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The Chillicothe Voice

Rome’s Rowdy Roadhouse “Murder at the Wassonia” Part Three

Apr 29, 2024 10:20AM ● By Gary Fyke

The story ended last month with the apparent murder of Wassonia Hotel bartender George Smith, had died at a hospital in Peoria. The alleged assailant, Fred Santry and two other Santa Fe Railroad workers who were partying at the notorious Rome Roadhouse had fled the scene. A woman named Mary Anne Hatch had been involved in a disturbance at the hotel with Santry and his friends. Santry’s co-worker, John Tobin, had waved $100 about, to which Mrs. Hatch had suggested she could have fun with Tobin in Peoria with that amount of money. Santry took the money from Tobin and put it in his own pocket. The party continued for some time before Tobin realized his money was gone and asked Hatch where his money was. Mrs. Hatch nodded towards Santry. Santry erupted and turned towards Hatch, grabbed her glasses, and threw them to the floor. The fuel-oil saleswoman became frightened and tried to flee Santry, who pursued her as she ran from the barroom/dance hall through the kitchen. She ran up the stairs to the second floor where she climbed through a window onto a porch roof and then to the ground. She ran to the Lawson’s Store a block away and called her husband, who called the Sheriff. 

Meanwhile, Santry tried to catch Mrs. Hatch. He grabbed a butcher knife lying on a counter in the Kitchen. Just as Santry exited the kitchen into a hallway, he physically ran into bartender George Smith just as he returned from stoking the furnace in the basement. Santry stabbed Smith in the stomach with the knife. As is often the case, people involved in events like this panic and run away. The heavy consumption of alcoholic liquor clearly had been a factor in the entire event. As noted, investigators and medical people responded as expected, with the tragic end of Smith’s life needing to be investigated.

Santry was arrested for the murder of George Smith the following day and placed in Peoria County jail. The following Tuesday, at the Coroner’s Inquest, its jury recommended Santry be held in jail without bail. John Tobin was also held as an accessory after the fact pending trial but was allowed to post bond. The third Santa Fe employee was not able to be found. 

Santry, having hired Chillicothe-born Attorney John Daugherty, surrendered with his attorney late Saturday night. Santry and Tobin claimed that Mrs. Hatch had stolen Tobin’s money. However, at the scene, Mrs. Hatch consented to a search of herself and her belongings. The missing money was not found. As we all know, the time from filing charges and the beginning of a trial can vary greatly. The Constitution assures that a defendant has the right to a speedy trial. That sounds great but seldom is the case. This case was no different. Santry was held in jail until the end of November when he was allowed to post bond. A “True Bill” was returned by the Grand Jury on November 13, 1925, and a trial set for the first term of the Circuit Court in 1926. While searching for jurors, the records show the States Attorney summoned a very impressive list of Chillicotheans as potential jurors. Four postponements in the trial date saw the case go to trial on November 18th but actually began on November 20th wherein the jury returned a “Hung Jury” verdict on November 24, 1926. The jury could not decide whether to convict Santry of Manslaughter or Murder. States Attorney Pratt did not like the result and said he would retry the case. Pratt’s star witness Mary Anne Hatch was a no-show at the trial. This angered SA Pratt, who set a new trial for January 20, 1927. He said he would have Mrs. Hatch at the new trial and that he would prosecute any and all those who had hidden her from the prosecutor. It was true that the Sheriff could not find Mrs. Hatch to summon or subpoena her for the trial. In mid-December, a writer for the Peoria Star printed an unsubstantiated report that friends of Mrs. Hatch had hidden her in a Peoria hotel to keep her from testifying against Santry. The article alluded to a rumor that Hatch and Santry were lovers. That rumor seems unlikely due to that Mrs. Hatch was at the Wassonia on business of trying to sell the hotel proprietor Pascal Cornelius, a new fuel oil boiler, and would suggest that the meeting of Hatch and Santry was a mere coincidence. Being chased by a drunken man with a butcher knife who had just attacked her and chased her doesn’t seem to be the basis for a romantic relationship. On January 20th, Santry appeared with Atty Daugherty who was “Too Busy” with his federal trials in Galesburg to prepare for a new trial. This procedure continued and Santry remained out on his bond of $3,500. Santry’s case was placed on every session of the court until October 1930 when the States Attorney withdrew the case completely. Santry continued to work for the Santa Fe RR and encountered numerous police incidents and arrests and was released on the same $3,500 bond each time. Co-defendant John Tobin’s result is never mentioned again. Illinois repealed “Prohibition” in 1933. Justice was never served to George Smith.

Fred Santry was born in Chillicothe in 1893 and attended school through fifth grade. He became employed with the ATSF as soon as he was able and worked for the same railroad his entire adult life. He never married and moved to the Joliet area and died November 19, 1940, while living in a boarding house there.