Mayor of SW Illinois village fatally shot

Published April 1, 2010

WASHINGTON PARK, Ill. – The mayor of a decaying village near St. Louis known for its strip clubs and beset by financial troubles and embezzlements was shot and killed early Thursday.

Washington Park police Detective Kim McAfee said John Thornton, 52, was shot twice in the chest at close range in his car shortly before 6 a.m., and he died later at a hospital.

McAfee said police suspect the mayor had been driving around Washington Park, a 5,300-resident town in southwestern Illinois, after working an overnight shift on a second job when the killer fired at him.

Two suspects were later arrested, but no charges have been filed, McAfee said.

Thornton narrowly won re-election a year ago to a second term and recently took part in anti-violence marches in his St. Clair County community, where the 2000 Census indicates nearly half the population lives below the poverty line.

Washington Park filed for rarely used Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection last July, citing assets of less than $50,000 and debt of more than $1 million. Chapter 9 allows governmental units to restructure.

The village, with a median household income roughly half the national average at just $21,132 as of the 2000 Census, made a similar filing in 2004, claiming a $1.6 million debt. That case was dismissed because the village emerged from insolvency, albeit only briefly.

Thefts from the village's coffers haven't helped.

Last September, former Thornton aide Linda Connor was sentenced to three years in federal prison and ordered to repay the village nearly $370,000 that she admitted she had embezzled or intentionally misapplied from April 2005 through 2007, causing the employees' pension funds to be underfunded. Last summer's bankruptcy filing showed that the village owed the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund $26,346.50.

In March of last year, former payroll clerk Dorothy Triplett was sentenced to 18 months in prison for stealing nearly $144,000 from the village in 2006 and 2007. A judge has ordered her to repay the money.

In October 2006, Takisha Walker was sentenced to nearly three years in federal prison and ordered to repay the more than $170,000 she pilfered from the village to cover personal expenses for herself and others.

Written by JIM SUHR, Associated Press Writer

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