There has been much written about Ken Rex McElroy. This is an infamous case for sure. A man is shot down in broad daylight. The estimated number of witnesses is between 30 and 50. The number who named a killer was just one. I will start in a way that I have not seen written about this case. I will describe the victim as a good man, a misunderstood man who was cruelly murdered as part of a community wide conspiracy.
Born to a very large family Ken was one of the youngest. It could not have been easy being one of 16 children. This was especially bleak because there was no money of any significance to scatter around. His parents were farmers, farmers without rolling lands and a big family house. The clan moved around a fair bit. They were in Kansas and the Ozarks.
The scene was set early for when McElroy was shot dead in a street in Skidmore, Missouri. The young man he was dropped out of school at the age of 15 in 1949, he could not read and write much. The daily challenge of survival that faced his family made him see the world in a way different to many. You had to make do anyway you could.
Being poor he was constantly having to battle the prejudice of townsfolk and those of the other small rural communities that were in Nodaway County. He was forced into breaking the law, he was compelled to fight fire with fire as it were. He died on Friday 10th July 1981, gunned down while his young wife sat besides him in his pick up truck. Still to this day no-one has been prosecuted for his murder.
I end this section of talking well of the dead with a picture of his grave. Note the inscription. Ken McElroy was a’ Brave, Fearless and Compassionate’ man.
The above is one version of this guy. The accepted version and the one that is supported by overwhelming evidence is that Ken Rex Mc Elroy was a very bad man indeed. I speculated about his hard upbringing and there seems to be a lot of grounds for that take on his early life. I’m sure it had an effect on the boy who became this man. However, are you not sick of hearing how bad things were for bad people. Bad people who then hurt so many others? I know I am.
McElroy was only convicted of one crime as far as I can tell. He was arrested a lot and by that I mean a huge number of times. Over several sources the total was 21. The offences ranged from shooting people to shooting dogs, to rustling, to arson, to statutory rape. In amongst this was one home he set fire to twice and shot their dog each time.
His wife, who was sitting next to him when he was killed, had married McElroy when she was just 14 years old. According to pretty much everywhere he had first had sex with her when she was 12 years old. He would have been about 37 at that time. They say he only married her so she could not testify against him regarding the underage sex charge.
There is pretty much nothing in existence that was not stolen by McElroy during his 47 years. In a trial for shooting a Skidmore man in 1976 two witnesses appeared saying they had been with McElroy hunting miles away from the scene. The trial collapsed yet all accounts are sceptical that the witnesses were telling the truth.
His way of doing things appears to have been, commit a crime, if challenged by the law seek out the witness and scare them. It was not just witnesses that he frightened. I saw an interview with a former law man from Skidmore. He quit when McElroy threatened him and his family.
Today the town has just 260 residents. This has fallen since 2000. I cannot find how many people lived there in 1981 though it is safe to say we are talking about a small place. Just the sort of place where a disruptive soul like McElroy would be a potential nightmare.
In 1980 it was alleged one of his 10 children (by many women) stole a piece of candy from the grocery store. The store was owned and run by 70 year old Ernest “Bo” Bowenkamp and his wife. It had not even been Mr Bowenkamp on the till that day, it had been an assistant. That didn’t stop the storekeeper from becoming the target of McElroy and his stalking, intimidating routine.
It culminated with Mr Bowenkamp sitting on the raised stoop at the side of the store one day when McElroy came over. He had a shotgun and shot the grocer in the neck. Fortunately the victim survived. Bravely he identified his attacked and the law creaked into action.
By 10th July 1981 McElroy had been convicted of the assault. In the wisdom granted to the court he was out on bail awaiting his appeal. The word is he spent some of his time pursuing his usual method when witnesses stood against him. He made threats against Mr Bowenkamp.
This time the citizens of the small Missouri town wanted to oppose McElroy. Four of them testified to having heard the threats in an attempt to get the bail revoked. It wasn’t. On that day they held a meeting with the County Sheriff in a local community hall. The lawman urged them to avoid direct confrontation but instead to work together and be vigilant.
When the Sheriff left town at the end of the mini conference word came to the townsfolk that McElroy was in the local bar called The D&G. The talk of the county was there with a rifle and a bayonet. Sources say he had heard about the meeting. If so he was there to show he wasn’t scared and to make a point.
He picked up a six pack of beer and along with his young wife strode outside and got into his truck. What happened next has a few variations. Somebody shot him dead. There were two calibres of bullet used so at least two people pulled triggers. The estimate of just how many people were in the street range widely. There were certainly a lot of witnesses about.
Trena McElroy was pulled from the vehicle according to an interview I saw. She was unharmed. She would later nominate a man as ‘probably’ one of the shooters. She is the only person out of the crowd to even suggest a name. No one else saw anything from that day to this.
I have documented on this website many murders that look totally solvable but lack that vital piece of evidence. More often than not that evidence is in the hands of people who were around at the time someone was killed. Never have I heard of an unsolved murder that was so publicly executed. Normally someone would have said something to the law.
Not only did silence descend on that crowd in Skidmore when the local cops asked around, it continued as state law enforcement and the FBI came calling. So you have a murder, a deluge of potential witnesses and yet no conviction.
I cannot say for sure that McElroy was as bad as he is painted. I can say that there was a powerful and almost unique motivation for the silence. I have never seen the same situation replicated in any other killing. Have you?
I am not going to keep the light on the murder of Ken McElroy. I am going to use the case as an example of how from outside in we could wonder why the cops don’t prosecute an ‘obvious’ suspect. You have to have the evidence
As the fictional detective, Joe Friday, once said, ‘All we want are the facts, ma’am.’
Anything else doesn’t get the right someone behind bars.
You might also find John Tinehem’s article about the case of Angela Barlow interesting. In that murder it seems obvious who is the main suspect and yet years are going by without a charge and conviction.
I took references from a few places to write up the case of Ken McElroy. They are below: