Embarrassed wife has Oakland’s first doctor executed

Posted by | August 18, 2010

Please welcome guest blogger Jim Rada. Rada writes the monthly
local history column for the Cumberland Times-News and has had four historical novels published that were set in the region. He writes his own blog on historical subjects at historyarchive.wordpress.com, where this post originally ran.

It’s been said that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Such fury cost Oakland, MD its first doctor.

When Dr. John Conn stepped off the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad train in 1851, he was a pioneer. Oakland hadn’t yet been incorporated as a town and the region was still frontier for Maryland. The town only had a few hundred citizens and they needed a doctor. The next-closest doctor was Dr. John H. Patterson in Grantsville. To get there and back to Oakland would have taken a full day.

Conn set up his office at Second and Oak streets where it quickly flourished.

“In the days before the convenience of a well-stocked pharmacy, it was said that the ‘young doctor’ either had on hand the correct medication, or could prescribe a suitable home remedy for any attack of ague or vapors, vague ailments which were popular at in that period,” according to the Garrett County Historical Society book, “Strange and Unusual True Stories of Garrett County.”

This is Railroad Street in Oakland around the turn of the 20th Century. Though somewhat different than the Railroad Street that Dr. John Conn knew, the Johnsons’ general store and Thayer Saloon were both on this street in 1854.

Besides the fact that Conn had a monopoly on the medical needs of the community, part of the reason that his practice was successful was because he was young, attractive and people liked him.

Sometimes too much.

Ann Johnson was a woman who believed that she deserved more from life than to work in a general store owned by her older husband, Cornelius, and live in a backwoods town. The general store was on Railroad Street, just 300 feet away from where Dr. Conn had set up his office.

Ann could watch him leave and enter the building from either the general store or her apartment. Sometimes the young doctor would even come into the store for items.

Ann began to think that Conn might be her way out of Oakland. He was younger than her husband and he could take her to a city where she could live the life she wanted. She began to find reasons to visit the doctor for treatments for various ailments that either she or her infant daughter, Ida Lucy Florence Jeanette Genevieve Jenny Lind Johnson, supposedly had. She would engage the doctor in conversation to show her sophistication and smile at the single man.

“As time passed, and the visits continued, Mrs. Johnson was convinced that her personality and charm were making an impression on Dr. Conn,” according to the historical society book.

And she was making an impression. Conn thought she was being quite out of line. He told one person that he thought Ann was a “butterfly fool.” When word of this got back to Ann, her dreams collapsed around her. How could this man call her foolish? He could not find a better woman in this town!

Ann stewed on the issue and her affection for the doctor turned to hate. She said something to Cornelius, most likely accusing Dr. Conn of doing something inappropriate to her during one of her visits.

Then one evening in the spring of 1854, Cornelius left the general store shortly before 7 p.m. and climbed the stairs to his apartment. There he loaded his muzzleloader and took up position at his window. He watched the doctor approach his office and raised the muzzleloader to his shoulder.

As Cornelius took aim at the doctor’s back, Marquis Perry approached the doctor to talk about something.

Cornelius waited for his target.

“The doctor crumbled at the step. The bullet passed through his head and lodged in the office door,” according to the historical society book.

Marquis was so frightened at being next to a murdered man that he ran off. He was found later hiding in his closet. Others, alerted by the shot, came outside and saw the doctor on the ground. They carried him to Thayer’s saloon on Railroad Street where Constable Thomas Arnold pronounced Conn dead.

Suspicion quickly fell on Cornelius and Arnold arrested him. However, the only witnesses against him were Marquis and Ann. Marquis said he was too shaken to know what happened and Ann wouldn’t testify against her husband.

The jury failed to convict Cornelius.

He left Oakland and his wife shortly thereafter.

Ann, surprisingly, stayed on longer taking care of her daughter. Then one day, she left the young girl in the care of a neighbor, saying that she needed to run some errands. Instead, she boarded a train and never returned to Oakland.

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