He could cut hair and he could talk, but drink brought John Morgan down It could happen to anyone

March 20, 1994|By Rob Hiaasen | Rob Hiaasen,Sun Staff Writer

On a routine Friday night, John Morgan nursed a quart of cheap Popov vodka and cooked himself pork chops for dinner.

He was living alone in a 16-foot-long camper trailer on Estelle Monks' rural spread in Cockeysville. It was a bitterly cold night. A space heater -- as well as the stove -- was plugged into an extension cord that ran from the trailer to a nearby shed.

On Saturday morning, Feb. 12, firefighters found the body of John Patrick Morgan, 37, on his back near the trailer's front door. He died in an electrical fire.

A month later, the trailer still smells of fire. Clothes, bottles and appliances are melted into one ashen dump. Inside the camper's oven, a pan still holds three pork chops.

Outside, a hired hand on Mrs. Monks' property remembers John Morgan. "He wasn't bad, just had a bad habit of drinking," says Ray Walker, 57. "They said he was a good barber."

He was that and more.

In his 20s, he ran a hair salon that was a fixture in Parkville. He had 10 women cutting hair for him and hundreds of adoring clients. He drove a sports car, owned a townhouse and took ski trips to Colorado. He had the personality. He had the looks.

Alcohol and cocaine took it all. A decade later, he had lost his business and his car. He had lost many old friends and nearly his family. He was jobless and homeless -- sleeping in cemeteries and behind churches before holing up in the trailer as a charity case.

John Morgan had been on top of the world, as they say. Then he slowly fell off.

What happened to him could happen to anyone.

John and Patricia Morgan named their first child John Patrick Morgan -- a name befitting their Irish-Catholic heritage and a name that's a sucker for abbreviation. John Patrick would be called Jay, or more often J. P.

J. P. was born in Baltimore in 1956. He grew up in Baltimore County, in the family's rowhouse on Quentin Road near Parkville. His father was a trouble-shooter for Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.; his mother was a homemaker. J. P. had an upstairs bedroom, which he eventually shared with his two younger brothers, Thomas and Michael. Their sister, Susan, had her own room.

J. P. was a neatnik, a child who didn't like getting his new shoes muddied. He cared about his appearance, especially his hair.

"He was so particular about his haircut. He wouldn't get down from his chair until everything was right," says Joe Parker, 53, who has run J. P. & Co. Hair Cutters in Parkville for 31 years and remembers cutting J. P.'s hair when he needed a booster chair. "He made sure both sides were even."

J. P. would have his hair cut in the chair closest to the front window.

"A lot of people thought he was the J. P. here, but I was the first J. P.," says Mr. Parker, who would eventually hire J. P. as a hair stylist. J. P.'s mother still comes here every Thursday.

Besides skiing, her son never really cared about sports. He liked music and had a garage band. But J. P. had "an older man's interests," says his brother, Mike, 28. J. P. loved to cook and wanted to be a gourmet chef. His favorite dish was a stir-fried meal he called "chicken a la Jay."

He loved antiques, and checked the newspaper for good deals. J. P. was an early deal-maker, talking a man down on the price of a nicked guitar he wanted when he was a kid. J. P. could talk the talk.

"He was always the last one to finish dinner because he loved to talk. The dishes would be cleared and he'd still be talking," Mike says. "We used to tease him about it."

The other family members declined to be interviewed for this story. Their son and brother's life and death are a private matter, they say.

After attending Immaculate Heart of Mary School in Baynesville, J. P. went to public schools and was in the first graduating class at Loch Raven Senior High School in 1974. John Morgan is wearing a black bow tie and a white jacket in his yearbook picture. He has the Morgan family freckles and sky-blue eyes. His hair is brown, long and layered -- just the way he would wear it all his life.

J. P. is not mentioned under Senior Superlatives in Loch Raven's yearbook. He doesn't pop up in any club or sports group pictures. The young man was interested in cutting hair.

When he was 16, J. P. turned the family basement into a club room and moved in. He'd cut his friends' hair here. Mike, who was nearly 10 years younger, remembers hanging out with his brother and his friends in the basement.

"He let me hang out with them. He never made me feel like a kid," says Mike, now a marketing sales representative for Legg Mason investment securities.

His brother loved music from the Eagles, a popular rock band in the '70s. One of the band's hits, "Hotel California," always reminds Mike of his older brother. J. P. would play the song in the basement, where he sometimes drank beer with his buddies.

The drinking wasn't a problem then. Teen-agers try beer. Mike says his parents thought at least it was better that J. P. drank occasionally at home than be out risking trouble by driving drunk.

A natural

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