A short history of the event:
C. Roy Kelly, a native of Van Buren, Missouri, was born in 1885.
Mr. Kelly had worked as a traveling salesman for a Springfield candy
company. After Mr. Kelly was married, he and his wife moved to Mtn.
View, Missouri, where they owned a restaurant. Mr. Kelly believed
that Howell County needed better law enforcement and decided to
run for the office of sheriff.
Mr. Kelly was a very friendly person and became popular as a candidate
for Howell County Sheriff. He was elected to that office by a large
majority. After becoming sheriff, Kelly was well liked because of
his firm but friendly personality. Kelly was a big man and fit the
image of being a sheriff but hardly ever carried a gun. Sheriff
Kelly believed that it was better to try to enforce the law using
There had been several unsolved burglaries in the West Plains
area. Late at night on December 17, C. C. McCallons clothing
store was robbed of 2000 dollars worth of merchandise. Apparently
the crooks entered the store through a back window after removing
two metal bars. The stolen clothing had been carefully selected.
The crooks were only interested in the latest fashions. The most
expensive socks, ties, gloves, sweaters and shirts were stolen.
Earlier that year, the Perkins gang had tried to rob the Bank of
Mountain View. Something similar was now happening in West Plains,
but no one knew exactly who to blame.
It was just before 9 A.M.. on December 19, 1931, when a blue, DeSoto
sedan drove along East Main Street, pulling into the Davidson Motor
Company. The three men in the car needed two tires repaired. One
of the mechanics started fixing the flats. Sheriff Kelly had just
finished his coffee and was walking into the post office across
from the garage. While the flats were being fixed, the garage owner,
Carac Davidson, noticed that the men in the car were wearing clothes
that looked like the stolen merchandise from C.C. McCallons
store. Also, the tires on the blue DeSoto made tracks similar to
those found behind the building where the break-in occurred. Quietly,
Mr. Davidson slipped away to use the phone. He called Mr. McCallon,
asking him to come to the garage and see if the men were wearing
the clothing from his store.
When Mr. McCallon arrived at the garage, Sheriff Kelly was also
coming out of the post office. Carefully, Mr. Davidson walked across
the street to tell him what might be happening. Sheriff Kelly stepped
over to his car, got his gun from the back seat, and slipped it
under his coat. Then Sheriff Kelly crossed East Main Street, entering
the garage to question the men in the blue DeSoto.
Just as the sheriff opened the car door, shots suddenly rang out......
The gang knew they had been caught. One of the crooks ran outside,
reloading his pistol as he fled. Turning down an alley at the side
of the garage, he quickly made his escape. Tires screeched as the
blue DeSoto roared out onto the street. The car hit the curb hard
and bounced, causing the right, rear door to accidentally swing
open. The blue DeSoto disappeared down East Main.
The bad guys were gone......, and Sheriff Kelly was dead. Kelly
had been shot twice in the chest and two more times in the left
arm. His right hand was still inside his overcoat.
The people of West Plains began looking for the outlaws that had
killed the Howell County sheriff. The only thing they found, belonging
to the man who escaped on foot, was a red scarf. M. C. Stephens,
a West Plains policeman, led a group of men in search of the sheriffs
killers. Crowds of people gathered in front of the police station,
waiting to hear whether or not the gang had been caught. State lawmen
came to West Plains to help with the manhunt. It was soon discovered
that the killers had headed south toward Thayer, Missouri.
The blue DeSoto was accidentally found by a group of hunters. The
car had been abandoned. When the hunters found bullet holes in the
back of the car, the men knew something was wrong and reported it.
After checking the license, the officers discovered that the car
belonged to Alvin Karpis, a member of the "Ma" Barker
Gang.* Immediately, everyone knew it was the same car the outlaws
When the lawmen arrived in Thayer, Missouri, they found a farm
that had been rented by a Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Dunlop of Oklahoma.
However, "Mrs. Arthur Dunlop" was REALLY "Ma"
Barker. The "Ma" Barker Gang was using the farm as a hideout,
but when the police raided the farm, the killers were already gone.
The farm was booby trapped to make a bell ring inside the house
if the front gate was opened, allowing the gang to know when the
lawmen were coming. Half of the clothes, stolen from C. C. McCallons
store, were found in the farmhouse. Part of the clothing had been
burned in a wood stove to hide the evidence. Something more important
than the clothing was still lying on the kitchen table, a map...
This map was a drawing of the First National Bank of West Plains.
The "Ma" Barker gang intended to rob the West Plains bank
if Sheriff Kelly hadnt ruined their plans. So even though
the brave sheriff had been killed, he was still a hero in Howell
Later it was discovered that the "Ma" Barker Gang had
also worked in other parts of the Ozark region. They had killed
a night watchman in Pocahontas, Arkansas, and a policeman in Monett,
Missouri. However, after shooting Sheriff Kelly, the outlaws left
the Ozarks for good.
Three years after the murder of Sheriff Kelly, "Ma" Barker
and her son, Fred, were killed in a bloody shootout in the state
of Florida. A year and a half after the death of "Ma"
Barker, Alvin Karpis was arrested in New Orleans by the head of
the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover.
* The "Ma" Barker Gang was an outlaw gang made up of
"Ma" Barker and her sons, Herman, Lloyd, Arthur, and Fred.
Alvin "Creepy" Karpis was one of "Mas"
friends who also took part in the gangs activities.