Shortly after midnight on December 18, 1919, Sedalia police officers James Greer, Hub Greer, and Preston Moffet engaged in what the Sedalia Democrat described as a “gun battle” with Will Brown, a “Kansas City gunman” in the 200 to 500 block of the alley between West Main Street and West Second Street.
The next day, Brown was charged in justice court with felonious assault on a police officer for shooting officer James Greer. In the January term of Circuit Court, Brown was found guilty and sentenced to a ten year term in the Missouri Penitentiary.
News of the shooting prompted an enterprising Democrat reporter to name the area Death Alley and report that the alley “seems to have an attraction for the denizens of the underworld.” Criminals apparently chose this alley for their escape route so that “many an exciting chase has been made after thieves by the present local policemen down this same alley in day light and in the dead of night.”
The reporter included an account of an incident that occurred in the same alley in 1884 behind Barley Brothers building at 415-417 West Main Street. Barley Brothers Agricultural Implement Manufactory and Machine Shops was established in 1867 by Samuel Barley and his son T. K. Barley. The company made farm implements including harrows and sulky plows, many of them developed and patented by members of the Barley family. They also repaired mill machinery and engines.
In 1882, according to the History of Pettis County, J. H. and Thomas Barley managed the company and employed between fifteen and twenty men. Their workshop covered about one-fourth of the block between Moniteau and Vermont, and with its machinery was valued at about $20,000 ($463,000 today). The company was prosperous, doing about $30,000 ($695,000 today) of business per year.
The company’s prosperity made it a target for thieves. One night police got a tip that Barley Brothers was to be robbed. The supervising officer sent several policemen who stationed themselves around Barley Brothers building. Officers Fifer and McGee placed themselves on opposite ends of the 400 block of the alley. Other officers observed the front of the building.
When officers entered the building they discovered a man attempting to blow up the company’s safe. The would-be thief, knowing he had been discovered, ran through the building and out the back door into a fenced storage area. As he reached the gate, he ran right into Officer Fifer.
The man shot Fifer, but before he fell, Fifer fired one shot at the man, killing him. Fifer was taken to the hospital where he recovered from the gunshot wound. However, the wound caused him pain until his death several years later.
Police were never able to identify the man, who was apparently a transient. He was buried in the charity section of the Sedalia cemetery.
Barley Brothers survived the attempted robbery and went on to become an even more important Sedalia business. By 1917, according to the Souvenir Missouri State Fair booklet published by J.D. Smith under the auspices of the Sedalia Chamber of Commerce, Barley Brothers did machining and sheet metal work, sold belting, packing, boxing products, and anchor bolts and dealt in gasoline engines, smoke stacks, boiler tubes, and pulleys. They also invented and produced “indispensible inventions that are revelations in agricultural activity.”
One of their inventions was the Barley New Departure hay rake, having the highest wheel and lightest draft of any rake then available. It was especially suited to rough terrain and could be adjusted easily to pass through gates and narrow places and over culverts.
Other Barley Brother inventions included the Giant Stacker and Loader and the Meadow Lark Hay and Grain Stacker. These were drawn by one horse, could be operated by one man, and would “save their cost alone in labor in one year.” Both were capable of stacking hay in long, high ricks by lifting a load of hay to the top of a hay stack, then swinging the load to the desired position and depositing it onto the hay stack.
The Barleys creativity, along with their “diligent study and repeated experiments” enabled them to move from a “one-horse way” to one of the area’s leading manufacturers of farm machinery. The Sedalia police department’s quick work saved them from an attempted robbery.