Ken Rex McElroy
The Skidmore, MO Bully
Ken Rex McElroy (June 1, 1934 – July 10, 1981) was the last of eleven children born on a small hog farm outside Skidmore. He grew up convinced that the townspeople looked down on him and his family as trash. He railed against the “rich farmers,” and as a young man set out to even the score by stealing from their farms and businesses and sleeping with their women. He drank heavily and with fellow outlaws roamed all of northwest Missouri at night in his pickup, stealing animals, grain, chemicals, antiques, and guns—anything he could get his hands on.
By the time he was in his twenties, he was pillaging the country side almost at will. He had figured out the weakness of the criminal justice system: no witness, no case. People were scared to testify against him because they saw what happened to others: their barns burned down or rattlesnakes appeared in their mailboxes or guns were pulled on them. Prosecutors in five different counties failed to convict McElroy of over twenty felonies that were filed.
The two things McElroy cared most about were coon dogs and young girls. He raped and absconded with the daughters of poor families. If the parents objected, he threatened them or burned their houses down. He was charged with raping and molesting a twelve-year-old girl, Trena McCloud, but the charges were eventually dropped when he forced her parents into consenting to their marriage. He had over twenty children from at least six women, several of them living on his farm and raising his children at the same time.
McElroy purposely developed a reputation as a violent, unpredictable man who rode with guns in his truck and would use them without provocation. He shot a local farmer in the stomach in an argument over a woman. He pulled a shotgun in public on the local marshal who he thought was harassing him. When he came into the tavern and laid a pistol on the counter, the placed cleared out in seconds.
Life for Ken Rex McElroy was all about payback, and as he grew older and more violent he found that no one, including cops, was willing to stand up to him. When he was brought to court, witnesses failed to appear. His Kansas City lawyer, Richard “Gene McFadin” got him off in case after case, while the townspeople watching in growing fear.
McElroy's Only Conviction
As he grew older, the chip on McElroy’s shoulder grew more into full-blown paranoia. In his forties, McElroy became more and more obsessed with the town of Skidmore and what he heard the residents were saying about him. It came to a head in 1980 when he learned that Lois Bowenkamp, who with her husband ran the local grocery store, had accused his youngest girl of stealing candy from the store. A few months later, after terrorizing the Bowenkamps with shotgun blasts outside their house, he shot Bo in the face, at point blank range, as the old grocer stood on the store loading dock. Bo however, lived to tell the tale, and a few months later, for the first time, McElroy was convicted of assault. Inexplicably, the judge let him let out on bond. The townspeople felt once again they had been abandoned by the law.
McElroy seemed prepared to die before he went to prison. Several days after his conviction, McElroy brought a shotgun into a Skidmore tavern, and waved it around and announced his intention to shoot the grocer. This violated his bond, and three townspeople signed affidavits saying what they had seen, and a hearing was scheduled to revoke McElroy’s bond. It was to be McElroy’s last threat.
One day after the bar incident, on the morning of July 10, 1981, fifty locals gathered in town to protect the witnesses on their way to the bond revocation hearing. Many of the pickups had guns hanging in their rear windows. When the men heard that the hearing had been postponed, they met in the Legion Hall to figure out what to do about McElroy in the meantime. He had threatened to kill the witnesses. The county sheriff suggested they form a Neighborhood Watch.
Word about the meeting reached McElroy on the farm. Seeing it as a challenge, he drove to town with his wife, Trena, and went inside the tavern. When the men in the Legion Hall learned he was in town, they streamed out, down the street, and crowded into the small tavern.
McElroy seemed amused by the crowd of angry men. He and Trena left the tavern, and got into their pickup to head for home. The men followed him out. Trena watched as one of the bar owners crossed the street and pulled a rifle out of his truck. As he lifted the rifle to his shoulder, she screamed at Ken. McElroy grinned and lit a cigarette, doubting that the men, who had always been terrified of him, had the guts to pull the trigger. The first bullet went into his neck and exited his jaw. The second one shattered his skull.
The local prosecutor, who had obtained the conviction against McElroy, took the case to a local grand jury. In spite of Trena’s eyewitness testimony, and 45 eye witnesses, no indictment was issued. A state grand jury was convened, with the same result. In the fall of 1981, the U.S. Attorney in Kansas City convened a federal grand jury to investigate the murder. FBI agents roamed the countryside for nine months interviewing witnesses. Again, the same result - no one saw a thing. No indictment was issued.
In 1984 Gene McFadin filed a $5 million wrongful death civil lawsuit on behalf of Trena McElroy against Sheriff Estes, the Skidmore mayor and Del Clement (who had been accused by Trena as the killer). The defendants settled out of court for $17,600, with the county paying $12,600, Skidmore $2,000 and Clement $3,000. No one admitted guilt. They said the settlement was made to avoid costly legal fees should the suit go forward.
Ken Rex McElroy was buried in a cemetery in St. Joseph. A year after he was shot, his farmhouse burned mysteriously to the ground. The town might have become safer because of McElroy’s death, but in a sense you could say he came out the best. He was getting too fat and too old to get young girls or run his coon dogs through the woods. The memories of McElroy and his murder still haunts the little town, and it always will, whether anyone ever talks about the identity of the killers or not.
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