When tragedy strikes, people become stressed and this leads to a sense of vulnerability and loss of control.
Those feelings of vulnerability and loss of control can cause you to seek the comfort of others in some way. One town experienced these emotions after a terrible tragedy threatened their neighborhood. They decided the only way to survive was to join forces and put a stop to it together…
The Town Bully
Ken Rex McElroy was born in 1934 and was the fifteenth of sixteen children born to a poor, farming couple. The family moved between Kansas and the Ozarks before settling outside of Skidmore, Missouri where McElroy picked up some bad habits.
McElroy dropped out of school at 15-years-old, and in the years that followed, he began hunting raccoons, cattle and eventually women. McElroy had a very intimidating presence. He weighed 270lbs, was tall, had a mean temper and a love of firearms…
The people who lived in his neighborhood of Skidmore grew scared of McElroy as he began terrorizing women and children in the community. He was accused of dozens of felonies, including assault, statutory rape, child molestation, arson, and burglary.
A Mean Temper
Although he was arrested for some of the crimes he committed over the years, he had never been convicted because witnesses were too scared to testify against him. One day a farmer named Romaine Henry tried to chase McElroy off his land and McElory retaliated by firing a gun at him.
McElroy did not serve prison time for this crime, and even the closest people to him grew scared of him. No one wanted to get on his bad side and most of the 440 people that lived in McElroy’s town did whatever they could to avoid seeing him.
One of McElroy’s wives, Trena McCloud met McElroy when she was just 12-years-old and he impregnated her when she was 14! Just sixteen days after Trena gave birth, she fled to her mother’s house and McElroy was not very happy about it…
You Can’t Hide
McElroy tracked down Trena, brought her back to his house and then returned to Trena’s parents’ home while they were away on vacation. McElroy shot and killed the family dog and burned down their entire house. He was a disgrace of a human being, but why wasn’t McElroy in prison for all of the crimes he had committed?
In 1973, McElroy was reportedly indicted for arson, assault and statutory rape. Although shortly after he was arrested, he was released on $2,500 bail. No one in Skidmore could understand why McElroy was released because he was a dangerous man capable of anything. Someone had to put a stop to this because McElroy would not stop until he terrorized everyone in the community…
In 1980, one of McElroy’s 10 children got into an argument with a clerk in a local grocery store owned by 70-year-old Ernest “Bo” Bowencamp and his wife, Lois. McElroy’s son was trying to steal candy and after Bo caught him, McElroy began stalking the entire Bowenkamp family.
It Wasn’t Over…
He eventually threatened Bo in the back of his store with a shotgun, and McElroy shot him in the neck. Bo survived and McElroy was arrested and charged with attempted murder. He was convicted at trial of assault but was freed on bail pending his appeal. This news infuriated Bo and his family and they again feared for their lives…
What Was Next?
Immediately after being released, McElroy went to a local bar, the D&G Tavern with an M1 Garand rifle and made threats about what he would do to Bo. This led to several patrons brainstorming on how they could legally prevent McElroy from harming anyone else.
A Master Plan
County Sheriff Dan Estes suggested they form a neighborhood watch, but after McElroy’s appeal was delayed again, townspeople had a better idea. On the morning of July 10, 1981, they gathered together at the Legion Hall in the center of town to discuss how to protect themselves.
Taking Matters Into Their Own Hands
During the meeting, McElroy arrived at the D&G Tavern with Trina and as he sat drinking at the bar. Word got back to the men at Legion Hall that he was in town and the citizens of Skidmore decided to go to the bar themselves.
Putting An End To It
The bar soon filled up completely and after McElroy finished his drinks, he purchased a six pack of beer and left the bar. While McElroy was sitting in his truck, he was shot several times and hit twice, once by a center fire rifle and once by a .22 rimfire rifle. There were 46 potential witnesses there, but no one called for an ambulance…
No One Was Speaking…
Only Trena claimed to identify a gunman, and every other witness said they did not know who shot McElroy. McElroy wound up dying from substantial wounds, and the town was ecstatic.
Who Did It?
The killing was shocking but was well-deserved as McElroy was a brutal man terrorizing the community for years and getting away with it. The DA declined to press charges and an extensive federal investigation began…
Throughout the investigation, the townspeople remained silent. No one has ever been brought to trial in McElroy’s death and although there is a statute of limitations on murder, most people suspect that no one will ever been convicted.
Not A Word
“Once the shroud of silence fell, there was going to be no one talking,” said Cheryl Huston, whose father had been shot by McElroy. Even though she watched the killing from her family’s grocery store, she said she did not see the gunman.
They Had Enough
“We were so bitter and so angry at the law letting us down that it came to somebody taking matters in their own hands,” Huston continued. “No one has any idea what a nightmare we lived.”
The case was later settled out of court by all parties for the sum of $17,600 with no one admitting guilt. Even 30 years later, the entire town kept silent about who murdered McElroy. One thing’s for certain though, McElroy had it coming.