Who would have thought that in the little farming town of Skidmore, Missouri, population approximately 300, a murder would take place in the street with over 40 witnesses? That’s just what happened there in the year of 1981.
Ken McElroy was known as the town bully. Growing up he felt that he and his family were looked down on so when he was older he began to terrorize the “rich” farmers. It was said that he pillaged the community and raped many girls. McElroy fathered over 20 children from at least six women. He drank heavily and at night he would steal animals, grain, chemicals, antiques, etc. He learned that if there were no witnesses there was no case against him. McElroy frightened his rape victims from telling on him. If anyone even suspected him and said something they were threatened or their barn would mysteriously burn down or rattlesnakes would be in their mailboxes. Amazingly, there were over 20 felonies against him from five different counties and all failed to convict Ken McElroy.
What led up to that fateful day of July 10, 1981 was another shooting. Ken McElroy got into an altercation with a local grocery store owner by the name of Bo Bowenkamp who had accused McElroy’s daughter of stealing candy. McElroy entered the grocery store with a shotgun and shot Bowenkamp in the neck. Amazingly, Bowenkamp survived.
A few months later McElroy was arrested and charged with attempted murder. He was convicted at the trial of assault, but was released on bail pending his appeal. On the day of his appeal the judge delayed it allowing McElroy to continue to walk the streets. McElroy then showed up at the local tavern with a loaded rifle and a bayonet. He told everyone there he was going to finish off Bowenkamp by shooting him with the rifle and then running him through with the bayonet. This violated his bond.
Three townspeople gathered up the courage to sign affidavits saying what they had seen and heard. A hearing was scheduled to revoke McElroy’s bond. On the morning of the bond revocation hearing fifty locals showed up to help protect the witnesses. Upon arriving they found out that the hearing had been postponed.
The townspeople had had enough at this point and met at the Legion Hall to discuss McElroy with the Nodaway County Sheriff, Dan Estes. Estes suggested they form a Neighborhood Watch. McElroy heard about this meeting between the townspeople and the Sheriff and thought of it as a challenge and drove in to the local tavern with his wife at the time. When the townspeople exited the Legion Hall and found out that McElroy was in the tavern they decided to also go into the tavern. McElroy was amused by the townspeople following him and decided to leave the tavern. As McElroy and his wife got into his pickup truck the townspeople followed him out. A moment later McElroy was struck by two bullets. One in the neck and one to his head. At the time of his death he was 47 years old.
Of the 46 witness only McElroy’s wife would speak up as to who the shooter was. In spite of her testimony and the eye witnesses no indictment was issued. A state grand jury was convened with the same result. A few months later a federal grand jury was convened to investigate. FBI agents interviewed the witnesses for nine months and again it was the same. No one saw anything so there was no indictment.
McElroy’s lawyer from the Bowenkamp shooting filed a wrongful death suit on behalf of McElroy’s wife for $ 5 million against Sheriff Estes, the Skidmore mayor and Del Clement (the man McElroy’s wife accused). The defendants settled out of court for $17,600 with Nodaway County paying $12,600, Skidmore $2,000 and Clement $3,000. No one admitted guilt. The settlement was said to avoid costly legal fees should the suit go forward. As of 2010 this murder has never been solved.
In 1991 a made-for- television movie came out about this murder called In Broad Daylight starring Brian Dennehy and Chris Cooper. 60 Minutes also did a profile on McElroy’s murder.
So, was justice served in the right way when the system seemed to be failing for these townspeople? Is it right for people to take justice into their own hands when they are being terrorized by a bully? What really intrigued me was that 45 out of the 46 witnesses stuck together and never breathed a word of who fired those two deadly shots.