Ken McElroy

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Ken McElroy
Grave of Ken McElroy.jpg
McElroy's grave
Ken Rex McElroy

(1934-06-01)June 1, 1934
DiedJuly 10, 1981(1981-07-10) (aged 47)
Cause of deathMultiple gunshot wounds
Known forUnsolved murder
Alice Woods
Trena McCloud
Criminal chargeAssault with intent to kill
VictimsBo Bowenkamp
DateJuly 8, 1980

Ken Rex McElroy (June 1, 1934 – July 10, 1981) was a resident of Skidmore, Missouri, United States. Known as "the town bully",[1] McElroy's unsolved killing became the focus of international attention. Over the course of his life, McElroy was accused of dozens of felonies, including assault, child molestation, statutory rape, arson, hog and cattle rustling, and burglary.[2]

In all, he was indicted 21 times but escaped conviction each time, except for the last.[2][3] In 1981, McElroy was convicted of shooting and seriously injuring the town's 70-year-old grocer, Ernest "Bo" Bowenkamp, the previous year.[1] McElroy successfully appealed the conviction and was released on bond, after which he engaged in an ongoing harassment campaign against Bowenkamp and others who were sympathetic to Bowenkamp, including the town's Church of Christ minister. He appeared in a local bar, the D&G Tavern, armed with an M1 Garand rifle and bayonet, and later threatened to kill Bowenkamp.[1][3] The next day, McElroy was shot to death in broad daylight as he sat with his wife Trena in his pickup truck on Skidmore's main street.[2] He was struck by bullets from at least two different firearms, in front of a crowd of people estimated as between 30 and 46.[1] To date, no one has been charged in connection with McElroy's death.[1]

Early life[edit]

McElroy was born in 1934, the fifteenth of sixteen children born to a poor, migrant tenant-farming couple named Tony and Mabel (née Lister) McElroy, who had moved between Kansas and the Ozarks before settling outside of Skidmore. He dropped out of school at age 15 in the eighth grade and quickly established a local reputation as a cattle rustler, small-time thief and womanizer. For more than two decades, McElroy was suspected of being involved in theft of grain, gasoline, alcohol, antiques and livestock, but he avoided conviction when charges were brought against him 21 times—often after witnesses refused to testify because he allegedly intimidated them, frequently by following his targets or parking outside their homes and watching them. He was represented by defense attorney Richard Gene McFadin of Gallatin, Missouri.[4]

McElroy fathered more than 10 children with different women. He met his last wife, Trena McCloud (1957–2012), when she was 12 years old and in eighth grade. He statutorily raped McCloud repeatedly, also burning her house down and shooting the family dog before her parents relented and agreed to their marriage.[5] She became pregnant when she was fourteen, dropped out of school in the ninth grade, and went to live with McElroy and his third wife Alice. McElroy divorced Alice and married Trena in order to escape charges of statutory rape, to which she was the only witness. Sixteen days after Trena gave birth, both she and Alice fled to Trena's mother's and stepfather's house. According to court records, McElroy tracked them down and brought them back. He then returned to Trena's parents' home when they were away and, once again, shot the family dog and burned the house down.[6]

Events prior to his killing[edit]

Based on Trena's story, McElroy was indicted in June 1973 for arson, assault and statutory rape. He was arrested, booked, arraigned and released on $2,500 bail.[6] Trena and her baby were placed in foster care at a home in Maryville, Missouri. McElroy sat outside the foster home for hours at a time staring at it. He told the foster family that he would trade "girl for girl" to get his child back, since he knew where the foster family's biological daughter went to school and what bus route she rode. Additional charges were filed against McElroy.[7]

On July 27, 1976, Skidmore farmer Romaine Henry said McElroy shot him twice with a shotgun after Henry challenged him for shooting weapons on Henry's property. McElroy was charged with assault with intent to kill. McElroy denied he was at the scene. As the case dragged on without a court date, Henry said McElroy had parked outside his home at least 100 times.[8] At the trial, two raccoon hunters testified they were with McElroy the day of the shooting away from Henry's property. Henry was forced to admit in court, under questioning by McElroy's attorney Richard Gene McFadin, that he had concealed his own petty criminal conviction from more than 30 years previous.[3] McElroy was acquitted.

1981 killing[edit]

In 1980, one of McElroy's children got into an argument with a clerk, Evelyn Sumy, in a local grocery store owned by 70-year-old Ernest "Bo" Bowenkamp and his wife Lois, allegedly because the young McElroy child tried to steal some candy. McElroy began stalking the Bowenkamp family, and eventually threatened Bo Bowenkamp in the back of his store with a shotgun in hand. In the ensuing confrontation, McElroy shot Bowenkamp in the neck; Bowenkamp survived, and McElroy was arrested and charged with attempted murder.[9] McElroy was convicted at trial of assault, but freed on bail pending his appeal. Immediately after being released at a post-trial hearing, McElroy went to the D&G Tavern, a local bar, with an M1 Garand rifle with a bayonet attached, and made graphic threats about what he would do to Bo Bowenkamp. This led to several patrons deciding to see what they could legally do to prevent McElroy from harming anyone else. Nodaway County Sheriff Dan Estes suggested they form a neighborhood watch.

McElroy's appeal hearing was again delayed. On the morning of July 10, 1981, townspeople met at the Legion Hall in the center of town with Sheriff Estes to discuss how to protect themselves. During the meeting, McElroy arrived at the D&G Tavern with Trena. As he sat drinking at the bar, word got back to the men at the Legion Hall that he was in town. Sheriff Estes instructed the assembled group not to get into a direct confrontation with McElroy, but instead seriously consider forming a neighborhood watch program. Estes then drove out of town in his police cruiser. The citizens decided to go to the tavern en masse. The bar soon filled completely. After McElroy finished his drinks, he purchased a six pack of beer, left the bar, and entered his pickup truck. Someone shot at McElroy while he was sitting in his truck. He was shot at several times and hit twice, once by a centerfire rifle and once by a .22 rimfire rifle. In all, there were 46 potential witnesses to the shooting, including Trena McElroy, who was in the truck with her husband when he was shot.[10] No one called for an ambulance.[11] Only Trena claimed to identify a gunman; every other witness either was unable to name an assailant or claimed not to have seen who fired the fatal shots.[12] The DA declined to press charges. An extensive Federal investigation did not lead to any charges. One local resdient later told investigators when asked what happened replied: "He needed a killin'."

McElroy was buried at Memorial Park Cemetery in St. Joseph, Missouri. On July 9, 1984, Trena McElroy filed a $5 million wrongful death lawsuit against the Town of Skidmore, County of Nodaway, Sheriff Danny Estes, Steve Peters (Mayor of Skidmore), and Del Clement (whom Trena accused of being the shooter, but who was never charged). The case was later settled out of court by all parties for the sum of $17,600, with no one admitting guilt, for the stated reason of avoiding costly legal fees should the suit proceed.[13] Trena remarried and moved to Lebanon, Missouri, where she died of cancer on her 55th birthday on January 24, 2012.[14]

Movies, books and media[edit]

  • 60 Minutes ran a segment on the story in 1982.[15]
  • A 1988 book about McElroy's murder, In Broad Daylight, by Harry N. MacLean, was adapted into the made-for-TV movie of the same name in 1991 starring Brian Dennehy, Marcia Gay Harden and Chris Cooper. The bully who was based on Ken McElroy was given the fictitious name "Len Rowan". A police officer tells the perpetrators that "there is no room in this country for vigilante justice".
  • Connecticut filmmaker Ralph Server's Without Mercy won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Picture at the New York International Independent Film & Video Festival in 2004. The film portrays the last six days of McElroy's life.[16]
  • The 2014 book Pollyanna's Revenge: How Memory and Emotion Foster Happiness profiled the McElroy story in a chapter describing the psychological effects of anger, fear and depression.[17]
  • The story of McElroy's life and shooting was featured in the 66th episode of the true crime podcast Criminal, titled "Bully".[18]
  • McElroy's life and shooting was also featured in the 87th episode of the podcast Do Go On.
  • The case was covered in Episode 53 of the podcast My Favorite Murder, told by guest Dave Anthony.[19]
  • The case of McElroy's murder was featured in an episode of web series BuzzFeed Unsolved.[20]
  • The case was the inspiration for the song "Diesel in the Dust" song from British hard-rock band UFO's album Making Contact (1983).
  • The case appears on Drunk History in the sixth season (2019) episode "Drunk Mystery II", as the first story.
  • The case was the inspiration for "The Hunting Accident," the second episode of Renegade (1992).
  • The case was the inspiration for No One Saw a Thing, a 2019 television documentary mini-series on Sundance TV.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Bradley, Donald. "3 decades on, who killed Skidmore town bully still secret". Archived from the original on 2010-09-01. Retrieved 2010-09-01.
  2. ^ a b c "Ken McElroy Murderer, rapist and consummate intimidator". 1981-07-10. Archived from the original on 2008-06-05. Retrieved 2010-09-01.
  3. ^ a b c Harry N. MacLean, In Broad Daylight. NY: Harper & Row, 1988.
  4. ^ "Ken McElroy Murderer, rapist and consummate intimidator". Archived from the original on 2009-06-06. Retrieved 2010-09-02.
  5. ^ "Skidmore, Revisited Part 1: The Death of Ken McElroy". February 6, 2018.
  6. ^ a b "Ken McElroy Murderer, rapist and consummate intimidator — Another Teen Love". Archived from the original on 2009-06-02. Retrieved 2010-09-02.
  7. ^ "Ken McElroy Murderer, rapist and consummate intimidator — Saved by the Law". Archived from the original on 2010-01-06. Retrieved 2010-09-02.
  8. ^ "Ken McElroy Murderer, rapist and consummate intimidator — Intent to Kill". 1976-07-27. Archived from the original on 2009-06-06. Retrieved 2010-09-02.
  9. ^ The Death Of Ken McElroy *Interesting History* - YouTube
  10. ^ "AS her daughter Tami listens, Trena McElroy retells how she watched..." Getty Images.
  11. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-08-30. Retrieved 2010-08-30.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  12. ^ "Ken McElroy Murderer, rapist and consummate intimidator — Murder in Broad Daylight". Archived from the original on 2009-06-02. Retrieved 2010-09-02.
  13. ^ "Wrongful death lawsuit settled in re Ken McElroy". Archived from the original on 2009-06-06. Retrieved 2010-06-16.
  14. ^ "Trena McElroy Passed Away | Harry N. MacLean". Archived from the original on 2018-02-22. Retrieved 2017-12-17.
  15. ^ Petersen, Clarence (1990-02-18). "You Get What You Pay For, by Larry Beinhart". Chicago Tribune. Archived from the original on 2013-04-11. Retrieved 2012-04-20.
  16. ^ "Without Mercy (2005)". Archived from the original on 2014-09-02. Retrieved 2014-06-14.
  17. ^ Walker, W. Richard; Scherer, Cory; Hartnett, Jessica (2014). Pollyanna's Revenge: How Memory and Emotion Foster Happiness. Kendall Hunt. ISBN 978-1-4652-4869-5.
  18. ^ ""Bully" by Phoebe Judge". Criminal Podcast. 2017-05-05. Archived from the original on 2017-05-14. Retrieved 2017-05-08.
  19. ^ "53 - Live at The Orpheum from My Favorite Murder with Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark". podbay. Archived from the original on 2018-02-23. Retrieved 2018-02-24.
  20. ^ "The Strange Killing of Ken Rex McElroy". BuzzFeed Unsolved. Season 3. Episode 5. Archived from the original on February 24, 2018. Retrieved March 2, 2018.

External links[edit]