Metro-East News

Investigation: East St. Louis city manager may have been threatened before plunging to his death from bridge

A former city official serving time for conspiring to have a federal witness killed may have threatened to harm Harvey Henderson on the day the city manager plunged to his death from the Poplar Street Bridge, according to Illinois State Police criminal investigation files.

The documents were released on request of the News-Democrat under the Freedom of Information Act.

In the past, the state police would not ordinarily release such records without court action, even in a closed case like the one involving Henderson. But after state police Director Jonathon Monken took over in March, the agency has allowed some of these records to be made public.

The slightly redacted files show that on Aug. 29, 2002, the day Henderson died, he and Kelvin Ellis, then the city's tax increment financing director, got into a loud argument that was overheard by several City Hall employees. A report states that Paula Battle, the accounts manager for a private financial firm hired by the city, encountered Henderson in a hallway who told her he had suspended Ellis.

Battle told investigators that after that she ran into Ellis, who said, "I don't know what's wrong with your city manager, but if he keeps messing with me he'll be gone." Battle also told the investigator, Special Agent Joe Bates of the state police, "I really couldn't tell if he was joking or not." Contacted Friday, Battle said the state police reports of her involvement are accurate.

As for when Henderson actually suspended Ellis, Battles said that as she remembers, "It was that day."

Ellis was twice interviewed by investigators about a month after Henderson's death and denied any involvement. He declined to take a polygraph. He was never charged in connection with Henderson. In a second interview with Bates, he admitted he had failed to mention that Henderson suspended him for insubordination. Ellis claimed it was with pay and occurred a week before Henderson's death.

On July 27, 2006, Ellis was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison after pleading guilty to plotting the murder of a woman he believed was a secret witness in a corruption probe.

But East St. Louis police officer Rudy McIntosh, then deputy chief, was working undercover for the FBI. He convinced Ellis that the murder had actually been carried out. McIntosh showed Ellis a fake photograph of what appeared to be the deceased woman. Ellis made incriminating statements about the killing and was also caught on tape agreeing to plant cocaine on a witness and acknowledging widespread rumors he was running a prostitution ring out of city hall.

The released state police reports also state that Battle said that at 8 p.m. on the night Henderson died, while his body was still under the bridge, she heard someone in his office, which was always locked after work hours and for two weeks was under the watch of an armed guard until that night. Henderson was in conflict with several city officials and feared documents might be pilfered, according to a report.

"That night I left work around 8 p.m., but before I left I could hear someone go into Mr. Henderson's office. Whoever it was, was in there no more than 10 minutes," Battle stated, according to one of the reports.

In 2002, a St. Clair County coroner's jury couldn't determine whether Henderson's death was intentional or accidental and returned an "undetermined verdict." Henderson's blood alcohol level was 0.17, twice the legal limit.

In 2003, following News-Democrat stories that Henderson had been hit by a car and knocked off the bridge, St. Clair County Coroner Rick Stone convened an unusual second inquest that resulted in a verdict that Henderson's death was accidental. Stone, members of the state police and an accident reconstructionist presented evidence that an intoxicated Henderson accidentally toppled over a 38-inch high concrete barrier about 7:15 p.m. after smashing his westbound city-owned sport utility vehicle against the bridge safety barrier.

An state police investigator testified that Henderson couldn't get out the jammed driver's side door and managed to squeeze through the broken passenger window and climb onto the 6-inch wide concrete barrier and "scoot" along that for 20 feet until he fell straight to the ground 54 feet below. The inquest witnesses said vibration from traffic probably made Henderson fall.

A special witness requested by Stone, former state police accident reconstructionist James V. Hall, who now operates J.W. Hall & Associates Forensic Collision Analysis & Mapping Reports, testified that among the reasons Henderson could not have been struck and knocked off the bridge was that no vehicle paint was found on his clothing except for chips that had long been in the dirt where he hit.

Hall's March 12, 2003, report stated that green paint chips of "automotive paint" found on Henderson's clothes had come from the dirt below the bridge.

This contradicts a Jan. 20, 2003, report from the Division of Forensic Services of the state police in Fairview Heights that stated the green paint chips were "inconsistent with vehicle paint" and that a single "chip of silver metallic/black paint consistent with vehicle paint" was found on an item of Henderson's clothing.

Hall's report also stated "there was no physical evidence located on the wall" that Henderson's SUV skidded along for 123 feet. And yet, a state police evidence inventory stated that three hairs were, "collected from bridge wall." These were further identified as from an African-American person but were too degraded to compare to a sample of Henderson's hair.

The investigative files also show:

* Despite an order from then Police Chief Del Marion to not enter Henderson's office, Assistant City Manager Robert Storman went into the locked office the morning after. Mayor Debra Powell told an investigator that Storman went in the office to retrieve documents for a fire department grant. But Storman told them it was to remove Henderson's personal items for his family, including a cell phone, a leather case and a bottle of liquor.

* The criminal investigation of Henderson's death was conducted in "conjunction with a corruption probe," of East St. Louis City Hall and was still ongoing as late as November 2004, nearly a year after the second coroner's inquest declared his death to be accidental.

* Henderson was at Mustang Sally's bar on the edge of the city for about two hours and left about 45 minutes before he died, stopping briefly at City Hall on his way home in St. Louis. At the bar, he met with Storman and then city councilman, now state Rep. Eddie Jackson. While Henderson was at the bar, the owner gave him six $50 bills and told him to "buy something nice for your wife on vacation."

* The bar owner said Henderson displayed a .38-caliber revolver to him and to Storman, although Storman later denied seeing the pistol. Authorities never found the weapon but a federal Firearms Trace Summary shows Henderson bought a .38-caliber Rossi revolver from a Missouri gun dealer in 1991.

* A witness spotted a "small, dark colored, square shaped car," in front of Henderson's crashed black Ford Explorer, but did not notice anyone near the vehicles.

* Much of the evidence gathered by state police in the case has been destroyed.

Illinois State Police Lt. Jim Morrisey, one of the investigators in the case, said Thursday he believes Henderson's death was accidental.

"Can we answer everything? No," Morrisey said. "Do I feel confident that we investigated all the leads and the most reasonable explanation for Mr. Henderson's death is an accident? Yes."

Morrisey said he doesn't believe Henderson was hit by a car because two accident reconstructionists and a forensic pathologist said he wasn't even though an autopsy showed a heavy bruise on the back of his left thigh and three broken left ribs. He also discounted the idea that an intoxicated Henderson was thrown by persons unknown from the heavily traveled road in broad daylight without anyone seeing anything.

"But there was that speculation," Morrisey said.

Rumors swirled around City Hall after Henderson's death. Morrisey said investigators tried to check out every lead, including a tip that blood was found on the back steps of City Hall.

State police took a swab of the stain 11 months after Henderson's death.

"It turned out to be red paint," he said.

Stone, the coroner and a former East St. Louis homicide detective, said Thursday that he remains convinced that Henderson's death was accidental.

"Mr. Henderson died as the result of an accidental fall from the bridge," Stone said. "Leave it alone."

Former two-term East St. Louis Mayor Carl Officer, whose funeral home embalmed Henderson, said Thursday that his examination of the body did not square with the injuries reported in the autopsy. Officer, who has long believed that Henderson's death is suspicious, said he noticed a gash to the back of Henderson's head and injuries to the back of his left leg that seemed unlikely for a man who fell face first and slightly on his right side.

"I'm saddened to know that evidence has been destroyed," Officer said, "I don't know if we'll ever know what really happened."