The Tuesday, Oct. 4, 1927, morning edition of the Sedalia Capital reported a shooting that had occurred in the early morning hours of Monday, Oct. 3, on Main Street. By press time, one man was hospitalized with serious injuries and another man was at the jail awaiting arraignment on assault charges. By press time Wednesday morning, James Thompson had died and Ivan McKay awaited arraignment on murder charges.
The story of what happened changed several times, based in part on who was telling the story. Even some who were not there had their versions of what had happened. Every story told of a death that did not need to happen.
The first story was told to the police by Ivan McKay. He said the incident began at the Sunnyside Garage on West Main. According to McKay, Walter Hunt, the proprietor of the garage and a friend of both Thompson and McKay had told both the men they could sleep in the cars in the garage that night. Hunt remained at the garage until about midnight and then went to his room on Wilkerson Street. Shortly after Hunt left, McKay and Thompson, with another friend Si Davis, went to a house on South Ohio Avenue where they purchased some homemade whiskey.
The men returned to the garage and had a few drinks. Thompson then invited McKay to “go down to the basement with him.” McKay refused. Thompson then attacked McKay, a much smaller man, and knocked him to the ground twice in the scuffle. Davis and Thompson left the garage, McKay said, and he locked the door behind them.
McKay, fearing for his safety, went to Hunt’s house and borrowed a .38 caliber revolver. He returned to the garage, spent some time there, and when he was hungry, went to the Pacific Café an eatery at 202 West Main Street on the corner of West Main Street and South Osage Avenue. While he was crossing West Main Street and leaving the café, Thompson materialized and, according to McKay, began hitting him again, knocking him to the ground.
The two men struggled on the ground. During the fight, the revolver fell from McKay’s pocket. Both men tried to grab it. McKay succeeded, and fired two shots into Thompson.
McKay tried to excuse his actions. He told police that he was sorry he had shot Thompson. He said that he had never used a gun before. He also pointed out that Thompson was a bully “who was in the habit of beating up anybody who didn’t agree with him, or who wouldn’t do as he wished.”
Thompson repeated much the same story to reporters the next morning at the jail, but did not tell reporters where he had gotten the revolver. He also told the reporters he was on his way home when Thompson accosted him.
McKay’s story leaves several unanswered questions. The most obvious question is why the two men were sleeping in cars in a garage. Neither man was homeless. Thompson lived with his mother at 316 West Sixth Street, and McKay lived with his aunt and uncle, Mr. and Mrs. Jack Walton of 1002 West Broadway. The next question is why Thompson became so enraged when McKay refused to go to the basement
Next week’s column continues the story.
Rhonda Chalfant is the president of the Pettis County chapter of NAACP and the Pettis County Historical Society.