Sheriff Kelly's Murder

Sheriff C. Roy Kelly Slain by Bandit

C. Roy Kelly, Howell County Sheriff, was shot and killed by members of the “Ma” Barker Gang on December 19, 1931. Two nights before, McCallon’s Men Wear, on the west side of the Square, had been robbed. The robbers took their time, picking the sizes and colors they wanted from the best clothes in the store. A young couple reported seeing a blue De Soto near the scene.

Two days later, Sheriff Kelly was coming out of the post office on East Main when “Crick” Davidson crossed the street to tell him three suspicious men in a blue De Soto were at his garage. Kelly went to investigate. As he approached the car one of the occupants shot Kelly four times. The man quickly fled the area. Later they were identified as Fred Barker and Alvin Karpis.

The Story:

Bandits Believed To Have Been Implicated In McCallon Store Robbery Here Yesterday. One Shoots Officer As He Steps Up To Car In Garage To Question Them

C. Roy Kelly, 46 years old, sheriff of Howell county, was shot and instantly killed shortly before 9 o’clock this morning by a bandit believed to have been implicated in the burglary of the C.C. McCallon store here yesterday morning, and who made his escape afoot over Kelly’s body. The Bandit’s partner also escaped, making his getaway in a blue De Soto sedan.

A third young man, Robert Groce, 20, of Paragould, Ark., who claims he is not connected with the bandit gang, was injured and is being held in jail here today pending investigation. Groce says he was hitch-hiking and was picked up by the two men in the De Soto car near Thayer, Mo., this this morning.

“Sheriff Had No Chance”

Two older men in the bandit car were seen here two or three times during the last few days and their suspicious actions caused local citizens to take the license number of their automobile.

This morning when they drove into the Davidson Motor Company’s Garage on East Main street, to get a tire repaired. City commissioner Carac W. Davidson recognized them and their car. While they were waiting he stepped out and summoned Sheriff Kelly.

Kelly walked into the garage and stepped over to the car to question them. As he opened the car door, one of the bandits, a medium sized man in a blue serge suit, jumped out of the car, firing his pistol and he jumped. Two shots from the pistol struck Kelly in the breast and he crumpled to the floor dead, one of the bullets having pierced his heart. Over his body the bandit fled afoot, running from the garage and down the alleyway east of the garage.

The Paragould youth, who was not in the car also started to run, and the third bandit in the car, whipped the car out of the garage and was gone before anyone realized what had happened. The bandit had back his car into the garage and merely had to drive out.

Commissioner Davidson seized young Groce and held him. Others rushed up, and someone struck the struggling youth over the back of the head. He was not seriously injured. It was thought at first that he had been struck by a bullet from the pistol of Plez James, business partner of Davidson, but it was later found his injury was a blow from some weapon probably a gun. Davidson did not know who struck the man. Pandemonium reigned in the garage as hundreds crowded in.

“Armed Posse’s Out”

As the alarm was sounded crowds gathered and citizens were hurrying in every direction to secure shotguns with which to pursue the bandits. Neighboring towns were notified to patrol the highway for the man in the De Soto car. Feeling is at fever heat as Sheriff Kelly was an unusually popular man and if the bandits are captured violence is feared.

“Shot With .45 Pistol”

Kelly was shot with a .45 caliber pistol, one bullet entering his heart, while another struck a little below the heart, two others passed through his right arm. Apparently the first shot struck him in the heart as no chamber in his own pistol was emptied. Commissioner Davidson said he knew with the first shot that Kelly was killed as he heard no answering word or shot from him.

“McCallon Identified Man”

When Commissioner Davidson went out to notify Sheriff Kelly he also summoned Clarence McCallon of the McCallon company to the garage to see if either of the men answered the description of a man who was in the McCallon store looking for clothing the night before the burglary, and who was suspected of being one of the burglars.

McCallon entered the store a few steps behind Sheriff Kelly, ostensibly on business with the proprietor, but to get a good look at the men. It is thought that the men recognized McCallon, and then recognizing Sheriff Kelly when he entered the garage, they realized the “game was up.”

“Glove Identified”

As the bandits made their escape from the Davidson garage one of them dropped a new grey glove, which was found a few moments later and which has been identified as one of a lot McCallon’s purchased for the Christmas trade, and all of which were missing after the robbery.

“Fire on McCallon and Davidson”

When the bandit shot Kelly he rushed from the building and as he passed Davidson and McCallon, who were in the front of the building, he fired two shots at them. The shots went wild. Davidson, who was behind the counter, ducked down, and McCallon said he thought one of the bullets had killed him. McCallon dodged the bullet and rushed from the building to summon aid, as he was unharmed. When Davidson raised up the other bandit in the car was speeding out of the door. And Davidson grabbed him. The youth was not armed.

“Seen Here Last Friday Night”

It is believed that the bandits have been operating with an organized gang in some Arkansas or southeast Missouri town, and after taking the goods from here yesterday morning they turned it over to a confederate and then returned to West Plains to throw suspicions away from themselves.

One night during the latter part of the last week Attorney H.D. Green and his wife were returning from a trip to a neighboring city, and were attracted by a dark blue car with a trunk on the back which was maneuvering around town rather mysteriously. It was somewhere around midnight or 1 o’clock and the attorney decided to watch the car for a while.

Court Square was completely deserted and at last the blue car was driven up in front of the West Plains Bank and parked. The two men in the car did not get out. Attorney Green’s office is upstairs over the West Plains Bank, and he and his wife drove up to the stairway leading to his office and stopped beside the strange car, which carried an Arkansas license.

After the Greens had been there for a short time the occupants of the blue car drove away. The Greens followed them for a short time, and they finally drove up to the Frisco depot and parked. The Greens kept in the distance, but watched them for a while. The blue car immediately moved out taking the highway, and left town. It is now believed the bandits had planned the McCallon robbery for that night, but the Green’s following them caused them to change their plans.

Did you know?

  • There was a gang of bandits in the 1930’s named the “Ma” Barker Gang?
  • That in 1931, the bandits killed West Plains’ Sherriff C. Roy Kelly just off the West Plains Square?