The Unsolved Murder Of Ken McElroy

The extreme northwestern region of Missouri, near the Iowa border, has seen better days. The region of flat farmland, halfway between Kansas City and nowhere, has, for decades, suffered from the transition of the American economy from the rural, agricultural life to an urban, service-oriented/industrial economy. Indeed, the entire region is bedeviled by half-empty, decaying towns, and many of those who have stayed behind live in poverty, according to Nodaway Broadcasting.

Forty years ago, things weren't much better in the Missouri town of Skidmore. Not only was the community suffering from the devastating effects of the Farm Crisis, but the town was effectively held hostage by a single man: a town ruffian named Ken McElroy. He allegedly assaulted, raped, stole from, and intimidated anyone who got in his way, and the police were unable to deal with him. He died on July 10, 1981, the victim of two bullet wounds fired into his truck as he sat in the driver's seat. The crime happened in broad daylight in front of dozens of witnesses, but the entire town clammed up and, four decades later, no one has been charged in his murder.

The Skidmore town bully for decades

Even as a young boy, according to Bustle, Ken McElroy was engaged in typical bully behavior, such as stealing lunch money from other children. What's more, he almost always got away with it, setting a precedent that would last most of his life.

His years in Skidmore were marked by violent and criminal behavior, possibly exacerbated by mental health issues. He was accused of hog rustling, theft, arson, assault, and those are some of the more minor crimes he was accused of. He also allegedly sexually assaulted a 12-year-old girl then simply divorced his wife, waited until the girl was 14 and pregnant with his baby, and married her, in a purported attempt to avoid statutory rape charges, according to KTVI. He also allegedly burned down the girl's parents' house and shot their dog in order to "encourage" them to consent to the marriage. When his teenage bride fled with the baby, he allegedly burned the house and shot the dog again.

One step ahead of the law

Usually, whenever someone commits violent felonies, the response is to place them in handcuffs, try them criminally, and put them away. Ken McElroy was having none of that, however. Though he was charged with repeated felonies, including some years in which he racked up as many as three felony charges, as Bustle reports, he was always able to beat them. How? Through a campaign of intimidation of jurors, witnesses, police, and anyone else, and when that failed, he just used lying and chicanery.

For example, as KTVI reports, McElroy was accused of shooting a man in the stomach and actually went to trial for the crime. However, McElroy's lawyer produced two men who claimed he had been hunting with them that day, and he beat the charge. About the same shooting, Bustle claims that McElroy found out where jurors lived and placed rattlesnakes in their mailboxes as a warning.

The police were effectively powerless against McElroy. According to Bustle, the nearest police station was 14 miles away from Skidmore, and when an officer was dispatched to keep an eye on McElroy, the cop found himself on the business end of the bully's gun. He called for backup and got no response, and reportedly turned in his badge the next day.

The town of Skidmore got fed up

By July 10, 1981, according to KTVI, things were coming to a head in Skidmore. Townsfolk, tired of two decades of harassment from McElroy and the inability of the law enforcement apparatus to do anything about it, were talking about taking matters into their own hands following an ugly incident involving the town grocer. Specifically, 70-year-old Bo Bowenkamp had accused one of McElroy's children of stealing candy, according to Bustle, and McElroy wasn't going to cotton on to one of his children being called an outlaw. He allegedly shot Bowenkamp in the neck and was actually convicted of the crime and sentenced, but was released on bond.

On what would be the last day of his life, McElroy came to a downtown Skidmore bar, allegedly armed, and began threatening anyone within earshot. Meanwhile, about 30 or more people were at a nearby hall, discussing what to do about McElroy, when they walked to where the bully's truck was parked outside the bar. McElroy sat behind the wheel. Soon enough, shots erupted, and continued for the next 60 seconds, by some accounts. McElroy took two bullets, from two different guns. He died in his vehicle while his wife, who was sitting in the passenger seat, fled and was not injured. Reportedly, nobody called an ambulance.

'No one saw a thing'

Though Ken McElroy was shot and killed in broad daylight, in the middle of town and in front of at least 30 (possibly as many as 60) witnesses, subsequent criminal investigations failed to identify any suspects. To this day, no one has been charged in this crime, according to Bustle. The reason? Because despite the seemingly staggering number of witnesses, none of them ever copped to seeing anything that day; indeed, the phrase "no one saw a thing" even became the title of a TV miniseries about the incident.

One unidentified townsperson told Harry MacLean, author of the book "In Broad Daylight," said via Bustle that the entire town effectively came down with a case of the cat having their tongues, even if they believed it was for the right reasons. "It pained a lot of them, there's no doubt about that. A lot of them, it didn't pain at all. But it was an easy thing for them to do, to raise their hands and lie under oath," he said of the townspeople.

The aftermath

It's been 40 years since Ken McElroy was murdered, and as KTVI reports, no one has been charged in this crime, despite multiple local, state, and federal investigations. Further, the killer(s) and or any potential witnesses are, by this time, likely in their graves or of advanced age. On a pop culture level, according to Bustle, the crime has inspired multiple TV miniseries, documentaries, books, and America's favorite way of digesting the true crime genre: podcasts.

As for McElroy's widow, Trena McElroy, she sued the town, the county, and some citizens for $5 million, according to TruTV. However, the matter was settled out of court for only $17,600.

Skidmore, for its part, failed to shake its reputation as a town of grisly murders. In 2004, according to NPR News, a pregnant woman named Bobbie Jo Stinnett was murdered by Lisa Montgomery, who cut the unborn baby out of Stinnett's womb and passed the child off as her own, while leaving Stinnett to die.