for a wheelchair, and Margaret’s description of arthritis, diabetes and related nerve damage — which by then had already been the source of several falls — began to hint at the health challenges to come.
At the time of the story, Margaret was a constant presence in the garden, welcoming young gardeners to work by her side. But on Tuesday, neighbors said it must have been at least a half dozen years since they last saw her tending her garden.
Benson said Margaret’s knees also began to fail over the years, requiring surgery. The last time she saw Margaret, Benson said, was when Larry was in the hospital himself. About a year ago, she said, Larry was hospitalized for a stroke. He also has suffered heart problems, she said. When he appeared via video from Douglas County Jail on Wednesday to hear the state’s formal charges against him, Larry used a walker.
Longtime next-door neighbor Harry Boyle remembers driving Margaret to see her husband in the hospital. Several in the neighborhood also lent a hand to the Hopkinses over the years, most often helping Larry tend to Margaret.
Kari Nelson said her husband once helped Margaret after she fell from her wheelchair, and James Miller recalled going to the Hopkinses home on numerous occasions. “He couldn’t care for her,” Miller said Tuesday. “He had trouble caring for himself.”
As the Hopkinses’ health deteriorated, so did the condition of their home. Complaints date back at least 20 years, when in 1992 a neighbor trapped one of their cats after alleging it had been trespassing and leaving feces on his picnic table.
Most disputes, Miller said, were handled among neighbors. But in 2009, after ambulance visits to the Hopkinses’ home grew more frequent, Lawrence police alerted the city’s code enforcement manager, Brian Jimenez. That November, Jimenez said, the home’s exterior condition alone indicated that the house would need to be condemned, something that would be confirmed once inspectors followed up the next month.
“The condition was pretty deplorable at the time,” Jimenez said. At least 15 animals were inside the house and animal feces were spread throughout. After eight months living elsewhere, the Hopkinses returned home in April 2010 and the house passed a follow-up inspection that August.
It wasn’t the first time that the number of pets owned by the Hopkinses became a problem. Former Lawrence Humane Society executive director Midge Grinstead, now a state director for the Humane Society of the United States, recalled discovering more than 19 cats in the home in the late 1990s, a number beyond the threshold for which shelter licenses are required.
And this week, the Lawrence Humane Society’s current director, Dori Villalon, said that at least seven cats and one dog were removed by Animal Control and that Animal Control was still attempting to capture “at least a couple cats” as of Thursday. Those already captured were put into protective custody at the Lawrence Humane Society, Villalon said.
When police canvassed the neighborhood on Tuesday, neighbors were asked standard questions such as whether there had ever been indications of domestic problems, with multiple neighbors relaying much the same story.
“Larry was a pretty nice guy,” Miller said. “And Margaret was a good person, too. They kept to themselves.”
Kari Nelson told the Journal-World on Tuesday, “He cared about her enough to ask for help, and he didn’t look like the type who liked to ask for help.”
And Harry Boyle, like each of the neighbors interviewed for this story, remembered Larry often quietly sitting and smoking alongside a small dog on the Hopkinses’ front porch.
Among those outside the neighborhood taken aback by the news was Dayna Lee, who has worked at a nearby Dillons for 18 years and remembered Larry for the pink watch he always wore and his almost daily visits.
"He was the nicest, sweetest man," she said. "Sweet as all could be."
Benson said she knew the Hopkinses for at least 25 years. Her husband, Margaret’s younger brother, Arthur Benson, died in 2005. Another younger brother and Margaret’s only other sibling, Thomas, died in 1986.
Benson said she and the Hopkinses didn’t see each other often but would stay in touch over the phone. Holiday visits stopped around 2001, she said, after the death of Margaret’s mother and stepfather. For the past decade, Benson said, “we all both led our own separate lives and everybody was OK with that.”
“They were always a good couple,” Benson said. “They’re quiet and reserved and kept to themselves. We didn’t have any problems with them.”
According to Benson, aside from her the only other family Margaret Hopkins had left was an elderly stepmother who lives in New Mexico.
Larry Hopkins is scheduled to appear again in Douglas County District Court on Wednesday for a preliminary hearing.
If convicted, Hopkins faces the possibility of life in prison without the possibility of parole for 25 years. When asked by a judge on Wednesday if he had any comment about his $150,000 bond, Hopkins’ reply was brief.
“Your honor, even if on my own recognizance, I have no place to go,” he said.