A Deadly Fear Of Tax Trouble A Retiree Was Sure He Would Lose His House In Thornbury. Now He And His Wife Are Dead — (The Philadelphia Inquirer)

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The Philadelphia Inquirer (PA)

June 8, 1994

Author: Marie McCullough, INQUIRER STAFF WRITER

Despite a loving family, an illustrious record as a track coach and a teaching career that earned him a comfortable retirement, 73-year-old George Johnson became obsessed by a prospect that terrifies many retirees.

“He told me, ‘I have tax problems. I’m going to lose my house and I won’t have anything,’ ” said his brother, Fred Johnson, 70, of Wilmington. “There was no way I could convince him it wasn’t true.”

George Johnson’s fear was irrational, apparently caused by a recently diagnosed depression for which he was taking medication, family and friends said.

But nothing – and no one – could soothe him.

About 9:30 a.m. Sunday, George Johnson called his brother to say he had just shot Telanna, his beloved wife of 47 years, and was going to turn the gun on himself.

Police arrived shortly before 10 a.m. to find the murder-suicide at the well-tended split level house on Broomall Lane.

“It’s been pure hell,” Fred Johnson said yesterday. “He was depressed and under stress and imagining these problems. It’s just a tragic situation.”

Delaware County and Thornbury tax officials confirmed yesterday that Johnson had no tax debts.

“I don’t know where he got that idea,” said Delaware County Tax Claim Bureau director Patricia Panko. “The man had no delinquencies. None.”

The shocking deaths are a heartbreaking contrast to Johnson’s life, family and friends said.

He was a track and field star at Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind., where he met his future wife, who became a reading teacher. After graduating in 1943, Mr. Johnson earned his master’s degree in education at the University of Pennsylvania.

He taught physical education in Wilmington public elementary schools from 1947 to 1977. Until 1961, he also coached track and field at the school district’s Howard High School, winning seven consecutive state championships and several mile relays at the Penn Relays.

“He had an instinct in identifying athletic ability,” recalled Bob King, now principal at Wilmington’s Darley Road Elementary School. “I was a member of three of those championship teams. He could make a believer out of you, make you believe you could win. Around Wilmington, he touched so many kids.”

A few weeks ago, Johnson, a member of Delaware’s Sports Hall of Fame, attended its annual banquet.

“He said he was sick, but he seemed like the same old coach,” King said.

Indeed, his wife and two children – Laura Murray and D. Steven Johnson of West Chester – never suspected that he might harm himself or others, said Fred Johnson.

We just thought he’d get the medication and be OK,” Fred Johnson said.

Copyright (c) 1994 The Philadelphia Inquirer
Record Number:  9402010465