Metro-East News

Former New Athens school counselor found dead in her Florida home; Illinois man arrested

Fran Axley
Fran Axley

A 78-year-old retired guidance counselor from the metro-east was found dead in her Florida home on New Year’s Day, according to police.

The Naples Police Department is investigating the death of Fran Axley as a homicide. Officers arrested a suspect from Illinois last week, but they hadn’t released information about any possible relationship between the two as of Tuesday.

Axley worked as a guidance counselor at New Athens High School from 1969 until 1994.

Janet Mooney said Axley also worked at Waterloo High School before she went to New Athens. She remembers Axley always having a smile on her face.

“She might have had a problem, but you’d never know it,” Mooney said.

As a high school student, Mooney often went to Axley with her problems. She said she admired the guidance counselor.

“I’ve often wondered, ‘What ever happened to her?’” Mooney said.

Axley had retired to Florida but spent her summers in Waterloo, according to Deanna Colbert, who knew Axley for the last 16 years from their church in Naples.

Naples police and the U.S. Marshals Florida Regional Task Force arrested 35-year-old Thomas J. Evans, of Chicago, on Friday in Georgia, according to a news release.

Evans faces a second-degree murder charge in connection to Axley’s death. Police said she died of sharp force injury.

Colbert, the administrative assistant at Mayflower Congregational United Church of Christ in Naples, said it’s been difficult for the congregation to lose a longtime member. She said everyone knew Axley, who was also part of the choir.

“It will be a while before we recover,” Colbert said.

Arrangements for Axley are pending at Heil-Schuessler Funeral Home in New Athens. Back in Naples, the Mayflower is planning to have a memorial service for Axley on the same day, according to the church’s website.

The police investigation is ongoing. Anyone with information is asked to contact the Naples Police Department Criminal Investigations Division at 239-213-4822 or Southwest Florida CrimeStoppers at 1-800-780-TIPS.

In the last six months, police there have investigated many more property crimes than violent crimes, according to a data from the sheriff’s office in Collier County, where Naples is located.

They were called to 3,027 property incidents such as thefts and 53 violent incidents like robberies and homicides.

Lexi Cortes covers the issues and events in education that matter to metro-east students, parents and taxpayers. She won a first-place award from the Illinois Press Association in 2018 for her work on a series of stories about proposals to increase sales tax rates, focusing on how those increases could affect schools and residents.

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