MISSOURI: Death Penalty

  • Share
  • Read Later

One Saturday morning in May 1933, two young men pushed their way past the maid into the home of H. F. McElroy, Kansas City city manager and "front" for the Pendergast machine, and rushed upstairs. McElroy's daughter, Mary, was taking a bath. They shouted for her to get dressed and come out, or they would shoot through the door. Terrified, Mary obeyed. They seized her, bundled her downstairs and into a car.

The story was in Kansas City newspaper offices that night, but not a line of it appeared next day. So strong was the grip of the Pendergast machine that not a word about Mary McElroy's kidnapping did Kansas Citizens read until she had been ransomed by her father for $30,000, returned to him 30 hours later. But from the moment the story broke, frail-looking, emotional, motherless Mary McElroy lived in a pitiless glare of publicity.

Three of her four kidnappers were caught. One of them, Walter McGee, was sentenced to death. Strangely sympathetic, Mary interceded, got him a commutation to life imprisonment. Stranger still seemed Mary's lasting friendship for him, for his brother, George, who had been convicted with him and sentenced for life, and for a third man in the gang, Clarence Glick. Frequently she visited them in jail.

In prison, Walter McGee told of how Mary behaved when the kidnappers held her. "She told us she was our friend but didn't like our racket. I asked her if she ever saw me at a dance, if she would dance with me.

"Why, certainly, she said.

"Yes, and call the cops at the same time, I said.

"And she said, 'No, I wouldn't do that. I'm your friend.'"

Her friends disapproved of these actions and said so. Mary brooded over their criticisms, but she kept on visiting the jail. Last spring the Pendergast machine collapsed, and Mary's father was indicted. A few months later he died.

Mary sat in the sun parlor of her home last week and wrote a note to the world. "My four kidnappers are probably the only people on earth who don't consider me an utter fool. You have your death penalty now — so — please give them a chance." Then she raised an automatic pistol to her head and pulled the trigger.