Municipal Judge John L. McKinney, right, points to the area in his garage, at far left, where he said he found what was later identified as an incendiary device. Two Ames police officers, among several called to the scene to help dispose of the device, are in the background. The device was carried to a nearby vacant field and disarmed by Patrolman Charles Rutter and Sgt. Charles McClure.
|Ames Daily Tribune, April
All in all, his 39th birthday is not one that Municipal Judge John L. McKinney is likely to forget very soon. To begin with, it was a Monday. Mondays are always a tough day in court, with a number of traffic violation charges to be heard. Then there was a much-publicized trial of an Iowa State University student on charges arising from a fight at the Red Ram, a tavern which attracts considerable student clientele.
Additional interest in the trial had been aroused by a parade of young people in front of the city hall building, beginning last Thursday morning and continuing in a two-hour demonstration on Friday. The marchers were back in place when the judge arrived at the municipal building after lunch Monday. Because of the parades and rumors of other types of public demonstration, a number of police officers, highway patrolmen, deputy sheriffs and other law enforcement officials were on hand.
The first untoward event involved the Judge himself and one of the paraders, who was sitting on the steps of the city hall as the judge approached. The judge ordered him to move he did not and the judge ordered his arrest. Then came preparations for the trial. Bailiff Herb Carr entered the courtroom, declared the court in session, and instructed the audience, “all please rise.” Hardly anyone moved. The judge took a look.
“Clear the courtroom,” he ordered.
Carr explained to the audience that rising when the judge entered was a mark of repect for the court. Gradually all those in the audience came to their feet. The judge then entered the courtroom and opened the hearing. Climaxing the day’s events was an intended birthday party for the judge. It took place at his home, and involved dinner cooked on an outside grill and other goodies.
About 8 p.m., Judge McKinney and his wife began getting their four small children to bed. That task complete, Mrs. McKinney went to the kitchen of the family home at 2613 Pierce Ave., while McKinney went outside to collect the bicycles and other toys his offspring had left on the drive and in the yard. As he was shelving a bicycle into his garage, he said, he noticed a device near an outside door to the garage which he knew didn’t belong to him.
“There wasn’t any question in my mind what it was,” he said. “It was a bomb of some sort.” He called police and got his wife and children out of the house to safety at a neighbor’s. On the scene, police first discussed what to do. Inquiry revealed there was no bomb disposal expert in Des Moines, in fact, none closer than Omaha. Finally they placed the device in a trash can and carried it some distance into a nearby vacant field. They arranged a light to shine on the can, and got away.
Officers noted that a clock device on the side of the can wasn’t running when they picked up the device, “but it started ticking when we moved it.” The device consisted of a grey-metal colored one-gallon can with a dry cell battery on top and a square clock on the side. Officers at first thought the can contained a liquid material. After observing the device while awaiting word of the availability of a bomb expert, Officer McClure used a .22 rifle to puncture the can with shots.
“We thought to either detonate it or let out whatever was in it,” an officer explained. When the device remained inert, Patrolman Charles Rutter, assisted by St. Charles McClure and Patrolman Walter Stark, disarmed it by disconnecting the batteries. The device then was taken to city hall, where it was stored in a vault overnight. Ed Crosier, Des Moines, an officer of the Federal Alcohol Tax Unit there, took sample of the silvery-gray powder contained in the can for analysis. Officers here said the powder had “a salty taste” and “made your hands burn.”
About 11 p.m., after the device had been removed and Mrs. McKinney and the couple’s children had been moved to settle in a neighbor’s house, McKinney stood on his driveway and talked to this reporter and an interviewer from WOI-TV. McKinney said there is “no question” in his mind but that the bomb incident was related to the trial, “although I have no proof.” He described a “peculiear circumstance” on Sunday afternoon when as he was talking to a neighbor and a carload of Negro people drove to the end of Pierce Ave., which dead ends near the Judge’s house, turned around slowly and drove away. He said he also had received a “phony” telephone call, “apparently to determine whether they had the right number.” But, he said, he had received no threats, “other than this.”
Obviously agitated, McKinney said he was
“very distressed” by the day’s events, and abserved, “it’s going to have
to end somewhere, but they’re not going to run me out of town. The
kid glove days are over.”
He said bitterly, “the administration at Iowa State University is one of the prime causes. They shove their problems down to the city…” and further criticized operations of the university’s student affairs office as a “travesty.” McKinney observed he “feels sorry for (student defendant Roosevelt) Roby…with his black friends, he doesn’t need any white enemies…These guys want to unsettle things…they’re interested in creating unrest.”
After a night of reflection on the events, McKinney today disqualified himself from hearing the trial of Roby, noting, “it’s very difficult for me to be objective at this point.”
|POLICE DON'T KNOW IF
'BOMB' WOULD HAVE EXPLODED - Analysis of the powder used in a bomb-like
device found at Municipal Court Judge John McKinney’s home late last month
indicated the material was incendiary but not explosive and it could not
be determined if the device would have gone off. Officials from the
Ames Police Department, the State Bureau of Criminal Investigation and
the Federal Bureau of Investigation said the device was probably capable
The device – a one gallon lacquer thinner can partially filled with a powder and equipped with an alarm clock timing mechanism and dry cell battery was dismantled by Ames Police. The powder was sent to U.S. Treasury Laboratories in Washington, D.C., where an analysis showed it to be a mixture of charcoal, sulfur, smokeless gunpowder and potassium chlorate.
Ames Police Chief A. E. Siedelmann said yesterday “We really can’t tell whether it would have gone off. There is no reason why it shouldn’t have.” He added that in dismantling the device, the mechanism was destroyed so that there is no way to tell whether the device was capable of detonation. “Apparently it would make an extremely hot fire, but not an explosion,” he said. A special agent for the Omaha bureau of the FBI said, “If it was classified a bomb, you can just about assume that it would go off.” Investigations are reported to be continuing into the incident, but no official comments are available.
The FBI agent said policy prevented him
from disclosing any information about the investigation. A spokesman
for the BCI said he had nothing to release on the problem. McKinney
found the device in his garage April 27 – several hours after the preliminary
hearing and part of the trial of Roosevelt Roby, charged with assault and
battery. Following the discovery of the device, McKinney said he
had no doubt but what blacks were behind the incident. The judge
later disqualified himself from the trial and invalidated the proceedings
because he felt he could not be objective in light of the incident.