Alfred Franklin Parmelee 1907-1977
Franklin Henry, Franklin Henry, Truman, Timothy Truman, Timothy, Mark, Job, John, John

We're Not in Kansas City Anymore

n 2017, a 40-acre private island off Florida's Lower Matecumbe Key sold for $13.8 million. Parmelee Key, a horseshoe-shaped spit of land that juts out into Florida Bay off U.S. 1 at mile marker 75 had been privately owned since the 1950s -- at one time by industrialist Alfred Franklin Parmelee.

Alfred, right, was born in Ripon, Wis., married in Waukegan, Ill., and became a pioneer of safety equipment. He was the owner and manager of Parmelee Industries in Kansas City, with subsidiaries in Britain, France and Canada. Companies included the U.S. Safety Service Corp., Cesco Safety Products, the Flood Safety Products Co, and Parmelee Plastics Co.

He was appointed to the University of Kansas Board of Trustees in 1960, was a member of Kansas City Art Institute, the mayor's Commission of International Relations, and served as the Danish vice counsel and dean of the Kansas City consular corps. In 1970, King Frederick IX of Denmark appointed him a knight of the Order of Dannebrog. Alfred also served on the boards of banks, safety councils and business groups. He was director of the Starlight (movie) Theater Assn. and one of our cousins has his prototype of the machine that mixes soda and water as it comes out of the soft-drink dispenser -- an invention he failed to patent.

While Alfred, wife Dorothy (Osgood) and daughter Susan continued to live in Kansas City, they wintered in Florida from the mid 1950s to as late as '68. Today, other than a modest two-bedroom, two-bath house, the island is undeveloped. Just dolphins cavorting offshore and about 4,000 coconut palms swaying in the breeze.

The isle -- about 25 miles south of Key Largo and 80 miles north of Key West -- recently had a moment in the spotlight in 2017 when it was chosen as one of the locations for Jennifer Lopez's "Ni Tú Ni Yo" video, at left.

That same year, the Islamorada Village Council and the state Department of Economic Opportunity cleared the way for a new owner to build as many as 10 four-acre estates on the island. And that November, the property which had been sitting on the market for nearly three years at $19 million, sold for $13,830,000.

"We don’t have a lot of land on the keys, and the land we have is either developed or protected," said Leah Maki of Ocean Sotheby’s International, which had the listing. "This parcel is one of the very few properties that you can actually develop. Or you could have a very private piece of land. A celebrity could build a big estate and have a lot of room to park their boats and toys.”

After the Tragedy Came the Horror

From various newspaper reports*

Two years after Alfred and Dorothy (Osgood) Parmelee had held memorial services for their 11-year-old son, Truman Edward Parmelee, who died in a fall from the roof of the Locarno Apartments in downtown Kansas City, one of his playmates confessed that he'd shoved the boy.

Thirteen-year-old Edward G. Flowerree, picked up in Wellington, Kan., for questioning in a stolen bicycle case, told police he pushed Truman, left, to his death Aug. 7, 1949, from a tower -- the one on the left -- of what now are the Locarno Plaza Apartments, right, on Ward Parkway at West 48th Street, overlooking Brush Creek. That day a sobbing Edward told police Detective Sterling Ford that Truman slipped while the two were playing on the roof. Edward said he met Truman about 20 minutes before the accident, whereupon the two walked through the lobby and up the stairs of an inside fire escape. Asked why they went to the roof, Edward replied: "Just to mess around."

The boys climbed a 5-foot brick wall that encircles the roof and continues at the same level to form an 18-inch-wide terra cotta ledge around the outside of the towers. They crawled toward the north side of the tower, Edward said, where he crouched inside the niche while Truman, who'd remained on the ledge facing him, suddenly fell backward. Edward said he grabbed for Truman but didn't reach him in time. Edward said he crawled back to the roof, raced down the stairs and out to the front door to find Truman sprawled face-up, arms outstretched on the lawn. Apparently no one had seen the fall. Edward went back inside and told the desk clerk what had happened and the apartment manager was notified.

Truman's funeral was held the following afternoon at Amos Chapel in Shawnee, Kan. The family requested no flowers but asked anyone who wanted to remember the boy to send a contribution to Wayside Waifs, a Kansas City animal protection organization. Truman was said to have been fond of animals. He often brought crippled birds home to care for them until they were well. Although he had no dog at the time of his death, he'd previously had several.

The case was listed in police files -- and on Truman's death certificate -- as accidental. Reports show the Parmelees lived at 4904 Central St., and Edward, whose parents were divorced, had been living with his grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Frank E. von Behren, at 306 W. 50th St., since he was 3.

On Sept. 2, 1951, Edward was being quizzed by Wellington, Kan., police about a bicycle theft in front of the Regent Theater when he confessed to shoving Truman off the ledge. Police Chief James M. Little quoted Edward as saying: "I just pushed him. I was afraid he was going to tell on me for setting fire to the barn." Little said the boy had been having nightmares about that day at the Locarno, and that he'd run away from his grandparents' -- now living at 5746 Holmes St., Kansas City -- in an effort to forget the tragedy. His grandfather told authorities the boy had left a few days ago after an argument over a comic strip.

When assistant prosecutor Claude O. Smith questioned Edward back in Kansas City three days later, he said Truman had been blackmailing him. "His friend had made him pay $2 a month not to tell that Edward had started a fire beneath a porch in the neighborhood," Smith said. "Edward decided to do something about it when the Parmelee boy changed his demands from $2 a month to $2 a week."

We have only Edward's word for the blackmail story, and why the "barn" had became a "porch" was never explained.

Even before his first court appearance, Edward got in more trouble while confined to the Jackson County Parental School. Two other boys beat up night attendant Norbert Jennings, 64, the night of Sept. 22 and escaped to a waiting car. Edward joined in on the beating but didn't flee.

A report presented Sept. 27 in Jackson County Juvenile Court stated that Edward was in need of psychiatric treatment. The session before Judge Paul A. Buzard was attended by the boy's father, Edwin, who'd remarried, and grandmothers, Mrs. W.C. Schoenhard and the aforementioned Mrs. von Behren. His mother, Jane, had disappeared several years earlier and was believed to have been living in Arizona. "This boy needs psychiatric treatment," the judge said."He needs it from here on out." But the matter of financing Edward's treatment -- $500 a month -- perplexed his relatives. Edwin Flowerree, who was in the wholesale drug business, told the judge he didn't even make $500 a month.

Judge Cook decided Oct. 11 that Edward be sent to a Kansas private school for boys and his father agreed to pick up the tab. "This is a temporary arrangement," the judge said. "The whole thing depends on Edward's progress. ... This is will be a tryout."

It did not go well. Edward and Charles Hannah, 16, both residents of St. Francis Home for Boys in Ellsworth, were apprehended Nov. 9 in Manhattan -- 100 miles away -- with a stolen car. They were turned over to Salina authorities, but escaped from a detention home there, stole another car and were recaptured Nov. 26 after an attempted purse-snatching. Two years after that crime spree, Edward made an appearance at police headquarters Nov. 7, 1953, after he'd aimlessly fired a paper wad containing a wire in the electric shop of Manual High and Vocational School, hitting another student in the eye. Boyd Wilson was in fair condition the following day at General Hospital but doctors were unsure if he'd have part vision or lose his eye. Another court appearance followed.

Eventually Edward married. On May 20, 1961, in Kansas City. He was 23 and living at 4850 Oak St., according to the marriage license, and 18-year-old bride Sally D. Jefferies was living at 4118 Charlotte St. In January 1969, the court granted her a divorce.

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* From the Kansas City Times of Aug, 8, 1949, Sept. 4, 6, 25 and 27, 1951, Oct. 12, 1951, Nov. 10, 1951, Nov. 7, 1953, May 16, 1961, and Nov. 15, 1968; The Kansas City Star of Aug. 8, 1949; The Manhattan (Kan.) Mercury of Nov. 26, 1951; Omaha (Neb.) Evening World Herald of Sept. 5, 1951; The Salina (Kan.) Journal of Sept 6, 1951; and the Seattle Daily Times of Sept. 4, 1951.

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Updated Feb. 28, 2021