Markers memorializing Tiger Dowdell, Nick Rice could be back on city agendas in coming months

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Markers remembering two teenagers killed by Lawrence police over a few days in the summer of 1970 could finally see their way back onto the agenda of the city’s Historic Resources Commission in the coming months.

Lynne Zollner, the city liaison to the HRC, said in an email she is working to finalize an exact location for the markers honoring Rick “Tiger” Dowdell and Harry Nicholas “Nick” Rice, and she hopes to have the matter on the HRC’s agenda in either April or May.

The process to memorialize the teenagers has been slow since the Lawrence City Commission initially approved the concept of the markers in 2020. It has taken a commission subcommittee years to meet with the Rice and Dowdell families, decide on verbiage for the markers, determine where exactly they would be located, and more.

Once the markers are back on the HRC agenda, the commission will consider giving its final approval and send the matter back to the Lawrence City Commission for consideration.

Since the markers were approved as a “non-budgeted request,” funding for the markers will have to be determined either through amending the current budget or through other means. It is still unclear exactly what the markers will cost.

“The markers will be simple National Park Service type markers with the name, date of killing, and a photo if we can make that work, with a QR code that will link to the Watkins Museum of History website where there will be more information about the incidents,” Zollner said previously.

Background

Dowdell, 19, and Rice, 18, were killed in a four-day span marking one of the more tumultuous periods in Lawrence’s history, which would later come to be known as the “Days of Rage.”

Using hundreds of pages of state and federal investigatory records, we in 2021 and 2022 wrote expansive series on Rice and Dowdell’s killings.

Dowdell was killed by Officer William Garrett on July 16, 1970, shot in the back of the head while running down an alleyway near the 900 block of New Hampshire Street. Gunfire rang out in Lawrence earlier in the evening; Dowdell and his friend were traveling in a yellow Volkswagen and were followed by Garrett and his partner Kennard Avey, ostensibly suspected of being part of the gunfire.

The Volkswagen ran two stop signs and drove up on a curb before Dowdell exited the passenger’s side and sprinted down the alleyway. Exactly what happened in that alleyway is likely lost to history — but Garrett fired a warning shot, Dowdell allegedly returned fire, and then Garrett fired three more shots, one striking the teenage activist in the back of the head, killing him instantly.

Lawrence erupted in protests following Dowdell’s death. And though a sense of calm seemed to have returned to the city by July 20, Nick Rice — a KU student accompanied by his fiancée of just two days and a mutual friend — came to Lawrence to pay a traffic ticket and would not return home.

After finding the traffic court closed for the night, the three decided to hang around Lawrence, playing pinball at a dive bar in the location that is now the Oread Hotel. A crowd grew outside of the bar, though, and the evening soon turned deadly. Rice was shot in the back of the neck that night by a bullet fired from the carbine rifle of Officer Jimmy Joe Stroud as police unleashed tear gas in a sea of chaos that enveloped the Oread Neighborhood.

Stroud, just hours later, would essentially confess to shooting Rice — first telling a group of local officials at the Douglas County Courthouse that he “thought he had shot someone,” and later asking the assistant county attorney and superintendent of the Kansas Highway Patrol, “Am I to be charged with shooting the man?”

Yet in the days and weeks following, the Lawrence Police Department and area officials launched a disinformation campaign about Rice and the events of that evening — sowing public doubt on whether police were actually responsible for the teen’s death and helping propagate an impossible theory that Rice was shot by a mysterious sniper.

Neither Stroud nor Garrett faced legal consequences for their roles in the killings, and though Garrett left Lawrence shortly after Dowdell’s killing, Stroud worked for LPD for another seven years.

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Conner Mitchell (he/him), reporter, can be reached at cmitchell (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com or 785-435-9264. If you have sensitive information to send Conner, please email connermitchell (at) protonmail (dot) com. Read more of his work for the Times here.

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Kaw Valley Almanac for April 22-28, 2024

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