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Ernest Harold Lilly Sr. — a 50-year-old US Navy World War II veteran — was shot on Tuesday, September 11, 1973, during an attempted robbery at “Frank’s Place,” a tavern located at 3940 McDonald in Des Moines.
Lilly and his 45-year-old wife, Ruth — the parents of four children — were helping the owners, Frank and Lena Shineflew, restock the bar while Frank recovered from surgery.
The bar had just closed, and while his wife stood in the tavern’s doorway, Lilly went out to start their car and warm it up. Suddenly a man appeared, shot Lilly, and began rifling through his pockets. The robber then broke out one of the vehicle’s windows before reaching inside to steal a six-pack of beer.
Ruth Lilly stood frozen in the doorway, and the robber looked up and began to laugh before Lena Shineflew grabbed her and pulled her back inside to safety.
The women called Des Moines police, and Lilly was taken to Mercy Hospital where he would remain for just over three months — the bullet still inside his body — before passing away on December 19, 1973.
Lilly had been slain over the $6.25 he had in his pocket.
His unsolved murder — assigned case number 1973-46114 by the Des Moines Police Department — remains unsolved.
According to his daughter, Kathy (Lilly) Clark, Ernest Harold Lilly Sr. was born April 11, 1923. He married Ruth Marie Northway, and the couple had four children — Ernest Jr., Grace, Jim, and Kathy.
Ernest Sr. died December 19, 1973, from complications due to the gunshot wound. Memorial services were held December 21, with burial at Laurel Hill Cemetery in Des Moines.
Survivors included his wife and four children.
Decades passed while the family awaited an arrest and conviction.
The couple’s oldest son, Ernest Owen Lilly, died from ALS in 1997 without any answers in his father’s death. Ruth passed away two years later in 1999.
If you have any information about Ernest Lilly’s unsolved murder please contact the Des Moines Police Department at 515-283-4864.