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Richards R-V Shootout With the "Ma" Barker Gang

Shootout With the "Ma" Barker Gang - Death of Sheriff Kelly
For the mural that Richards School third graders developed for 2005, the students researched the story of the shooting death of Howell County Sheriff Kelly by members of the "Ma" Barker gang of outlaws.
Read the student stories

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 peaceful means.

There had been several unsolved burglaries in the West Plains’ area. Late at night on December 17, C. C. McCallon’s 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. McCallon’s 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 sheriff’s 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 had used.

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. McCallon’s 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 hadn’t ruined their plans. So even though the brave sheriff had been killed, he was still a hero in Howell County.

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 "Ma’s" friends who also took part in the gang’s activities.