In the context of cold cases, the 25-year-old unsolved murder of Skidmore, Mo., rapist and bully Ken McElroy is the equivalent of freezer burn.

From his boyhood in tiny Skidmore until his death at age 47, McElroy reigned as the town's vicious bully, widely feared as a sadistic rapist, thief and torturer.

He was awaiting trial on charges of shooting a 70-year-old grocer when an armed mob of locals surrounded his pickup truck in downtown Skidmore on a July morning. A bullet went through the pickup's rear window and hit McElroy's head, followed by a second shot from a different gun, and then a volley of shots.

Despite the crowd of witnesses and another 55 people subpoenaed, no charges were filed.

The murder investigation is moribund. The town's collective silence and its appearance of frontier justice inspired countless media reports and three books, including "In Broad Daylight," by Denver author Harry MacLean.

"Most cold cases are cold because they have no evidence," said MacLean, whose book was reissued this month with a new epilogue. He spent five years in Skidmore, winning trust and insight - but no confessions.

"They've got more than 40 witnesses here who saw the whole thing, and they can't get 'em to talk, and nobody cares. Law enforcement doesn't care. They haven't done a thing since 1982. Well, a few small things, but they never re-interviewed any of the witnesses. McElroy's family doesn't seem to care. They have not pressed the district attorney to find out who the killers are. Nobody cares, far as I can tell."

But Skidmore residents do care about their little town's reputation as a place where bad things happened.

First, McElroy's murder - though that's a case where sympathy certainly lies with the killers - and then the December 2004 murder of pregnant Bobbie Jo Stinnett, strangled by a woman whocut the premature infant from her womb.

"I got a call from people I knew in Skidmore when Bobbie Jo Stinnett was killed, asking 'Are you going to write about this?"' MacLean said.

"I said to myself, 'Here we go again. The media's going to descend on these poor people," MacLean said.

"Then I went there, the day before the Stinnett memorial, and saw exactly that. The people in Skidmore half believe themselves now that there's something wrong with their town."

Once, MacLean suggested capitalizing on their reputation by exploiting Skidmore's notoriety, as Nederland did after its initial dismay upon being outed as the host of a dead Norwegian packed in dry ice. Frozen Dead Guy Days draws international attention.

"I kinda joked, 'Why not have McElroy Days?' Make a thing out of it. Have a re-enactment," MacLean says. "But I can barely draw a smile. It's still too raw, 25 years later."

Staff writer Claire Martin can be reached at 303-954-1477 or cmartin@denverpost.com