Failure to visit ill spouse led to a search, then body 2 charged in death of Homeland woman

August 26, 1991|By Deborah I. Greene and David Simon

Abras "Sandy" Morrison was paid good money to house-sit for 74-year-old Margaret Cullen, who had been living alone in North Baltimore while her husband, a retired dentist, was hospitalized.

But to hear city police tell it, that money wasn't enough.

First, the 20-year-old Mr. Morrison is alleged to have stolen one of Mrs. Cullen's checks and forged a $2,000 payment to himself.

Then, when the elderly woman complained to police, Mr. Morrison and an accomplice allegedly returned to the Cullens' cottage on a quiet, tree-lined street to commit burglary, kidnapping and first-degree murder.

Yesterday -- six days after Mrs. Cullen was reported missing by doctors at Good Samaritan Hospital who were surprised when the woman's daily visits to see her husband suddenly ended -- detectives found her remains hard by a cornfield along Route 30 in Carroll County.

They were led to the shallow grave by 20-year-old Troy Dominic Shellington, who hours earlier had implicated himself in the slaying, according to police.

At a hearing yesterday before a court commissioner, bail was denied for Mr. Shellington, a resident of 3600 block of Cottage Avenue, West Baltimore, and an employee of a nearby Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant on Reisterstown Road, and for Mr. Morrison, a resident of the 6000 block of Lanette Road, near Rosedale in Baltimore County.

Each man identified the other as the killer in statements to homicide detectives. One statement alleges that Mrs. Cullen was strangled, the other that she was stabbed to death, police said.

The cause of death will be determined through a state medical examiner's autopsy, but police say it appears that the victim was killed more than a week ago.

In the interim, the two suspects are alleged to have stolen various items from the Cullen home in the 5400 block of Springlake Way in Homeland. When they were arrested by homicide detectives Saturday evening, the two men were in possession of Mrs. Cullen's 1984 Cadillac Eldorado.

When Mr. Morrison was seen getting out of the car on Cottage Avenue and was approached by homicide detectives, he assured the investigators that the car belonged to Mr. Shellington.

When Mr. Shellington was questioned, he said the Cullens had given him the automobile as a gift, according to detectives.

But perhaps the cruelest lie occurred 12 days ago, when employees of a Signet Bank branch on York Road received a call from Mrs. Cullen inexplicably asking them not to pursue the matter of a check allegedly forged by Mr. Morrison -- a crime that she had discovered and reported to police Aug. 9.

When questioned by bank officials, Mrs. Cullen gave perfunctory answers. A bank official said she would visit the elderly woman at her home but arrived to find a note on the door saying that Mrs. Cullen had gone shopping. Police now suspect that the victim made the call at her assailants' insistence, in an attempt to forestall the forgery investigation.

That probe had been initiated by Northern District police officers after Mrs. Cullen complained that Mr. Morrison had stolen a personal check from her. The check was later turned over to the Signet branch with the woman's signature forged, and $2,000 was transferred from the Cullens' account to that of Mr. Morrison, who also banked with Signet.

Mr. Morrison had met the couple when he served as Mr. Cullen's nursing aide at Good Samaritan Hospital, referred by Lowery Nursing Registry. But he apparently had contracted with the couple independently to sit at their home after the hospital discharge, according to the nursing service.

"He never told us he was still working with them, probably to beat us out of the commission," said Joe Iannone, president of the firm. "But in truth, if she had said she wanted to take him home, I wouldn't have objected."

Mr. Iannone said that Mr. Morrison had been used by the service for about a year with no problems, although recently he had proved unreliable on one job at Good Samaritan, falling asleep during his shift. "Aside from that, we'd never had [problems] with him," said Mr. Iannone. "He was the quietest kind of guy."

After Mrs. Cullen's initial forgery complaint, police did not immediately charge the suspect but continued to investigate the matter. Signet security officials had told police they probably would be filing a theft complaint, according to reports.

But on Aug. 14 -- the same day of the telephone call to the bank -- Mrs. Cullen did not show up at Good Samaritan to see her husband, a dentist who only this year sold a practice he had long operated at 3900 N. Charles St.

"She was a really elegant lady," said Dr. K. Michael Murphy, the dentist who bought the practice and knows the family well. "This is unbelievable. It's hard to imagine."

Dr. Murphy said Dr. Cullen, a stoic man, appeared devastated when his wife suddenly stopped visiting him at the hospital. Dr. Cullen, who had been in and out of the hospital frequently in recent months, did not seem to understand yesterday morning when told of his wife's death.

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