A FUNERAL director accused of murdering his wife and disposing of her body told close friends she had dementia, a jury has heard.
John Taylor, 61, told retired teacher Rita Tetsill over the phone that his wife Alethea Taylor "was suffering with dementia".
He told another good friend of hers, Eve Martin, that he thought Mrs Taylor "had some form of mild dementia" after reporting his wife missing from their home in Orleton, Herefordshire, on January 19 last year.
Mrs Tetsill said she was "gob-smacked" when Taylor told her his fears about his wife's mental state.
Taylor, standing trial at Worcester Crown Court, denies murdering his 63-year-old wife.
She has not been seen or heard from since January 19 last year.
Jonas Hankin, prosecuting, asked Mrs Tetsill if Mrs Taylor had ever "complained of suffering from confusion or forgetfulness".
Mrs Tetsill said she had known Mrs Taylor more than 40 years and had "never" seen or heard anything to make her fear for her friend's mental health.
She said Mrs Taylor was a "proud and private" person, and was "very popular".
"She kept in contact with lots of people, and she never missed a birthday or an anniversary - she had a lot friends," she said.
Asked if Mrs Tetsill had heard from Mrs Taylor since, she said she had not.
Under cross-examination by Ignatius Hughes QC, she said Mrs Taylor tended to "bottle-up" her feelings, "and would then explode".
She said that on the occasion Mrs Taylor was told her brother had died in an accident in the 1970s, Mrs Taylor had "thrown whatever she was holding in her hand across the room."
Mrs Tetsill was also asked by Mr Hughes how she had dealt with the break-up of her first marriage in the 1980s, after her then husband had an affair.
She said Mrs Taylor would "just get up and walk out of the room", but added she had never once seen her friend cry either at work or at home.
It was after the break-up of her first marriage and while holidaying in Jersey with Mrs Tetsill, that Mrs Taylor met her future husband.
Taylor, married to another woman at the time, left his wife and later moved to a bungalow in Orleton with Mrs Taylor, whom he married in 1996.
The prosecution, which opened its case on the first day or trial yesterday, alleges Mr Taylor was "keen" to spread the idea his wife was losing her mind in the run-up to her disappearance.
The jury also yesterday heard Taylor, of Mortimer Drive, Orleton, Herefordshire, had started an affair with another woman who lived in a neighbouring village in 2011 and, according to the prosecution, planned to move in to "a love nest" he had bought using money from he and his wife's joint account.
Both Mrs Tetsill and Mrs Martin told the jury they were surprised when Taylor told them separately his wife had "wandered off" on occasion, before disappearing.
Mrs Tetsill said she called Taylor a few days after Mrs Taylor went missing to see if there was any news of her.
"He said she had wandered off several times before," she said.
"He said on one occasion they found her sitting in a hedge crying, and she didn't know where she was.
"He said when he had left her to go out (on January 19) she was going to go to the doctors to make an appointment."
Mr Hankin asked what her reaction had been to the fact Taylor had left it to his wife to make a doctor's appointment.
Mrs Tetsill said: "I was surprised because if it had been my husband, he'd have gone to the doctor's with me."
That view was echoed by Mrs Martin when she stood in the witness box.
She also described how "at least two years before she disappeared" Mrs Taylor had posted her a card telling her the location of an envelope kept in her locked bedside drawer, to be opened "just in case".
Mrs Taylor had written in the card that the envelope was to be opened "in the worst case", adding "I am being silly but I can't help it."
She added she did not know the contents on that envelope.
Mr Hankin also asked Mrs Tetsill if she had ever noticed whether Mrs Taylor suffered "cracked or chapped hands".
She said Mrs Taylor always had "cold hands from a disease which meant she poor circulation in her fingers" during winter time, but never noticed her hands were cracked.
Mrs Martin was asked the same question and replied her friend had "soft hands" and that she had never seen any cracking of the skin on Mrs Taylor's hands.
Forensic tests on Taylor's car found spots of Mrs Taylor's blood on the rear seats, which Taylor claims could have got there because his wife suffered from a condition which caused the skin of her hands to crack and bleed.
Trying to establish Mrs Taylor's mental state, Mr Hughes, for the defence, asked Mrs Martin about a telephone call where she was mistaken for another woman by Mrs Taylor, two weeks before she disappeared.
He asked Mrs Martin: "In this conversation, she thinks you are somebody you're not, at first, then she says she'll ring you back, but she doesn't - that's not like her is it?"
Mrs Martin said it was not, but when asked if this sort of lapse was uncharacteristic, she added Mrs Taylor did "sometimes take a few days to ring back".
She said: "Regarding any head problems, I never saw (evidence of) it, but she's the sort of person who would have been embarrassed if people found out about it."
However, during cross-examination, Mrs Martin did say that despite being a "private person", Mrs Taylor had told her about suffering with a urinary tract infection in November 2011.
Mrs Taylor had also discussed her sex life with her friend, saying her and Taylor "didn't do things like that anymore".
The jury heard written testimony from Mrs Taylor's GP Richard Dales who said she had no history of mental health problems apart from one episode, while still working as a primary school teacher in 2001, where she complained of "work stress".
Dr Dales said the last contact she had with her surgery was on December 5, 2011, regarding a prescription for antibiotics for her infection.
Several other witnesses said Mrs Taylor's mental health seemed sound in the weeks and days before her disappearance.
A fellow school governor Helena Harris, attending a two-hour meeting with Mrs Taylor in November 2011, said "she concentrated throughout", and at a book club meeting in January, 2012, David Atkins said she "took a full part", while Phillip Newport, an organist at Hereford Crematorium, said she was "her usual fantastic self" when he saw her on January 10, last year.
He also observed "she was very off" to her husband on that occasion, as the couple prepared the chapel for a funeral service, talking sharply to Taylor - an incident which Mr Newport described as unusual.
"We had a standing joke at the crematorium that if you saw one of them, the other one would be nearby; they were like conjoined twins - they were so close," he said.
"When John came and she spoke to him like that, I thought it was very significant."
Mr Burrows asked Mr Newport if he thought Mrs Taylor's work ability had seemed impaired that day but he said "she performed her job properly" and had "never made a single mistake" in the years he had worked with her.
The trial, which is expected to last four weeks, has been adjourned until tomorrow.