Metro-East News

Family says they couldn’t find former boxer’s body until days after his death

Lovely “Rooster” Jefferson in an undated family photo.
Lovely “Rooster” Jefferson in an undated family photo. Provided

A former East St. Louis boxer died at the Chester Mental Health Center, but his family said it took at least two days to locate his body.

Lovely “Rooster” Jefferson, 33, had been a patient at the center for approximately a year, according to his mother, Gerdie Caroll.

“My child has been in Chester Mental Health. I sent my child to get help and off the streets, so he wouldn’t harm anyone,” she said Monday. “To get his mental condition back.”

Caroll said she talked to Jefferson on the phone Tuesday.

“He was so slurry, I could barely understand him. So I called and left a message to speak with a social worker Thursday, to get a status on Lovely’s report because I wanted to transition him home,” Caroll said.

She said a social worker called her Friday and informed her that Jefferson had been found dead in his room Friday morning. A cause of death had not been provided to the family as of Monday afternoon.

Caroll said she was told first that he was taken to a coroner’s office in Chester for an autopsy. She said she later received a call saying his body was being taken to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in O’Fallon for the autopsy.

However, Caroll said she went to St. Elizabeth’s at about 11:30 a.m. Monday to get either the autopsy report or a letter confirming the autopsy, but she was told Jefferson’s body was never transferred to the hospital.

A spokeswoman from Chester Mental Health Center issued this statement:

“While privacy laws bar us from talking about specific cases, our condolences and thoughts go out to families of our patients who have passed away. When this happens, we notify family as soon as possible. The local coroner is contacted to determine if an autopsy is necessary. The coroner then coordinates directly with the family to decide how to handle funeral or cremation services. The family has the right to decide if they would like an additional autopsy or where and how they would like to put their loved one to rest.”

Kelly Barbeau, a St. Elizabeth’s Hospital spokeswoman, directed inquiries to the Randolph County Coroner and stated that it is the hospital’s policy “to not release or discuss information on deceased persons transferred by area law enforcement agencies.”

Carlos J. Barbour, the coroner, confirmed that an autopsy had been performed and said Jefferson’s death occurred Thursday. Barbour said Jefferson’s death was being investigated by the coroner’s office and the Department of Human Services.

Lovely Rooster Jefferson 2.jpg
Lovely “Rooster” Jefferson in an undated family photo. Provided

Caroll said she confirmed Jefferson’s body was taken to a Sparta funeral home, but she maintains she did not authorize anything when it came to transporting her son’s body.

Before his death, Jefferson’s family had been anticipating his arrival home within the next few months.

“There’s just a lot of unanswered questions about what happened and what caused his death,” said Jefferson’s sister, Gwen Jefferson, on Monday afternoon.

“The family is a hysterical mess ... there was nothing wrong with him other than the mental issues,” family friend Gigi Smith said Monday, echoing statements from both Gwen Jefferson and Carroll.

Ken Reilly, owner of Belleville Boxing Club, was once Jefferson’s trainer for about a year.

“He was a badass boxer, really badass,” Reilly said, adding that he fought Joshua Temple, a member of Team USA and former US National Amateur Champion.

“Josh hit Lovely and knocked him down, and Lovely bounced back like a rubber ball,” Reilly said. “You couldn’t hurt him. That’s how he was.”

Jefferson was a Golden Gloves boxer and had “probably 50 fights” in the open division, according to Reilly. That was before his affiliation with Reilly and the Belleville Boxing Club.

“He was on a path to be a world champion, from what I was told,” Reilly said. “That was before he went south. ... He was led easily into trouble by the wrong people, like a kid.”

“Lovely was good guy, but a little bit lost,” Reilly said. “His heart was good.”

BND sports editor Todd Eschman contributed to this report.
Dana Rieck: 618-239-2642, @ByDanaRieck