Lawrence Historic Resources Commission defers decision on markers memorializing Tiger Dowdell, Nick Rice

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Nearly four years after the conversation began to memorialize two teenagers killed by Lawrence police over a span of four days in 1970, the city’s Historic Resources Commission on Thursday deferred a decision on the design and language of markers that would be placed near the scenes of the respective killings.

Commissioners indicated their concern in quickly processing a wealth of information on the shooting deaths of Rick “Tiger” Dowdell and Harry Nicholas “Nick” Rice, and voted 3-1 to defer any action on the proposed markers until the commission’s May meeting.

“We need to see the content, read the content on a future website at Watkins Museum. We need the full narrative, and in this case we need larger markers,” Commissioner Jeanne Klein said.

Public comment Thursday indicated that the current proposed size of the markers — 12 inches by 15 inches — was too small, and the proposed text too vague to adequately memorialize the two teenagers.

“I’ve been working on this personally for a long time. It’s always been a sore spot for me that it wasn’t being taken care of and being taken seriously,” local historian Kerry Altenbernd said. “I’m not sure the way the markers are being proposed here takes care of it seriously enough … To have such a dinky little marker with almost no context on the marker is a failure to both of those young men who lost their lives so many years ago.”

He also said that there are “many people who still, in this era, don’t want the truth to come out.”

KT Walsh, of East Lawrence, asked for transparency, including the names of who served on the marker committee.

“I think we owe Nick Rice and Tiger Dowdell more respect than these small (markers),” Walsh said.

Lynne Zollner, the city liaison to the commission, told commissioners it would be appropriate to revisit discussions of the markers’ size based on the public feedback received Thursday. Those discussions, though, likely can’t happen before the May meeting because of how quickly agenda items and associated information have to be submitted to city staff.

That means that in May, the commission will likely reconsider the current proposed versions of the markers — which have been approved by both the Rice and Dowdell families — and issue any recommended changes then.

Zollner also told commissioners the markers will cost the city of Lawrence less than $100 — just the installation fee — because a private donor recently offered to pay for both markers.


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. Those series will be featured on the Watkins Museum of History’s website linked with the QR codes on the markers.

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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