Man, 74, kills his wife, himself 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 barely afford the $200-a-day, round-the-clock nursing care they needed.

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. Brain Uppercue.

Another nurse, Alma Silver, who had worked for the couple for four years, last saw them Saturday morning, she said.

"I guess he couldn't stand all of that pain and he didn't want to live without her," she said.

Mrs. Johnson's family, who arrived at the 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 and on the nurses that lived with them.

Mr. Johnson had commented before that he had thought about killing himself and his wife, but 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 when Mr. Johnson died.

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

"I said, 'Nothing going to happen to you. You're going to be here long after the rest of us are gone.' "

Mr. Herring, 52, was a good friend of 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. 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 was alert and that she last saw the couple about 7:30 a.m. Saturday as she prepared Mr. Johnson's breakfast.

"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, goodbye Miss Alma, have a nice weekend.' "

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