Metro-East News

Kelly McGinnis, who killed lawyer and prompted manhunt in 90s, dies in prison

Take a look back at the Kelly McGinnis murder case

Kelly McGinnis eluded police for 87 days after he shot and killed his ex-wife's divorce lawyer in 1996.
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Kelly McGinnis eluded police for 87 days after he shot and killed his ex-wife's divorce lawyer in 1996.

Kelly Lee McGinnis, the Greenville man who killed his ex-wife’s divorce lawyer and eluded police for nearly three months in the 1990s, has died in prison.

McGinnis, 61, died Monday while incarcerated in Lawrence Correctional Center in eastern Illinois, according to an official from the Illinois Department of Corrections. A spokesman for the DOC said the agency was investigating the circumstances of his death.

Bond County Circuit Judge John Knight, who was the county’s prosecutor at the time of the McGinnis case, said McGinnis apparently died of the flu.

“The information I got was that he was found in his cell, and the cause of death was from influenza,” Knight said.

On Aug. 12, 1996, McGinnis gunned down his ex-wife’s divorce lawyer, Thomas Meyer, in Greenville, then eluded police capture for 87 days.

McGinnis was sentenced to 60 years in prison for Meyer’s murder. His projected parole date was in 2031.

In court and in a 2017 letter sent from Lawrence Correctional Center to the Belleville News-Democrat, McGinnis claimed he killed Meyer because he disagreed with the results of his divorce case and blamed the lawyers involved.

“My actions in regard to 95D9 (his divorce case), were not so much about rights for divorced fathers, as it was about stopping legal professionals from causing unnecessary harm to children and the rule of law,” McGinnis wrote in August 2017.

“Further, our adversarial system seems to contribute to injustice, rather than provide justice. It does make lawyers wealthy, though,” he wrote.

In earlier letters to the press, written while he was on the run in 1996, McGinnis wrote: “Lawyers must not be allowed to put their profits ahead of children and law,” and, “My own lawyer clearly threw the case.”

After the murder of Meyer, McGinnis fled in a green minivan.

Greenville police, along with police agencies across the region, pulled out all the stops trying to locate the fugitive, even utilizing an airplane and helicopter to search from the skies. He was featured in segments on the television shows “Unsolved Mysteries” and “America’s Most Wanted.”

Despite these measures, authorities were unsuccessful for weeks in their efforts to catch McGinnis.

At the time, BND editorial cartoonist Glenn McCoy drew a cartoon of police searching maps of the area with a McGinnis-like figure hiding in the corner of the room — with a lampshade on his head.

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Editorial cartoon about Kelly McGinnis. Glenn McCoy

Later, it was discovered that McGinnis traveled to at least 12 different states while on the run from police. Receipts found in his van showed McGinnis had been in Indiana, Kentucky, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, North Dakota, Montana, Oklahoma, Texas, Tennessee, Arkansas and Florida.

McGinnis’ actions caused his own lawyer, Larry LeFevre, and Judge Ann Callis to go into hiding with their families.

In September 1996, McGinnis was sighted at LeFevre’s law office in Vandalia, prompting speculation that McGinnis was there to kill his own divorce lawyer.

McGinnis couldn’t get into the locked building, so he took off, and the encounter ended without bloodshed. He drove away in his green minivan, becoming an almost mythical figure to some members of the community.

Vandalia Police Officer Todd Wagner finally captured McGinnis on Nov. 6, 1996 when McGinnis returned once more to LeFevre’s Vandalia law office. Though LeFevre was still in hiding, McGinnis shot inside the lawyer’s empty office three times, blowing holes in LeFevre’s desk and chair.

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Kelly McGinnis being led into the Bond County courthouse for a hearing in November 1996. BND file photo

Wagner said he told McGinnis: “Kelly, it’s over. Don’t make me have to shoot you.” McGinnis was taken into custody without further incident.

In 2017, Libby Glasgow, Thomas Meyer’s daughter, wrote in an email to the BND: “I miss my father very much, but I have forgiven Kelly McGinnis and I still pray for him and his family. And now God is calling us to look forward and beyond all that.”

John King, who was the Greenville police chief when McGinnis shot Meyer, said he went with Glasgow to the Lawrence Correctional Center in November 2017 to meet with McGinnis face-to-face. Glasgow said she wanted to clarify some correspondence from years previous that she had had with her father’s killer.

King was willing to go with Glasgow to meet McGinnis because he and Meyer were very close friends. Meyer was the best man at King’s wedding.

Glasgow and King were given the option to visit with McGinnis “behind glass or in person at a table.” Glasgow chose to meet McGinnis at a table.

“He (McGinnis) looked at her and we’re sitting across the table from each other,” King said. “He said, ‘I just want to say that I am sorry for the pain and hurt I caused you and your family.’”

“Then, he looked at me,” King said. “He said, ‘Mr. King, I want to say that I’m sorry for the hurt and pain I caused you and your friends.’”

Despite the apology, King believes McGinnis still felt he did the right thing in murdering Meyer. “He still believed that he was not wrong,” said King.

“I would have felt 100 percent better about the whole hour we spent ... if he had just said, ‘I’m sorry I took your father’s life,’ (to Glasgow)” said King. “He didn’t say it, but that would have been the kindest thing he could have done for this daughter who probably never misses a day of grieving the loss of her father. That’s what I think.”

“Nobody left angry and Libby, I think she was at peace, because she had said what she felt for a long time,” King said. “She said, ‘I forgive you.’”

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