(Strip Number 4969, Original Publication Date, 23 May 1988)
Panel 1: We start things off with John asking a distinctly subdued Elly who she was talking on the phone with.
Panel 2: We can see that she looks like she got some really bad news when she tells him that it was Thelma Baird's friend Ed. John can as well which makes his next comment questionable at best.
Panel 3: This is because he asks how the old doll is because he is expecting to hear about the second marriage Elly was all fretful about last Autumn.
Panel 4: This is pretty much why his jaw is scraping the floor when Elly tells him that she died last night.
Summary: In John's very narrow defense, Elly could have been over-reacting to news of an impending marriage. That being said, her over-reaction to that would be more panicky and ragey than what we do see. (Also, he might have expected that the first person to be called in the case of Thelma's death would be a relative, not some random idiot who she happened to live next to.)