Big Trouble in Averyville
by NORMAN V. KELLY
The City of Peoria had a growth problem since we could not move east, west or south. Oh, we tried to move on West Peoria, Bartonville, Averyville and Peoria Heights but we lost those wars. Finally, in 1928 after a lot of confrontations and legal battles the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that we had legally annexed the Village of Averyville. There was a time when the cops in Averyville would ticket our cops for going into the village after speeders. It was not a friendly situation. I’ll give you just one of many, many examples.
On July 20, 1924 about 1:30 in the morning Walter Smith entered the village limits of Averyville with his passenger, Ben Smith. A night marshal in plain clothes named Robert Sloan was on duty. He claimed that he saw the car veer or wobble and as it approached him, he waved the flashlight at the car, yelling for the driver to stop. Well, Walter had no idea who he was so he kept going. Sloan ran after the vehicle firing his .45 handgun. The rear window exploded and the car veered to a stop. Our hero ran up to the passenger’s side of the car, yanked the door open and uttered these brilliant words. “Get the hell out of this car and get in the other.” That’s when they discovered that Walter Smith was fatally wounded!
Next day’s newspaper headlines brought a lot of folks from Peoria to Averyville to look at the bullet riddled car. A huge contingent from Smith’s hometown of Sparland, Illinois also made its presence known and the angry folks wanted some answers. They were not forth coming and a near riot broke out in the village of Averyville. Once the crowd left, cooler heads prevailed and authorities agreed to look into the incident. The result of that investigation led to a Grand Jury indictment of Marshall Robert Sloan for murder. The folks in Sparland told reporters they were anxious to see justice served.
NO SYMPATHY FOR SLOAN
Robert Sloan expected his bosses and most of the people of Averyville to support him, but he was in for a rude awakening. The governing board suspended him without pay, and the newspaper quotes showed that a lot of folks in the village agreed with the board. He was given the benefit of a good defense lawyer, but one official admitted that the village feared a law suit more than they desired to help Sloan. A county judge granted Sloan bail and while he waited to hear his fate, he was out of jail. The evidence shows that he stayed out of the public eye and rarely wandered out of the village.
The Peoria County Courthouse was a busy place that frigid day, January 29, 1925. It was a hot ticket to come by and by sheer numbers the Sparland folks ended up with most of the spectator’s seats. For The People there was Peoria’s own State’s Attorney Pratt and on the defense side was capable Joseph Weil. Of course the fight to keep Sparland people off the jury raged, but in the end, the judge managed to get what he said was a fair jury.
In the opening arguments Pratt made it clear to the jury that he felt the case was an obvious murder and that he wanted Sloan put away for life. Mr. Weil told the jury that Robert Sloan was acting well within his job of protecting the People of Averyville. From that point on over thirty witnesses took the stand and it was a battle royal.
Things went quickly against Sloan when the judge allowed evidence in that clearly showed that Sloan and his friend McMillan had been seen drinking in a nearby tavern, and in fact, they made a habit of doing that on duty. Also, it turns out that Smith did not own the car, and the owner told the jury that the car had an alignment problem. That explained the wobble that Sloan had written about in his police report.
It was a knock down battle of wits and evidence as the case finally concluded on a Saturday just before lunch. The jury was handed the case and they promptly went off to lunch. By early afternoon they reported to the bailiff that they had reached a verdict. Most of Peoria heard what the verdict was when they read the Sunday Peoria Star.
SLOAN GUILTY OF MANSLAUGHTER
The reporter described the scene as almost riotous as the folks from Sparland exploded with yells and screams at the verdict. Once the bailiff quieted the crowd Judge Greene passed his verdict on to the distraught defendant. “The Court sentences the Defendant Robert Sloan to the State Penitentiary to one year to life.” Robert Sloan was released on May 26, 1927.
Editor’s Note: Norm is a Peoria Historian, true crime author and monthly contributor to News and Views. firstname.lastname@example.org