Friday, September 07, 2007

Remembering Barbara McNeely

It seems hard to believe that 30 years have now passed since Missouri Southern student and East Newton High School graduate Barbara McNeely was murdered by a psychopath in the Northpark Mall parking lot.
When we were in high school, Barbara typed my fledgling attempts at writing novels and short stories, and encouraged me with my writing. She also loved writing, especially poetry. I wrote about that in a Sept. 11, 2004, post, which I am reprinting below:

The blue ink on the flimsy piece of lined notebook paper has faded a little over the past 32 years. I keep it in a gray, metal box with some of my other valuables like important letters, contracts, insurance policies, and all of the other supposedly important things that these heavy-duty containers are designed to protect.
Debbie Kruse handed me that sheet and another one day while she was a sophomore and I was a junior at East Newton High School. I was on the school newspaper, The Fife and Drum (that name is a perfect example of the danger of having Patriots as a school nickname), and Debbie wanted the poems on those two pages to be printed. The author did not know Debbie was going to do that. Both poems were done in free verse and they were quite good. I agreed to put them in the newspaper and after discussing it with the editor, Paul Richardson, the poems were added to the list of things that would go into the next edition.
"Remember the days, when we were young and free to roam and play like goofy kids." Those were the only few first words of Barbara McNeely's poem, "Remember the Days." When her poems were published, she acted like she was upset, but I could see she was secretly pleased about the universal positive reaction she received.
Her words became more poignant in September 1977, when Barbara, then a sophomore at Missouri Southern State College, was stabbed to death in the parking lot at Northpark Mall. Each year when September rolls around, I think of Barbara.
I can't imagine how her family dealt with that tragedy, Her parents, her brother, her baby sister who never had a chance to get to know Barbara. She had done some work for me, typing manuscripts as I tried unsuccessfully to become a published teenaged novelist. We were good friends. For years, I thought about her every day. I could hear her voice clear as a bell in my mind.
One of the saddest days in my life came a few years ago when it occurred to me that I couldn't remember what her voice sounded like. Every once in a while, it will come to me, but it makes me sad that I can't conjure up that voice when I recollect conversations we had and things she said. All I remember are the words.
Her voice was silenced after she had barely spent two decades on this earth by a lunatic who mistook her for the mother he hated. That man, a student at Ozark Bible College, was found not guilty of her murder after a rare successful use of the insanity defense. I will never forget how the good people from Ozark Bible College and Rev. Cecil Todd of Revival Fires, were far more concerned with the killer than they were with the family of his victim.
Barbara's murderer has been a free man for several years, thanks to the Missouri Department of Health and former Attorney General Bill Webster, who defended the department's decision to release the killer back into society. Last I heard, and this was several years ago, Barbara's killer was married, had children, and was working as an EMT. The last I heard, he was leading the kind of life Barbara should have had, but never had the chance.
That's why the poem is so important to me. I can't always hear the way she sounded, but her words will keep her alive in my heart forever.


wuli said...


She was truly a beautiful young person. It has always been inconceivable, to me, why such tragedies occur.

Your kind words are a testament to the lives she touched in a very short time.


Anonymous said...

I cannot imagine......
and now to know he is free and was working, at least at one time, as a EMT. I would hope that someone else resembling his mother doesn't need his medical help someday. Killing her was wrong and allowing him into society where he could hurt again is wrong!
My condolences to the family for the loss of their loved one and for the justice system failing their daughter.

Anonymous said...

I can't remember her killers name. Do you remember Randy?

Randy said...

William McMurray

Unknown said...

I just wanted to tell you thank you for writing about Barbara. She is the aunt that I never got to know. I know that my father, Brad (Barbara's brother), is very touched that so many people out there still remember her. Thank you.

Bradley J McNeely

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately I never had the opportunity to meet Barbara McNeely; however, I do have the misfortune of knowing Bill McMurray. He lived in the same small town as I did and as kids we hung out some. When you live in a small town you don't have a whole to choose from. He also graduated from the same high school that I did in Crawfordsville, IN. He graduated in 1977 and I in 1975. I can still remember the day I read in our local newspaper about the horrible crime that he committed(it made front page news). I felt so very sad and broken-hearted for Barbara's family. I have despised Bill McMurray since and just the mention of his name sickens me. I happen to visit our school's alumni website and he has written quite a profile for himself and all of his successful accomplishments. You are right; he is married with children and grandchildren and is a medic. My heart still goes out to Barbara's family and friends and I'm so glad that you continue to keep her memory alive. God bless and peace to you all.

Anonymous said...

Dear Randy,

I worked with Barbara at JCPennys. I started working at Pennys in 1972, so I knew Barbara all the time she worked at the mall. I worked in the Paint & Hardware Dept, while she worked in the Catalog Dept. At that time, back in 1977, the Catalog Dept was next to the Hardware Dept, so I knew Barbra very well. Many times when she had a heavy box to carry out to the customer's car, she would call one of us guys in the Hardware Dept to help her.

She was very nice person. Barbara and I went out a couple of times. I remember one time we went to Ken's Pizza after work and then another time, my buddy, Dale who worked in the Sporting Goods Dept and his girl friend along with me and Barbara went out together. We had car trouble north of Seneca, so we had to return to Joplin.

I was off work the night, she was murdered, but I had stopped into Penneys to visit with some of the guys who were working that night. We had heard that someone had been knifed in the parking lot, but didn't know it was Barbara. When we learned it was her, we rush to St John's Hospital, but it was to late.

Even through it has been over 30 years, since I last saw her, I will never forget her.

I always wonder what kind of life she would have had, if she hadn't been killed ?

Lee Howard

Anonymous said...

I was a student at Missouri Southern at that time. I used to go to North Park Mall all the time, and I always parked in the back where she parked that fateful night. I remember wanting to go to the mall that night that she was killed, but for some reason, probably because it was 20 miles away and it would be late when I got home, I changed my mind. The next day, a friend of mine told me in class that she was working at a shoe store that Barbara managed to stumble in and fall into, asking for help. She told me things about her appearance that I won't repeat, but she said everyone was shook up. For months, whenever I would go to the mall, you could still see the blood stains on the carpeting. Why they didn't clean them, I don't know, or perhaps they wouldn't come out. I didn't know her, but I knew someone who did know her and went out with her, I think as friends, and his brother told me that he was supposed to meet her for some reason, and changed his mind about meeting her, and he felt bad about it afterwards for a long time. I still think about her because it was just such a shocking thing for something to happen in Jopin, and surrounding towns. I always wondered if I went to the mall that night and parked in the same area she parked at the time that guy was having his pychotic episodes, and he saw me, if I wouldn't of ended up dead instead of her. We both have dark brown hair. I would wonder, after she was murdered, if I had seen her around campus, but couldn't place her face. She sounds like a really nice, lovely person, and I do not forget about her and say a prayer every Sept.7 for her. I still can't believe how time has flown by and its going to be 31 years this years, and I remembered her birthday, June 13 because her birthday is ten days before mine, although she's older. I didn't know they had released her murderer. I hope he doesn't live anywhere near anybody I know. That's really nervy of him to blatantly brag about his life and accomplishments in his alumni newsletters. Geez, you'd think he'd be sorry for what he did and not let anyone know what he's doing and that he's free among society. This is a really sad ending to a really sad, tragic story.

Anonymous said...

Tonight, 32 years ago, you died in a senseless and tragic murder. R.I.P. I always remember you every Sept 7, even though I didn't know you. Just wanted you to know that people do remember and care.