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Book probes death of 'Shot' Winchester in Pulaski County

updated: 8/30/2012 1:42 PM

A Champaign County woman has found evidence that the death of a long-time Southern Illinois lawmaker's father wasn't a suicide as officially ruled, but a hit ordered by the mob.
Maureen Hughes' new book "Sins of the South" outlines the evidence surrounding what she calls the murder of Lester "Shot" Winchester, the father of future state Rep. Bob Winchester, R-Rosiclare, who was first elected by voters in the old 59th Legislative District in 1974.
She will be in Harrisburg Tuesday at the Book Emporium from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. signing copies of her book.
The younger Winchester was just a few weeks shy of his 11th birthday in April 1956 when his father was found shot in the head slumped over the steering wheel of his car near a nightclub he owned in rural Pulaski County on Illinois Route 37.
A grand jury had indicted him the day before for "advising, encouraging, aiding and abetting" two men who had robbed and knocked off a rival operator after one of the men had fingered him in an effort to reduce his sentence.
The younger Winchester had always had his doubts about his father's death, but it wasn't until meeting Hughes inadvertently online that the idea for the book come about. Hughes had retired from law enforcement and had just published her last book, "The Countess and the Mob," about the mafia's ties in Champaign.
"I was on a book tour with that. Bob Winchester had been told about the book and came to where I was," said Hughes describing their first face-to-face meeting.
He told her about his father's case and asked if she would be interested in researching it.
"When he told me how old it was I said, 'Oh my gosh, let me see,' and about a week or so later I told him I think I could do it," she said.
That was in the summer of 2010 and over the next nine months the book came to fruition.
"I was done researching in March 2011, I think, but I was delayed in writing because there were some people who (finally) started to come forward," she added.
They brought the book out two months ago in June.
Winchester said one of his biggest regrets was not taking advantage of the connections he had while serving as a lawmaker or later working for the Secretary of State and the governor's office to request state police records on the incident.
As a young adult Winchester took his first state job as a correctional officer at the Stateville Correctional Center. During his third year working in the prison he had a chance to talk to one of the men who had implicated his father in his rival's death.
"He was a secretary to an assistant warden. One day they assigned me to Gate 2 in the correctional facility. On my 15-minute break I went into see him," Winchester recalled.
Yet when he asked him about the details the prisoner wouldn't answer.
"Well, I'm going to be out of here soon. I'm not going back to Cairo," he told Winchester warning him to not dig too deep into the matter. "You don't need to know any of this. You just need to drop it. You're a family man."
Winchester said he didn't believe his father had committed suicide, but the prisoner's non-answer helped convinced him there was more to the story.
Winchester always used "A Shot for Southern Illinois" as his campaign slogan when running for public office. Many thought it was just a reference to his name, Winchester rifles, and his support for Second Amendment rights. It was, but Winchester said there were two other reasons for it.
The first was a subtle way to encourage supporters to vote just for him in the old system of cumulative voting that allowed voters to split their votes for state representative between one and three candidates. To vote for just one candidate was known as a "one-shot."
The other reason was a reminder to voters in the southern part of the district about his father who always went by the nickname "Shot."
Winchester will join Hughes in her book tour Tuesday. Beside the signing in Harrisburg during lunch time they will at the Pope County Historical Society in Golconda at 3 p.m. and then the Vienna Public Library at 7 p.m.