The Town That Got Away With Murder – Ken Rex McElroy

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17th October 2017  •  6 min read

The residents of Skimore watched as the town bully was shot dead in broad daylight. The question still remains: Who killed him?


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Skidmore is a small and modest town in Missouri, situated approximately 80 miles northwest of Kansas City. Consisting of around 440 residents and a number of small family-run businesses, the farming town revolved around work ethic.

This was something that the “town bully,” Ken Rex McElroy, staunchly rebelled against. 1

McElroy was never a popular man. Weighing in at approximately 270 pounds with bushy black sideburns, McElroy held the entire town of Skidmore under his thumb. Always armed with a gun, McElroy took whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted and nobody dared asked questions.

Born in 1934, he was the 15th out of 16 children born to poor sharecroppers, Tony and Mabel McElroy. Illiterate due to quitting school after just the fifth grade, trouble seemed to follow McElroy wherever he went. When McElroy was a young boy, he fell from a hay wagon on his family farm and as a result, a steel plate was implanted into his head. Many question if this was the catalyst that caused him to become the abominable character that he eventually morphed into.  2

His criminal career started off with petty crimes such as stealing livestock but this soon escalated, predominately in violence. Over the years, McElroy, who was a raging alcoholic and notorious womaniser, was married multiple times. He fathered a total of fifteen children with a hoard of different women, many of them being just teenagers.

Not one to care about the law (or quite clearly morals), he met his youngest and last wife, Trena, in 1971 when she was just 12-years-old. She fell pregnant just two years later. Unsurprisingly, McElroy mistreated Trena, who eventually attempted to escape his evil clutches by fleeing to her parents’ house with their new born son. McElroy refused to let her get away that easily; he followed Trena to her parents’ house and once there, he shot their dog and set their house on fire before bringing Trena back home where he physically abused her for her apparent misconduct.

Trena revealed the arson and abuse to a local doctor who in turn called a social welfare agency and put her into a foster home. Facing molestation charges due to Trena’s young age when he began a sexual relationship with her, McElroy discovered that if he were to marry Trena then she would be exempt from testifying. He knew all too well that Trena’s testimony against him was very damning. McElroy was granted permission to marry Trena by her panic-stricken parents after he threatened that if they didn’t grant permission, he would burn their new home to the ground. 3

They reluctantly complied and the unlikely couple were married.

Throughout McElroy’s tempestuous life, he had been indicted on a range of crimes including child molestation, rape, attempted murder and burglary. However, the citizens of Skidmore were so petrified of his brutality and the revenge that he could potentially exact on them that everybody refused to testify against him. The whole town knew how violent and unpredictable he was. His lawyer, Richard McFadin, would later say that he defended McElroy in at least three or four felonies per year.

It almost seemed as though he was exempt from the law… at least until that fateful day when his reign of terror came to an abrupt halt when vigilante justice took over. McElroy’s ultimate downfall commenced in 1980, when one of his children – a daughter he had with Trena – was caught stealing a candy bar from a local grocery store. This grocery store was owned by 70-year-old Bo Bowenkamp and his elderly wife, Lois Bowenkamp. The Kansas City Star reported that Lois called the theft a “misunderstanding” and tried to make peace with the McElroy family.

However, with McElroy being the hot-headed aggressor that he was, he refused to let it slide and unleashed a barrage of terror on the elderly couple.

First of all, McElroy offered the elderly Lois cash to engage in a fist fight with his much younger and stronger wife before turning to the intimidation tactics that he knew so well. McElroy took to sitting outside the Bowenkamp residence in his truck and every so often, shooting his gun into the air as a warning sign.

“Oh, he was intimidating,” Lois Bowenkamp said. “You can’t know how awful it was. My neighbor and I took turns sleeping at night.” 4

The stalking and harassment of the Bowenkamp family took a tragic turn for the worse on a pleasant summer’s night in July of 1980. Bo Bowenkamp was standing outside on the loading dock of his grocery store awaiting an air-conditioning repair man. McElroy drove up to the store, produced his shotgun, and shot the elderly man in the neck.

Bo Bowenkamp.

Miraculously, Bo survived his wounds but this senseless attempted murder was the straw that broke the camel’s back. This time, the small town of Skidmore would not forgive or forget this mindless attack on a defenceless and well-adored man.

McElroy was soon convicted of the attack. However, he was released on bail awaiting appeal, much to the shock of the entire community. Within hours, McElroy was ready to exact his revenge on Bo Bowenkamp and the witnesses that testified against him. The town rallied together and wrote a number of letters to the Missouri authorities, the governor, attorney general, and state legislators, expressing that they were living in fear of McElroy and wanted to finally see some justice but alas, their pleas were ignored.

An exasperated McElroy was soon seen in D&G Tavern, his local haunt, brandishing an M-1 rifle with a bayonet attached to the muzzle. This, of course, violated the terms of his bail. Richard McFadin, McElroy’s lawyer, somehow managed to postpone his appeal hearing not once but twice, much to the townsfolks dismay.

On the prickly-hot afternoon of 10 July, 1981, the town gathered at Legion Hall to contemplate what to do about McElroy after the second postponement.

The D&G Tavern in Skidmore. Credit: Harry N. Maclean.

The whole town was at the end of their tether with the barrage of intimidation and harassment that had been inflicted on them. They were also extremely wary as to what McElroy could be planning against them as revenge.

Simultaneously, McElroy and Trena were sitting the D&G Tavern having a couple of beers and getting rowdy completely oblivious to the uprising of the town. It’s not exactly known what was being discussed in Legion Hall – some think they were discussing how to keep witnesses safe while others think they were planning the demise of McElroy. Whatever took place inside that hall, when the meeting ended, the townsfolk made their way to the D & G Tavern where they encountered McElroy and Trena climbing into his Chevy Silverado.

McElroy was armed with his beloved rifle and a six-pack of beer.

Moments later, shots rang out and the town intimidator sat dead in his car, his bloody body riddled with bullets with his wife screaming in the front passenger seat. Ironically, he had been killed with the same sort of violence that he had revelled in over the years.

At least 40 people witnessed McElroy being shot and every single one refused to confess who had fired the fateful shots.

Nobody saw a thing.

Not one person called an ambulance as McElroy lay bleeding to death, surrounded by the wide-eyes of the town he had once held in fear.

Locals inspecting the crime scene. Credit: Don Shrubshell.

As Postmaster Jim Hartman said: “I can’t think of anyone who’d seen it (the shooting) feel any different than you would about the people who invented penicillin. Nobody tried to hang them for finding a way to kill a germ.” 5

When police eventually arrived, they discovered shell casings from both a .22-caliber Magnum and an 8mm Mauser. An investigation uncovered that McElroy had been shot by two separate people. One who had been positioned behind the truck while the other was positioned a half block in front of the truck. Regardless of the abundance of witnesses to the murder which took place in broad daylight, nobody was ever charged and the jury concluded that McElroy was killed by a “person or persons unknown.” 6

Trena claimed she knew who one of the shooters was but with nobody to corroborate her claims, he couldn’t be indicted.

The town has kept its silence ever since: they feel as though they owe nothing to a man who vandalised and terrorised them for decades. It is a true tale of comeuppance that could have easily been avoided if the law and court had cracked down on McElroy when necessary. “I know why they didn’t talk – they were all glad he was dead. That town got away with murder,” his attorney would later say.  7


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Footnotes:

  1. Observer-Reporter – Jul 10, 1982
  2. Herald-Journal – Aug 1, 1981
  3. Lawrence Journal-World – Aug 2, 1981
  4. The Courier – Aug 2, 1981
  5. Observer-Reporter – Jul 10, 1982
  6. Observer-Reporter – Jul 10, 1982
  7. NY Times

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Mazikeen
Mazikeen
2 years ago

Im against violence 😡but he asked for it he had it comin🙄

Jan Jacob Branger
Jan Jacob Branger
11 months ago
Reply to  Mazikeen

Comedy Central had a recent “Drunk History” segment dedicated to this murder. Must see TV!

Lara
Lara
2 years ago

“Brave, fearless and compassionate” sure Jan

evan
evan
2 years ago

that dirtbag finally got his comeuppance

Micah
Micah
11 months ago
Reply to  evan

You man THAT A*SHOLE

Terah
Terah
10 months ago
Reply to  Micah

Hey, now, let’s be fair here. A*sholes have a legitimate purpose for existing.

This man did not.

Christina
Christina
2 years ago

Wasn’t there a movie made with Brian Dennehey (sp?) story sounds very familiar to a movie I’ve seen.

Jessy
Jessy
2 years ago
Reply to  Christina

It sounds kinda similar to Gorky Park… Not like, spot on or anything, but it involves a murder no one wants solved for whatever reason.

Gary HEATON
Gary HEATON
10 months ago
Reply to  Jessy

Gorky park was set in Russia, it was about spies, and trying to smuggle sables out of the country. The main killer in it skinned the faces of his victims so they didn’t know who they were. I see nothing at all in common with this story. Other than someone was killed. Laugh!!

Carie Lee
Carie Lee
2 years ago
Reply to  Christina

Yep. That was the movie. It had a young Marcia Gaye Harden playing his teenage wife. Excellent movie…

Amanda Porter
Amanda Porter
2 years ago
Reply to  Christina

I think it’s called in broad daylight

Gary
Gary
1 year ago
Reply to  Christina

In Broad Daylight

Blackcat1369
Blackcat1369
5 months ago
Reply to  Christina

Yes there was. They had to change his name for the movie, but Dennehy looked exactly like him.

Bill
Bill
2 years ago

This was not a murder. This was justice. He got what he deserved. You can only push people so far. The only one to blame for McElroy’s death is McElroy. I salute the good people of Skidmore Missouri for having the courage to execute Justice when no one else would.

Alecia Colombe
Alecia Colombe
2 months ago
Reply to  Bill

Good people, you’re retarded. Shut your ass.

Kenny
Kenny
2 months ago
Reply to  Alecia Colombe

And yer a stupid cunt

Mike
Mike
1 year ago

The bayonet goes on the muzzle of the rifle, not the butt.

kat
kat
1 year ago

the last four articles I’ve read on here have taken place in the state I live in– Missouri! wtf…

Tara White
Tara White
1 year ago

This story left me smiling. A TRUE tale of karma. The old bastard had it coming. Love it!
This also goes to show you how corrupt and greedy lawyers can be. Who in the hell would defend this walking POS?

P.R.
P.R.
10 months ago
Reply to  Tara White

I can excuse the lawyer for defending him only because we all have the right to a defense per the constitution, but to say something disparaging about the townspeople makes him an a**hole.

Hollie
Hollie
1 year ago

Good. I hope nobody is ever held accountable for the murder of this awful man. He deserved it.

Spruce Deuce
Spruce Deuce
1 year ago

I’m reading this book at this very moment (listening to the Audible book). It’s fascinating. I originally saw the movie In Broad Daylight, but thought it was fictional. As a kid I was a shy, nerdy transplant from NY to Texas, and had my share of run-ins with redneck bullies. So I speak from experience when I say that this POS, redneck, illiterate punk got exactly what he deserved. If the legal system had been working as expected he would have been in prison long before that poor 70 year old man got shot and almost died. But the system… Read more »

Shaaron Denise Evans
Shaaron Denise Evans
1 year ago
Reply to  Spruce Deuce

I read the book as well. It’s a page-turner. This guy is so unbelievable that it almost seems like fiction that the police just let him slide all those years. The town should have gotten rid of him long ago. You can tell they are good people who were just at the end of their rope as they didn’t kill his wife. It seems to me, that although she started out as a victim, she truly grew to love him. Stockholm Syndrome?

Rex
Rex
1 year ago

Fuck her

P.R.
P.R.
10 months ago

Come on though, I mean he did start indoctrinating her when she was 12, and nobody stopped him but the doctor that put her in a foster home for awhile. Can’t really blame her.

Varkarrus
Varkarrus
1 year ago

the moral of the story: if the law is unjust, break it.

Nadya
Nadya
11 months ago
Reply to  Varkarrus

As an old grizzled, mountain man client of Gerry Spence’s confided to him: “Some people jus’ need killin!” The justice system is anything but. No one’s rights count but the criminal’s. The town got rid of rabies, that’s all.

Ty Rizi
Ty Rizi
10 months ago
Reply to  Nadya

This was basically a lynch mob. and for what?? Sounds like this guy, mcleroy had a childhood full of suffering. A steel plate in his head. And yet he was a fighter and took matters into his own hands instead of rolling over and dying quietly. And maybe he had a purpose in life. Ever see the movie “Unforgiven”? with Clint Eastwood? Maybe this guy McElroy saved the town year after year from much worse people like, Gangs, criminals, etc. and when the townspeople had no use for him any more they shot him in cold blood, from behind, in… Read more »

Ty Rizzi
Ty Rizzi
10 months ago
Reply to  Ty Rizi

I’d check the ground next to truck where he died if there is a tin star in the dust. (and also in the dust of this blog.

Frank Duncan
Frank Duncan
10 months ago
Reply to  Ty Rizi

You need to read the book! The law was a travesty. The little bit you read above doesn’t begin to tell the whole story. He robbed and stole from everyone with threats of death if they resisted. He was most definitely NOT saving the town from anyone! The town needed saving from him.And yes, he DID terrorize the town for decades. He had enough money from stealing that when he got locked up, he made bail and was back in town the next day. Skidmore was terrorized by this bastard. There comes a time when the law has failed so… Read more »

jibal
jibal
10 months ago
Reply to  Ty Rizi

“and for what??”

You seem to have a serious reading comprehension problem.

Kenny
Kenny
2 months ago
Reply to  Ty Rizi

You are a special kind of stupid

GARY L FOOTE
GARY L FOOTE
10 months ago
Reply to  Varkarrus

Amen to that.

Dredd
Dredd
1 year ago

I would piss on that grave!

Arch
Arch
11 months ago
Reply to  Dredd

Pissin’s too good for the prick. I’d take a dump on it.

Girly
Girly
11 months ago
Reply to  Arch

I would simply leave it alone. Where he is, if he did not repent in his final moments, is far worse torture than that.

Fantom
Fantom
10 months ago
Reply to  Dredd

That is litteraly, a pi.. poor deed and er, comment – warranted as it may be !.

Chuck Lantz
Chuck Lantz
11 months ago

This stunning quote says it all. VERY hard-core! … Postmaster Jim Hartman said: “I can’t think of anyone who’d seen it (the shooting) feel any different than you would about the people who invented penicillin. Nobody tried to hang them for finding a way to kill a germ.” … Ouch!

Lacey Sheridan
Lacey Sheridan
11 months ago

Good for them. There are times when the social contract has to be ignored for people’s safety. This was one of them.

Girly
Girly
11 months ago

I am just surprised they did not shoot him for interfering with a preteen child, but they shot him when he shot a 70 year old man. How about shooting him for the first crime?

D C
D C
11 months ago

In this country, it used to be common for child molesters to suddenly die of mysterious circumstances, with police officers commonly a witness to the event.

Wolfsbane
Wolfsbane
10 months ago
Reply to  D C

Now it just happens in prison. At the hands of other inmates.

Edwin Clements
Edwin Clements
10 months ago

There was a TV movie about that incident.

Ralph Clement
Ralph Clement
7 months ago
Reply to  Edwin Clements

No shit!

Jesse
Jesse
10 months ago

Good riddance ……the fool got what he deserved. Karma sucks.

pxxat5
pxxat5
10 months ago

Some things just need killing, its the natural order

Some Nobody
Some Nobody
10 months ago

As always, the winners write the history. I don’t trust it.

If he’d really been this monster they describe he would not have been released so easily by the courts again and again. It’s not like he was rich or had any means of intimidating officials that other criminals don’t.

Given that, and a life of experience of human behavior, I suspect that it was his courting of young girls that set the town off, and that they’d been the ones out to get him for years.

Ellis
Ellis
10 months ago
Reply to  Some Nobody

Read the book, ‘In Broad Daylight’.
If, after reading the book, you have changed your mind that McElroy wasn’t the monster that he was, I will remove my negative vote.

BettyBB
BettyBB
9 months ago
Reply to  Ellis

I have read the book–it’s just the writer’s opinion. I too have always doubted some of the stuff they say about McElroy. I also live close to there and know how small-minded Missourians are. If they don’t like you, they gang up on you.

Grunthum
Grunthum
7 months ago
Reply to  Some Nobody

Not to mention he shot a couple of townfolk and was threatening to kill a person he already shot.

Gary HEATON
Gary HEATON
10 months ago

As my relatives in the south OFTEN say..”THAT MAN JUST NEEDED KiLLIN!” Looks like he got what he “needed” to me.
To me, it was just self defense..plain and simple. He had already Tried to kill that old man once..he would do it again!
He got what he deserved!!

Taylor Janvier
Taylor Janvier
10 months ago

Sometimes it takes a village.

P.R.
P.R.
9 months ago

There’s a new documentary/series about this story starting in August on the Sundance channel, called ‘Nobody Saw A Thing’. 1st episode is really good….interviews with some of the original townspeople.

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keith
keith
1 month ago

They should have killed his lawyer too

Mary
Mary
13 days ago

There was Tv movie made about this ass hat .starring Brian Dennehy. I can not remember the title.

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