Metro-East News

Rick Stone, St. Clair County coroner since 1984, dies

St. Clair County Coroner Rick Stone at a press conference in 2008.
St. Clair County Coroner Rick Stone at a press conference in 2008.

Nearly 10 years ago, a priest read Rick Stone his Last Rites, but the longtime St. Clair County Coroner surprised everyone, including friends and family surrounding his bedside, when he didn’t die.

After three weeks in critical condition with friends by his side — including former Belleville Police Chief Terry Delaney and prominent attorney Bruce Cook — Stone rallied from kidney failure and heart problems and embarked on a long rehabilitation.

“I looked around and everyone was crying,” Stone would later tell a reporter about waking up in the hospital. “I didn’t know what all the crying was about.”

On Saturday, Stone, 71, of Smithton, died.

Guestbook: Offer your condolences to the family of Rick Stone

“He did a great job; he was a great person,” said Sheriff Rick Watson. “He was very helpful. He helped me solve a few things, even in his last years at the coroner’s office. He was a good friend.”

Stone, a Democrat, prided himself on being the top vote-getter in St. Clair County. He was elected coroner in 1984 and voters returned him to the office seven times. He decided not to run for re-election this year.

His successor, Calvin Dye, will take over the office in December.

“My condolences go out to the entire family. I have known him for over 40 years and we have been friends that entire time,” Dye said. “He will definitely be missed.”

Stone was born and raised in East St. Louis. He attended Assumption High School, where his friends included future Democratic politicians U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, Circuit Judge John Baricevic, and former U.S. Congressman Jerry Costello. Stone became an East St. Louis police officer around 1968 and later homicide detective. Radio host Bob Romanik was Stone’s partner.

“Politically, I was against him and his (Democratic) party 1,000 percent, but he was a hell of a man and a great father and a pillar of the community,” Romanik said. “We worked homicides together. We were best friends. I loved that man and I feel for his family.”

Stone also was proud of being an Irish Catholic from a working-class background.

“He was a law enforcement legend with that dark Irish sense of humor and storytelling that could always put a smile on your face,” said St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly.

In 1996, Stone’s office received a letter from George Morgan, an inmate in Missouri, inquiring on the death of his sister, Michelle Morgan. Morgan corresponded with Stone’s office, leading to the reopening of the case. Stone pushed the case by visiting George Morgan twice in prison. He also pushed for the exhumation of Michelle Morgan’s body after 30 years.

The body showed signs of child abuse. The cause of her death was not pneumonia, as reported on the death certificate, but massive trauma to the chest, found by a later review.

Mary “Rae” Morgan, Michelle’s and George’s stepmother, pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and was sentenced to five years in prison. She was released in 2001.

Stone also exhumed the Summerfield Jane Doe, who was found strangled in a farmer’s field in 1986. The woman was later identified as Pholia Mylia Chavez, of California. Her murder was never solved, a fact that frustrated Stone.

Stone served on the Major Case Squad of Greater St. Louis and was the head of the Illinois Coroners Association. Stone was a prominent figure in the St. Patrick’s Day and Shriner’s Parades.

Stone’s office was adorned with pictures of famous pathologists Michael Baden and Henry Lee and local politicians such as Jay Hoffman and Mel Price. The office was often the site of intense political discussions with friends Treasurer Charlie Suarez and chief coroner deputies Danny Haskenhoff and Bob Shay.

Stone had two sons: Scott, who died in 2005, and Jeff, a former St. Louis City Police homicide detective, who survives. Stone is also survived by his wife, Nancy.

“He was a good friend and a great boss,” Haskenhoff said. “He was a larger-than-life guy, a real voice in the Democratic Party.”