Neighbors mourn 'a member of the family'

June 01, 1994|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,Sun Staff Writer

In a summer evening ritual that lasted almost 40 years, Winnetta Sherman would join the neighborhood women in an alley near their neat Logan Village rowhouses and share news of the day.

Many of them moved to Dundalk as newlyweds in the boom years after World War II. And most of the couples prospered while their streets and back yards seemed frozen in time, distinguished by splashes of pink rose bushes or red brick that trims many driveways.

But as night fell on Memorial Day, the quiet neighborhood was shattered when, according to police, Winnetta Sherman's husband, Fred, despondent over the couple's deteriorating health, grabbed his .38-caliber revolver and fatally shot his 88-year-old wife in the head in the living room of their home in the 6800 block of Belclare Road.

He then walked to the dining room, put the barrel of the pistol into his mouth and shot himself, Baltimore County police said.

Mr. Sherman, also 88, was listed in critical condition and on life-support systems last night at the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, a spokeswoman there said.

The sudden violence "has all of us feeling empty, like we lost a member of our family," said Rita Persiani, who had known the Shermans for 42 years.

Capt. Rustin Price of the police Criminal Investigation Services Division said that after months of caring for his ailing wife, Mr. Sherman recently learned that he has lung cancer.

Mrs. Sherman, who was recovering from one broken hip when she broke the other hip in a fall on the ice over the winter, also suffered from dementia, a degenerative mental condition, Captain Price said.

Neighbors told police they heard two gunshots about 9:30 p.m. Monday. Two of them went to investigate and found the couple's front door open. They entered the house, saw husband and wife on the floor and called the police.

Captain Price said Mrs. Sherman was dead when paramedics arrived but that her husband had a faint pulse and was rushed to the hospital.

The revolver apparently used in the shootings was recovered at the scene, he said.

Fred and Winnie Sherman had been familiar and comfortable fixtures in their neighborhood.

Mr. Sherman retired from Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. in 1970 after 21 years with the utility. Neighbors recalled yesterday that the couple attended church regularly and frequently dined out and went on trips. They had no children.

Even in their later years, "both looked good, had full heads of silver hair," said Mrs. Persiani, 71.

"He would always wave to you, crack a joke," she said. "They had most of their walls paneled. She kept a lovely home; it was immaculate. Her home was her life."

Mr. Sherman had been caring for his wife since she suffered her first broken hip, Mrs. Persiani said.

"But when she fell down this winter, it was a lot for him to handle, and he had to bring in a nurse to care for her," she said. "Just last week, he brought her out on the front lawn to sit, but it was a lot of work for him; she had to use a walker."

Even so, Mrs. Persiani said, "I can't believe he shot her, though . . . because he had cancer. My husband is dying of cancer, so should I go get a gun and shoot him? No way. But you know how old people are treated in this country. When you get sick, it's a worry, a real worry."

Neighbors said the couple had a niece in Florida and a nephew in Maryland. Neither could be reached yesterday.

"I heard the shots; we all did," said a distraught next-door neighbor who found the bodies on the floor.

"For them, there isn't much family," said the woman, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"I'm 70, and I'm very tired. I've never had anything like this happen before on my block. I've known both of them for 40 years, lived right next door to them."

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