Metro-East News

Madison County lawyer found dead in hotel room; was reported missing

John Delaney
John Delaney

A Madison County attorney was found dead Thursday in a hotel room in Central Illinois, a day after he had been reported missing.

Jersey County Chief Deputy Sheriff Kevin Kalaas said deputies were actively looking for John M. Delaney Jr. after his family reported him missing Wednesday evening. Delaney resided in Jersey County.

Police found his body Thursday afternoon in a Shelby County hotel room, Kalaas said.

Delaney had made contact with his secretary multiple times Wednesday, but he never returned home. Deputies pinged his cell phone to Highland.

Kalaas said there was no reason to believe foul play was involved in Delaney’s death.

The Shelby County sheriff could not immediately be reached Thursday afternoon.

Delaney served as a special public defender in Madison County, one of a handful of lawyers who serve that role in the circuit court. Special public defenders are appointed to represent defendants when the public defender’s office has a conflict of interest — such as when a crime involves co-defendants.

Chief Judge David Hylla, of the 3rd Judicial Circuit, which covers Madison and Bond counties, said Delaney was well-known at the courthouse. Delaney became a special defender in 1997.

“I’m very saddened to hear about his death,” Hylla said. “John was a longtime special public defender and served the office well. He’ll be very much missed, and he’ll be hard to replace.”

Hylla said his office didn’t know any details of Delaney’s death.

As a special public defender, Delaney brought a spirit of independence and honesty to the courtroom, said Madison County public defender John Rekowski, who worked with Delaney for the past 40 years.

“John was always ready, always willing to undertake court cases,” Rekowski said. “I don’t think John had an enemy on either side of the courtroom. He was just a good guy. This is both a terrible loss and a terrible shock.”

Delaney handled some of the harder cases in his role as a special defender, Rekowski said. But he was always a fierce litigator.

“I can say across the board, people are devastated, as am I,” Rekowski said. “It’s a terrible loss for the family ... and a terrible personal loss for us.”

Delaney had been a lawyer in Madison County since 1981, and has been a sole practitioner with his own firm in East Alton since 1997. He began his legal career clerking for Judge Joseph Barr in the late ‘70s, and in 1981, he became an assistant state’s attorney for Madison County, where he worked until 1985.

Later, he moved to the former law firm of Smith, Allen, Mendenhall and Delaney, which was located in Alton. He worked there from 1985-1996 and focused on civil litigation and criminal defense.

He taught at Lewis and Clark Community College as a criminal justice instructor, and he was certified by the Illinois Supreme Court to handle death-penalty cases.