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War mourns slain mayor

WAR - Nearly 100 people filled Christ the King Catholic Church to pay final respects to Mayor Tom Hatcher, who police believe was murdered by his daughter-in-law and her brother last week.

The incident shocked the city of just under 900 people, especially those who worked with or saw Hatcher on a frequent basis, like Orbie Campbell, a city councilwoman and owner of the War Coffee Shop. Hatcher ate at the Main Street restaurant twice each day, six days a week.

"He was just a wonderful guy," Campbell said. "He loved everybody, trusted everybody."

Campbell, 78, who still runs the restaurant despite her age, carries a .38-caliber revolver for protection when she opens shop early in the morning. She's known to tease the customers who come to her establishment, which she's owned for 44 years.

Campbell knew something was wrong when Hatcher didn't show up for breakfast last Tuesday.

He also didn't show up at War City Hall. Campbell said his secretary called the restaurant trying to track him down.

"There was no phone call or nothing that day," Campbell said.

Workers with War's water department went to Hatcher's house, using a key the secretary had to his home. That's when Hatcher's body was discovered.

Police believe Rebecca Hatcher and her brother robbed the mayor to buy prescription pills. They say the two took at least $1,100 from him after the killing.

Lora Wagoner, Campbell's daughter and an employee at the restaurant, was one of the first people to see Hatcher's home the day his body was found.

"I knew something wasn't right," Wagoner said, noting that she saw his house was messy and askew.

To Campbell and Wagoner, Hatcher was like part of the family. Campbell and her husband had vacationed with Hatcher and the late mayor also taught Wagoner's son in school.

"We always argued," Wagoner said. "But I loved him to death. He was like a close relative."

Campbell said it's going to be difficult getting used to Hatcher's absence at her restaurant.

"It's just a shock," she said. "I won't have nobody to fuss with. You still want to fix his ice water and juice before he comes to breakfast."

But Campbell said that his absence in city affairs would be an even greater loss.  

"He had his fingers in everything," she said. "You could call him at any hour."

Hatcher wasn't without his share of controversies, however minor. Most recently, a freelance reporter wrote a story on the drug problem in McDowell County and used War - and Hatcher - as a visualization of the issue. The reporter ended up selling the story to Playboy magazine, a move that caused some discontent in War.

"What he said was pretty much the truth," said Iaeger Police Chief Michael Brooks, who was an officer in War from 2009 to 2011.

Brooks said that he had his own issues with Hatcher but respected the mayor.

"We butted heads once or twice," he said. "But he got me my first job . . . he did a lot for the town."

Hatcher's tenure was marked by two significant infrastructure improvements - securing first a sewer system, and then a new water system for War. Before those systems were installed, raw sewage flowed from buildings into creeks. Water pipes had deteriorated to the point that the water was undrinkable, a situation not unusual in McDowell County.

"He's got a lot of things done for the community," Campbell said.

In addition, Hatcher worked to combat the area's drug problem, and promoted economic development, said Marsha Timpson, co-director of the Big Creek People in Action community organization.

"Tom is probably the most civic-minded person I've ever met," she said. "Tom used whatever means he had to make things better."

When Big Creek High School was in danger of consolidation, Hatcher and community members fought the proposal to keep the school in War. Though the group ended up losing its battle, Hatcher ensured that trophies, class photos and other memorabilia were kept safe by the city, reflective of his love of history.

Hatcher was born in Iaeger in 1939 to Glenn and Beatrice Hatcher. He graduated from Big Creek High School in 1958 and received bachelor's and master's degrees from West Virginia University. He later earned a doctorate in developmental psychology and education from Ohio State University.

He worked as a teacher in Monongalia County and was a full professor with tenure at WVU. In 1980, Hatcher became the Secretary General of the Council of International Programs in Cleveland and Washington, D.C.

In 1991, Hatcher returned to War to teach at Big Creek High School and was active in historic societies in McDowell County and Tazewell County, Va. He was nominated to city council before becoming mayor in 1997.

Hatcher's son, John Thomas Hatcher, is currently incarcerated and is married to Rebecca Lynn Hatcher, who was arrested in connection with the murder. He had two daughters, Mary Kathryn Hatcher Jones, who lives in Indiana, and Elizabeth Ann Hatcher, who lives in Oklahoma.

Campbell said all three children were adopted and that he loved them and "talked about them all the time." Hatcher had been married but divorced before he returned to West Virginia.

Hatcher has a grandson, Jonathen Randall, who had been living with the mayor until his death, along with Rebecca. The grandson is staying with family friends.

Hatcher's death is reflective of the raging drug problem in Southern West Virginia, residents said, and the fact that the alleged murder was committed by family members shows the measures addicts will take to ensure their drug supply.

"I brag that my house had never had locks in it," Timpson said. "This is the first time I've thought, 'I may have to get locks.'

"If it could happen to Tom, it could happen to anybody."

Timpson said continuing to combat drug abuse would be a fitting tribute to Hatcher.

"We need to take our community back, and that would be a legacy for Tom," she said. "We are a very strong breed of people in Southern West Virginia, but drugs are going to be our downfall."

War City Council will meet Wednesday night for the first time since Hatcher's death. The city council was supposed to meet last Wednesday, but the meeting was moved because Hatcher had a doctor's appointment. Inevitably, finding a replacement will be discussed.

"It's going to be a hard set of shoes to fill," Campbell said.


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