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In Broad Daylight – Who Killed Ken McElroy?
The killing of Ken Rex McElroy might well be the hottest cold case on record. On the morning of July 10, 1981, he was shot to death as he sat in his pickup truck on the main street of Skidmore, Missouri. Forty-five townspeople witnessed the killing. All denied seeing the shooters. After three grand juries and an eight-month FBI investigation, no one was charged. Twenty-five years later, no one has yet been charged with the murder.
In December 2006, St. Martins re-released In Broad Daylight, the story of McElroy’s incredible reign of terror in northwest Missouri, his killing, and the aftermath. The new epilogue contains surprising information about the identity of McElroy’s killers and the killing itself.
In the spring of 2006, I gained unprecedented access to state police and FBI files on the killing. The files contain a handwritten statement from an eyewitness that details the identification of McElroy’s wife by Del Clement as the first shooter. The statement also identified, for the first time, Gary Dowling, a local farmer, as the second gunman. The statement is detailed and convincing. Interestingly, the eyewitness appeared at the sheriff’s office the next day in the company of Del Clement’s lawyer and recanted the statement. Despite this, the statement, combined with Trena’s identification, stands as compelling evidence of the identity of the shooters.
The files also dispel a big myth about the killing. The media confiscated the notion that the entire city killed Ken McElroy, characterizing it as a civilian killing, or an example of civil justice. My interviews, and the many statements in the files, make it clear that, apart from the two shooters, the men on the street that day were not part of a plan to kill Ken McElroy. They were unwilling witnesses to murder.
I believe the killing of Ken Rex McElroy will long remain the hottest cold case on record. No one–not law enforcement, not McElroy’s family or friends, and certainly not the residents of Skidmore–seems to care that his killers remain at large. The men on the street that day are bound in a silence that is immune to the passage of time or the glare of the spotlight. In their opinion, while murder might be a sin, what Ken McElroy did to the town and its residents, to young girls and old people, was unspeakably evil. It would be a far greater sin to turn the men who stopped the nightmare to the justice system that failed the community for so many years.
I lived in the city for three years researching the book. When I first arrived, I had doors slammed in my face, a shotgun pulled at me, and I was bitten by a dog. When I left, I judged dance contests at the annual Punkin’ Show and sold tickets to the Mother’s Day bazaar at the local Methodist Church. I became quite attached to the city and the people, and I’ve stayed in touch over the years.
Personally, my sympathy has always lay with the townspeople, although it bothers me as a member of a civilized society that the two murderers go unpunished for their crime. I doubt, however, that any good would come of prosecuting the men. A prosecutor would be hard-pressed to find a jury of twelve citizens of Nodaway County who would try anyone for McElroy’s murder. Memories remain strong and hearts unforgiving, and even the young people in the area know Ken McElroy’s story well. When I was back in Skidmore for the one-year anniversary of the killing of Bobbi Joe Stinnett–the young pregnant housewife who was strangled and her baby torn from her body–I asked two girls what they knew about Ken McElroy.
“He was a bad guy who bullied a lot of people,” said the older of the two.
“He was shot here in town,” the younger joined in. “Right there.” She pointed to the tavern.
“He had it coming,” said the older one.
Ken Rex was much more than an urban bully. He had all of Northwest Missouri terrorized. Even the policemen and judges were afraid of him. Perhaps, as the townspeople say, he needed killing; the main regret seems to be the way he was finished.
“The kids who did it deserve a medal,” one local told me. “But they should be stressed for the way they did it.” Meaning, I guess, In broad daylight.
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