Skidmore, Missouri: A Town Execution
When it comes to justice, most people are content to let the courts decide. However, what if the courts constantly and consistently fail? This was the question that faced the people of Skidmore, Missouri in 1981. When it came to Ken McElroy, there seemed to be nothing the court system could do despite a long, long list of crimes.
What the town finally did is still shrouded in mystery, and whoever’s still around after what happened in 1981 still isn’t talking.
Ken McElroy had always been an unpleasant man. He was born in 1934 to tenant farmers who had worked all over the Ozarks. After an unexceptional school career, McElroy dropped out of school at the the age of fifteen and promptly launched on a career of doing absolutely no good at all.
He was known to be a cattle rustler and a theif, and his list of charges were enormous. He was hauled up in front of courts for a total of 21 times throughout his life. However, he always managed to avoid prosecution by intimidating the witnesses. He would follow them and park outside their houses, making threatening gestures and verbally threatening them when he could reach them.
Over the course of his fifty odd years on the planet, he had no less than 10 children with a variety of different women. His last wife, Trena McCloud, was only 12 years old when she met. At the age of 14, he impregnated her, and she went to live with him.
At the time, McElroy was married to a woman named Alice. However because the county was on the verge of charging McElroy with statuatory rape (a charge he had faced several times before), he quickly divorced Alice and married McCloud.
Fearing her new husband, McCloud and Alice left in the middle of the night to hide at the house of McCloud’s parents. It was all futile, as McElroy found them and dragged them back to his home. To further ensure that McCloud’s parents would not continue to interfere, he returned to shoot their dog and burn down their house. McCloud’s parents were unharmed, but the message was clear.
It is clear to see that McElroy was a monster, but things were going to quickly turn against him.
McElroy lived on the outskirts of Skidmore for decades, and over time, he built up a great deal of ill-will. In 1980, that came to a head when McElroy grew enraged that a local grocery store owner by the name of Ernest Bowencamp had accused his child of theft. McElroy lost his temper and cornered Bowencamp in his store.
During the fight that followed, McElroy shot the weapon and ended up wounding the other man in the neck. Bowencamp was in perilous conditions for a while, and McElroy was charged with attempted murder.
McElroy managed to get released on bail once again. Town members had had enough of his ill work and finally confronted the sheriff about what they could do to legally detain him. Sheriff Dan Estes’ offer of forming a neighborhood watch was universally decried.
After a town meeting meant specifically to address the problem of McElroy, the sheriff is known to have left town. Around that time, McElroy and McCloud had come to the local bar. They were leaving when McCloud realized that many of the townspeople around them had guns.
The pair got into the truck, but at that moment, several shots rang out, and McElroy was shot dead. Police later found casings from a .22 calliber Magnum and an 8mm Mauser on the ground. There was likely more than one shooter.
Despite the murder happening in broad daylight, and despite witnesses all around, no one would identify the shooters. To this day, the town of Skidmore will not break the silence on what was essentially an execution by townspeople.