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The Town That Got Away With Murder – Ken Rex McElroy

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: Harry N. Maclean.

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 Lebron
Member

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

Jan Jacob Branger
Guest
Jan Jacob Branger

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

Lara
Guest
Lara

“Brave, fearless and compassionate” sure Jan

evan
Guest
evan

that dirtbag finally got his comeuppance

Micah
Guest
Micah

You man THAT A*SHOLE

Terah
Guest
Terah

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

This man did not.

Christina
Guest
Christina

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

Jessy
Guest
Jessy

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
Guest
Gary HEATON

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
Guest
Carie Lee

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

Amanda Porter
Guest
Amanda Porter

I think it’s called in broad daylight

Gary
Guest
Gary

In Broad Daylight

Bill
Guest
Bill

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.

Mike
Guest
Mike

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

kat
Guest
kat

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

Tara White
Guest
Tara White

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.
Guest
P.R.

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
Guest
Hollie

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

Spruce Deuce
Guest
Spruce Deuce

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 failed him and failed the entire region of people tormented for decades. There are some people that are just evil, and prison or a grave is the best place for them. Good riddance.

Shaaron Denise Evans
Guest
Shaaron Denise Evans

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
Guest
Rex

Fuck her

P.R.
Guest
P.R.

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
Guest
Varkarrus

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

Nadya
Guest
Nadya

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
Guest
Ty Rizi

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 the back. Just because there were a whole lot of them doesnt make them right. And who says if 25 people tell you stories about a guy they shot in cold blood, that their version is the truth. There is nobody to tell his side of the story because he is dead, and nobody pays attention to what his wife is tryihg to say, its in the story. Can anyone believe that one man with a rifle terrorized an entire town in rural MO for Decades? We know at least 2 other people had firearms as well. and in rural MO I’d bet a whole lot of others. So he must have served some purpose during those decades.
OK I said my peace playing devils advocate and if the police find me in my truck one day with two kinds of bullets in me and tire marks from MO, you all are gonna know who tracked me down and shot me.

Ty Rizzi
Guest
Ty Rizzi

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
Guest
Frank Duncan

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 many times that there is simply no other way to stop him other than kill him.

jibal
Guest
jibal

“and for what??”

You seem to have a serious reading comprehension problem.

GARY L FOOTE
Guest
GARY L FOOTE

Amen to that.

Dredd
Guest
Dredd

I would piss on that grave!

Arch
Guest
Arch

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

Girly
Guest
Girly

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
Guest
Fantom

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

Chuck Lantz
Guest
Chuck Lantz

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
Guest
Lacey Sheridan

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

Girly
Guest
Girly

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
Guest
D C

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
Guest
Wolfsbane

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

Edwin Clements
Guest
Edwin Clements

There was a TV movie about that incident.

Ralph Clement
Guest
Ralph Clement

No shit!

Jesse
Guest
Jesse

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

pxxat5
Guest
pxxat5

Some things just need killing, its the natural order

Some Nobody
Guest
Some Nobody

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
Guest
Ellis

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
Guest
BettyBB

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
Guest
Grunthum

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

Gary HEATON
Guest
Gary HEATON

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
Guest
Taylor Janvier

Sometimes it takes a village.

P.R.
Guest
P.R.

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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