Ernest Harold Lilly Sr.


Ernest H. Lilly Sr. (Courtesy Kat Clark)

Ernest Harold Lilly Sr.
50 YOA
“Frank’s Place”
3940 McDonald Ave.
Des Moines, IA (jurisdiction)
Polk County
Case # 1973-46114
Crime Date: September 11, 1973
Date of Death: December 19, 1973
Case Summary by Jody Ewing

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.

Polk County in Iowa
Polk County in Iowa
Des Moines in Polk CountyDes Moines in Polk County

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.

About Ernest Lilly Sr.

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 Lilly gravestoneCourtesy photo Pamela Schisel,
Ernest Lilly is buried at Laurel Hill Cemetery in Des Moines.

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.

Information Needed

If you have any information about Ernest Lilly’s unsolved murder please contact the Des Moines Police Department at 515-283-4864.

  • Des Moines Police Department, correspondence to Iowa Cold Cases, July 10, 2009
  • Kathy Lilly Clark (victim’s daughter), information provided to Iowa Cold Cases, March 8, 2014
  • KCCI Channel 8 News story, September 11, 1973


7 Responses to Ernest Lilly

  1. Cody says:

    Poor guy survived WWII only to have some gutless punk shoot him for nothing.

  2. Gramma says:

    My memory isn’t great, but I seem to remember a mcdonald ave having a 50313 zip code. If that’s correct, the address would be a north and south street, just north of Euclid.

  3. C says:

    I am a life long resident of Des Moines. Born and raised. I am not familiar with McDonald Ave. Even when I google it, nothing comes up. Is it possible the street name has changed since this awful murder? Just trying to find out where this took place. I haven’t heard of Frank’s place either but I’m sure it’s a different business now.

    • Kat Clark says:

      McDonald is at the intersection of Dixon and Euclid Ave. McDonald is north of Euclid while Dixon is on the south side of Euclid. If you go north, Franks Place was on the west side of the street on the corner of McDonald and Madison Ave. It has a chain link fence surrounding the building and is now a detail shop I believe. The gun man shot dad from across the street on top of the hill. Dad worked at Ford Implement factory that was at the end of McDonald Ave where it T’s into Aurora Ave. Frank, the owner lived just behind the bar in a brick house at 1707 Madison Ave. Hopefully this helps with you finding the place.

      • Patrick Kerrigan says:

        Kat, it seems your information points to the gunman, being in a different location, then what is posted on this forum. So, it could point to someone specifically targeting your father and not for the money and beer stolen.

        Also, there is no information on the caliber of firearm identified. That is something missing in the public information on many shootings and murders

        Sometimes, the authorities identify the caliber, sometimes they don’t. In one cold case in Chicago, from the early 1970’s, the girls were shot in the head, with a .42ccaliber firearm. In another cold case in Elgin, Illinois, a young girl was taken from her farm home and shot with a small caliber firearm. Which makes me wonder, why that information was withheld.

        So, it could be that someone had a grudge, either a fellow employee from where he worked or possibly blamed him for some slight.

        We periodically hear of gang bangers shooting someone because he disrespected the shooter. We routinely hear of rap artists who get shot or murdered around the country.

  4. Kathy Lilly Clark says:

    Ernie is my father, he has 4 children, Ernest jr, Grace, Jim and Kathy. He was shot during an attempted robbery at Frank’s Place on McDonald Ave, where he has helping the owners restock the bar while the owner recovered from surgery. he was shot after the bar closed on September 11, 1973 my mother was inside the bar and got to watch her husband be shot, the man that shot him come down ,go through his pockets ,steal $6.25 then break the window in dad’s car and take a six pack of beer out then just walk off.

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