A section of Interstate 70 in Columbia will now honor the sacrifice of two local law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty more than 85 years ago.
A dedication ceremony was held Friday dedicating portions of I-70 to Missouri State Highway Patrol Sgt. Benjamin Booth and Boone County Sheriff Roger I. Wilson, shot by bank robbers on June 14, 1933. Legislation passed in May designated I-70 from Rangeline to Business Loop 70 for Booth and from Rangeline to U.S. 63 for Wilson.
Sen. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, and Rep. Cheri Reisch, R-Hallsville, sponsored the bills in this year's session to honor the fallen officers. Rowden was unable to attend Friday. Reisch said both legislators were committed to honoring the sacrifice made by Booth, Wilson and all law enforcement officers.
“We need to back our blue, whether it’s federal, state or county officers,” Reisch said. “Everyday they get up and put that uniform on, their family doesn't know they are coming back home, like the Booth and Wilson families did. We are glad to honor them in this respect.”
On the day the two men died, Booth was having a day off at his home just south of the intersection of Highway 40 and Highway 63, roads now known as Rangeline Street and Business Loop 70. He was called to help Wilson work a roadblock at the intersection in hopes of stopping the suspects who robbed a bank in Mexico, Missouri, earlier that day.
When Booth opened the door of a black Ford V8 coupe with two men, he was shot by the passenger. Wilson drew his pistol and fired, but he was struck by a shot to the head. Booth was killed by the driver as he struggled with the passenger after being wounded.
Although the two men inside, later identified as Francis McNeily and George McKeever, were not suspects in the robbery, it is speculated the officers spotted a cache of weapons in the car. Wilson died at the scene and Booth expired while en route to the hospital.
McNeily and McKeever were later captured and convicted in the officers’ deaths. McNeiley turned state’s evidence and was sentenced to life in prison. McKeever was sentenced to death and hanged in Fulton.
Kemp Shoun, the executive director of the Missouri State Troopers Association, said the dedication was one of several efforts in recent years to honor fallen officers across the state. Booth was a member of the first graduating class and the first state trooper in Missouri history to be killed in the line of duty. Wilson is the only Boone County Sheriff killed in the line of duty.
“We always honor our current officers who are killed or die in the line of duty, but then over time we’ve gone back and taken on the task of those who went before us,” Shoun said. “So we are starting to catch up to that and this year we are very honored to have this, the very first highway patrol officer to be killed in the line of duty."
“It really goes back to going back to the beginning, and catching up on these things, and making sure we do right by the memory of what these officers did.”
Boone County Sheriff’s spokesman Det. Tom O’Sullivan was also in attendance and said honoring the sacrifice of the two officers was important as they both exemplify the best of law enforcement.
“I think these men exemplify everything a law enforcement officer should aspire to be and can be,” O’Sullivan said. “They exemplify courage, bravery, selfless commitment to others, and it’s important to remember that sacrifice.”
Dozens of members of both families were in attendance at the ceremony Friday at Boone County Electric Cooperative, just a short distance from where the officers were killed.
Long-time Boone County politician and former Missouri Gov. Roger Wilson is the grandson of the late sheriff. He said it was wonderful to see his grandfather honored in such a way and discussed how difficult the aftermath was for his family.
“Our grandmother held the family together, and my grandfather was obviously part of each of his sons and daughters and they passed that kindness and protective nature through to each of us. It’s an event that could have turned out much more tragically,” Wilson said. “But because of the strength of our grandmother and his children, this family came through it even stronger.”
Members of the Booth family were also present at the ceremony. Ben Booth is the grandson of the late trooper, and said the family was truly honored by the efforts made to honor his memory.
“I am grateful on behalf of the family and the grandchildren that this came to fruition,” Booth said. “This is a wonderful way to commemorate this on the 85th anniversary. So we are very happy.”Booth’s grandson Andrew Allen during the ceremony loaned to the Missouri State Highway Patrol Museum the original badge, No. 13, of Sgt. Booth.
“I think that is the place where it belongs,” he said. “It's not doing anyone any good sitting in my desk that’s for sure. So if it can be displayed as part of the story between sheriff Wilson and my grandfather, that’s where it needs to be.”