Retired postal worker kills wife, self Couple had struggled with illnesses, expenses

February 27, 1996|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,SUN STAFF

For Samuel Johnson, life had become unbearable.

A stroke in May left Mr. Johnson, 74, paralyzed on his right side. His wife, Lucille, 71, had been paralyzed since 1969. Neighbors said the retired postal worker could hardly afford the $200-a-day, round-the-clock nursing care they needed.

So, sometime yesterday morning, he took his .22-caliber rifle into the bedroom and shot his wife of more than 20 years and then himself, county police said. A nurse who had been sleeping in the next room heard nothing. She found the couple shortly after 3 a.m. when she went into their room to check on them, said police spokesman Capt. Brian Uppercue.

Another nurse, Alma Silver, who had worked for the couple four years and last saw them Saturday morning, said. "I guess he couldn't stand all of that pain and he didn't want to live without her."

Mrs. Johnson's family, who arrived at the one-level brick house in the 3800 block of Marriottsville Road yesterday afternoon, would not talk about the shootings. But neighbors who gathered in the front yard of Mary Ellen Rossi's home, next to the Johnsons', said the elderly couple depended heavily on them as well as on the nurses that lived with them.

Although Mr. Johnson had commented before that he had thought about killing himself and his wife, the neighbors said they had not thought he was serious.

Less than 12 hours before the bodies were found, Mr. Johnson spoke with his gardener, Walter Herring, about items he wanted the gardener to have if Mr. Johnson should die.

"Sam said to me: 'If anything happens to me, I want you to have my tools,' " Mr. Herring said.

Mr. Herring, 52, was best friends with Mr. Johnson, whom he had known since the late 1960s when Mr. Johnson delivered mail to Mr. Herring's East Baltimore neighborhood.

"A couple of months ago, he told me he had almost decided on killing himself and Lucille," Mr. Herring said. "I laughed it off then, but yesterday his remarks lingered with me and I thought about it all night."

Mr. and Mrs. Johnson had no children together, although Mr. Johnson had seven children by a previous marriage.

Mrs. Rossi said she and another neighbor with whom the Johnsons were close had put their houses up for sale a few months ago. Mrs. Rossi, whose husband killed himself after a stroke three years ago, often shopped for the Johnsons and visited them during hospital stays.

"I wonder if maybe that has something to do with this," Mrs. Rossi said. "Maybe he thought he had no one left. He didn't want to put her in a nursing home. He said he was all she had."

It was unclear yesterday how Mrs. Johnson, a former nurse, became paralyzed. Ms. Silver said Mrs. Johnson's mind was alert. Ms. Silver last saw the couple about 7:30 a.m. Saturday.

"I asked him if his back hurt more than usual," she said. "He said he couldn't stand the pain."

After the weekend nurse arrived, Ms. Silver kissed Mrs. Johnson goodbye and told Mr. Johnson she would see him Monday.

"And that was the last of it," she said. "He said, 'OK, good-bye Miss Alma, have a nice weekend.' "

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