In the midwest, highways are the lifeblood of industry, so it certainly takes a lot to shut down an interstate; better yet bomb one with a massive 50-foot crater in spectacular fashion. It sounds like the stuff of action movies but it certainly happened– and with deadly precision. This is the story of a long-forgotten attack in the heart of the midwest.
The year was 1970 and tensions were simmering during a trucking strike in Joplin, Missouri. Teamsters Local 823 had gone on strike against Tri-State Motors, Inc and was holding steady. To quell the action Tri-State had opted to hire scabs and new employees which only angered the strikers.
One of these newly hired scabs of Tri-State Motors was John Galt. Galt was a father of four who had recently gotten laid off by General Electric. Needing to support his family he took the job with Tri-State of delivering supplies to mining towns in Missouri. Strike it to bad luck, but as Galt got ready for his first route with Tri-State on September 29, 1970, it would ultimately be his last.
Galt was at the wrong place at the wrong time and on a rendezvous with disaster. As he drove down I-44 late that night he may have been enjoying the quiet scenery but unknown to him, he was in immediate danger.
Posted up at an interstate exit ramp was Bobby Lee Shuler, an upset striker from Local 823, armed with a .30-30 Winchester caliber rifle. Disenchanted and angry, he had had a few drinks that night and was taking his rage out on passing Tri-State Motors trucks. It was a recipe for calamity.
It was around 1:30 am when the crack of a bullet was heard over the quiet interstate followed by two more shots and then… a massive, earth-shaking explosion.
Tri-State Motors was a leading supplier of mining companies at the time. Their most highly delivered cargo was dynamite and Galt’s tractor-trailer was filled with 20 tons of it.
The explosion vaporized the semi that Galt was driving; he was killed instantly with close to no signs of his remains. The shockwave from the blast broke the windows of the Heer’s building 12 miles away in Springfield, Missouri, while local residents were violently awakened and ducked for cover 20 miles away.
One resident, Edwina Clingan, was at home with her newborn son when the explosion occurred. Startled, she thought the boom was the start of the biblical rapture, the second coming of Christ, and baptized her son in the kitchen sink.
Back on the interstate, the enormous blast threw Shuler to the ground, ripping his shirt, knocking the rifle out of his hands, and shattering the windows of his car.
Though his intentions were malicious, Shuler had made one hell of a shot. In rapid succession and in the dark of night, Shuler had landed two shots on the grille of the moving truck, followed by an expertly placed third round that hit home and struck the dynamite in the trailer.
Though there is little information on Shuler, it makes one wonder if he had any prior military experience.
The entire deadly exchange was over in seconds. After the dust had settled almost nothing remained of Galt and his truck other than a massive 50 feet wide by 30 feet deep crater in the middle of I-44. Debris and shrapnel of the blast were scattered over a quarter-mile away. Aerial photos of the site resemble a bombing run by jet fighters; except this wasn’t Vietnam, this was the middle of the United States.
The only signs of the truck or Galt that the police would recover were a solid axle, the truck’s engine, and a lone cowboy boot containing the driver’s foot inside.
Miraculously, no one else other than Galt was injured or killed in the explosion. Luckily the roads were empty at such an hour.
Shuler and another Tri-State striker tried to flee the scene but were captured when their car broke down and they were circled by police airplanes.
Bobby Lee Shuler, Gerald Lee Bowden, and Bowden’s wife, Sharon Lynn Bowden, were all charged with second-degree murder.
The shooter, Bobby Lee Shuler
The shooter’s accomplice, Gerald Lee Bowden
According to court records, “Shuler testified that he did not mean to do any bodily harm to anyone … and he never considered the possibility that it might be carrying dynamite; and that he was wanting to disable the truck.”
Regardless, Shuler was sentenced to 99 years in prison and was paroled after eight years, while Gerald Bowden was sentenced to 10 years and paroled in 1975.
Though a forgotten yet tragic piece of history, the explosive attack on I-44 is certainly one to remember; the story of how a lone sniper unleashed an earth-shattering blast on the American heartland.