In early July, 58-year-old Susan Hankins was found dead in her bed, her body discovered by a physical therapist who came to the home to work with the woman. Before her death, the woman suffered from dementia and other serious health conditions, and a medical examiner ruled that the ailing woman's death was the result of natural causes.
A month later, her husband walked into Oklahoma City police headquarters and told police that his wife had not died of natural causes. Instead, he told them, he killed her.
Now, 56-year-old Jimmy Hankins, described by his pastor as his wife's caretaker and "soulmate," is charged with first degree murder in connection with her death.
Hankins allegedly told police that he had killed his wife in such a manner that it would appear to be natural causes. He said he was tired of caring for her, so he doubled her dose of Xanax, stopped giving his wife her thyroid medication, disconnected her oxygen supply, and smothered her with a pillow.
Apparently, he did such a good job of making the death appear to be from natural causes that the medical examiner believed the death to be natural. If it had not been for his confession, there would likely be no murder case at all. Now, Hankins faces the possibility of life in prison without parole.
In his confession, Hankins allegedly told police that he had planned his wife's death, saying, "I knew what I did. I knew what I did was premeditated. I knew she could have lived, and I took that from her."
Neighbors and acquaintances painted Hankins as a devoted husband and caretaker, saying that although his wife had been ill for many years, he rarely left her side and capably cared for the woman, who was diagnosed with dementia, bi-polar disorder, hypertension, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). They said he seemed distraught after his wife's death.
According to court records, Jimmy and Susan Hankins married in 1993 and divorced eleven years later. The couple remarried in 2007.
Being a full-time caregiver to a chronically ill family member can be incredibly difficult. In 2014, Oklahoma became the first state to pass the CARE Act (Caregiver Advise, Record, Enable). Under the CARE Act, hospitals are required to do the following:
- Record the name of the family caregiver when a loved one is admitted into a hospital;
- Notify the family caregiver if the loved one is to be discharged to another facility or back home; and,
- Consult and prepare the family caregiver on the medical tasks – such as medication management, injections, wound care, and transfers – that he/she may perform at home.
If the allegations against Hankins are true, his case serves to illustrate the need for support and resources for family caregivers.
Image credit: Abdulsalam Haykal