Dog breeder was shot dead by estranged husband, inquest hears

A dog breeder who supplied spaniels to the rich and famous was shot dead by her estranged husband after she left him for another man, an inquest has heard.

Debbie Zurick, 56, was shot twice in the back by John Zurick, 67, at their home on Exmoor in Somerset before he turned the shotgun on himself.

A friend of the couple, Lizzie Murphy, who accompanied Ms Zurick when she returned to her cottage to collect possessions and two dogs in February 2020, gave a 130-page account to police of what happened.

The senior Somerset coroner, Tony Williams, gave a summary of what Murphy said at the inquest on the couple at Taunton, on Wednesday.

Murphy said Ms Zurick was a “strong and dynamic” person while her husband was “sensitive, fragile and depressed from time to time” and in the past would drink up to three bottles of wine a night. Murphy said he would be verbally abusive to his wife but not physically violent.

In December 2019, Ms Zurick left her husband, Murphy said. “She had begun another relationship with a man in Ireland.” Murphy said Mr Zurick seemed “OK”.

But on New Year’s Eve, Mr Zurick began to drink, the inquest was told, and started to “badmouth” his wife.

On 5 February, 17 days before the killing, he was stopped for drink-driving, and the police took away nine of his guns, as well as his wife’s guns, and revoked his weapons licence.

Ms Zurick travelled back to Somerset from Ireland to collect two dogs and some possessions from their cottage. Murphy said she was nervous because “John might be angry” and she decided to go with her friend to the cottage.

The Zuricks went for a dog walk while Murphy remained in the cottage. The coroner said: “The next thing Lizzie knew, John flung open the door with a shotgun over his arm. John said: ‘I have shot Debbie.’ He was very agitated.”

Zurick locked Murphy in an outbuilding. He told Murphy that his wife had betrayed him and “broken his heart”. He said: “Please tell everyone I am sorry. If I cannot have her, no one can.” Zurick said he was going to shoot himself, and she heard a muffled bang. Murphy managed to escape and call for help.

A family friend, Heidrun Humphries, said Ms Zurick was the “driving force” behind the couple’s dog training and breeding business. Humphries said friends knew of her relationship with the man in Ireland and Ms Zurick had taken the man – who was not named at the hearing – to a friend’s birthday party.

On the day of the killing, 22 February, Humphries sent Mr Zurick a message saying she hoped the meeting with his wife had gone well. He replied: “Didn’t go too well, so sorry.”

Robert Mitchell, a gamekeeper, said Ms Zurick had survived breast cancer but felt her husband did not support her.

Zurick was found by police with severe facial injuries caused by a shotgun. He died five days later in hospital.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct investigated the police actions and said they had not identified any learning from the incident. It remains unclear where the shotgun used by Zurick came from.

The coroner said Zurick decided to end his wife’s life in a “most calculated way” and concluded she was unlawfully killed. He concluded that Zurick died by suicide.

The couple trained and bred gundogs and were part of the Working Clumber Spaniel Society, of which Princess Anne is president. Her spokesperson said at the time of the deaths: “The Princess Royal is saddened to hear of the death of Mrs Debbie Zurick.”

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