July 10, 1981: Town Bully Murdered, But "No One Saw a Thing"


This is the rare "unsolved" murder that is actually not sad and terrible, but is actually kind of fun. This is the story of Ken McElroy.

Ken McElroy lived in Skidmore, Missouri and was known as the "town bully". He was arrested and indicted 21 different times on various counts, including assault, child molestation, statutory rape, arson, burglary and hot and cattle rustling. He continually escaped convictions, and just terrorized the town by being a jackass and criminal.

After getting out of jail on bond for shooting the town's 70-year-old grocer, McElroy was shot to death in broad daylight in front of a crowd of nearly 40 people. He was shot by 2 different guns. However, "no one saw a thing" and nobody has been charged in connection with his death.


McElroy was born in 1934. He was the FIFTEENTH of SIXTEEN children both to his parents, Tony and Mabel, who were a poor farming couple. They had moved between Kansas and the Ozarks before setting up their home in Skidmore.

He dropped out of school in the eighth grade and got a reputation around town as a raccoon hunter, a cattle rustler, a thief and a womanizer.

Over 2 decades, he was suspected and indicted on multipe charges. He stole grain, gasoline, alcohol, antiques and livestock. He raped an underage girl, was arrested for child molestation. He was a really terrible person. But in his 21 indictments, he would intimidate the witnesses to ensure they would not testify against him. He would follow his accusers and sit outside their homes, watching him. And thus, no conviction ever stuck.

He had more than 10 children, and they were not all with the same woman. He had various wives. His last wife, Trena McCloud, met him when she was 12 and an eighth grader. Her parents agreed to their marriage. She became pregnant at 14.

Okay, so, he has a 14-year-old pregnant and has permission to marry him. But he doesn't right away. That is because he is already married to his 3rd wife, Alice. When Trena became pregnant, she dropped out of school as a freshman in high school and went to LIVE WITH MCELROY AND ALICE! Can you imagine being Alice? The 3rd wife of the city scumbag and now he's having the teenager who is carrying his child come live with you? Oh, and that isn't all. McElroy DIVORCED Alice and married Trena not because of love or anything, but to escape statutory rape charges against him for impregnating a child. And then Alice continued to live with them.

A little bit over 2 weeks after Trena gave birth to their child, she and Alice ran away, fleeing to Trena's mother and stepfather's house, you know, the ones who had approved of their child marrying an adult man. McElroy tracked them down and brought them back. Then, he returned to Trena's parents' home while they were away, burned down their house and shot their dog.

Trena went to the police and in June of 1973, he was indicted for arson, assault, and statutory rape. He was released on a lofty $2,500 bail, and Trena and her baby were placed in foster care. However, McElroy would sit outside of her foster home for hours. He eventually confronted her foster family and said he would trade "girl for girl", telling him he knew where their biological child went to school and he would kidnap her and trade her for his wife. (Or child, not sure. Maybe both?) This lead to additional charges brought against him, but he was acquitted of all involvement.

In 1976, a Skidmore farmer claimed that McElroy shot him twice, and he was arrested and charged with assault. The farmer claimed McElroy sat outside of his home over 100 times while awaiting trial. However, McElroy ended up getting acquitted of this crime.


In 1980, one of McElroy's children, Evelyn, got in an argument with 70-year-old grocer Ernest "Bo" Bowenkamp and his wife, Lois, when she tried to steal some candy from the store. And so, over some candy, McElroy began stalking the Bowenkamp's, and ultimately threatened Bo. In the confrontation, McElroy shot Bo in the neck. Bo survived, and McElroy was arrested and charged with attempted murder.

For the first time ever, he was convicted of assault. However, he was freed on bail while pending his appeal. After he was let out, he went to a bar with a gun, making public, graphic threats about what he planned to do to Bo. At this point, everyone was real concerned about what they were going to do about McElroy, as he was willing to harm just about anyone, and the police suggested the community form a neighborhood watch.

McElroy remained out of jail as his appeal hearing continued to get delayed. On July 10, 1981, the town gathered to discuss what they were going to do to protect themselves while McElroy remained out of jail. During the meeting, which took place at the town hall, McElroy arrived at a local bar with his child bride Trena. The Sheriff told the group not to confront McElroy, but just to form a neighborhood watch... but then drove his police cruiser out of town.

The group decided to head over to the bar en masse. McElroy left the bar and entered his truck after buying a 6 pack of beer. While he was sitting in his truck, someone shot him. He was shot several times and hit twice.

Though 46 people witnessed the shooting, including Trena who was in the car next to him, nobody called for an ambulance. Trena said she could identify the gunman, but nobody else corroborated it, all claiming that they could not see who fired the fatal shots. With nobody willing to testify or claiming to have seen anything, the DA declined to press charges, and an extensive Federal Investigation brought no charges, either.

On July 9, 1984, Trena McElroy fired a $5 million wrongful death suit against the town, the Sheriff, the Mayor, and the man who Trena accused of being the shooter, but the case was settled out of court. Trena ultimately remarried and moved to Lebanon, Missouri. She died in 2012 on her 55th birthday.

Do I agree with vigilante justice? No. We have a justice system for a reason, and we just can't go around killing people who have committed crimes, as all order would be lost. But, when the justice system fails, an argument for vigilante justice begins to emerge. And when the justice system fails 21 times and the person remains to be a threat? Look, all I'm saying is I don't feel bad that he is dead.

This guy wasn't just a petty thief. He married a teenager and got her pregnant, burned her house down and killed her dog. He shot people for telling his children not to steal candy from the grocery store. He threatened a foster family with kidnapping their child. And when caught, he threatened and intimidated and sat outside homes for hours on end to ensure he would never get caught for it. The man was a threat to everyone's safety and deserved to be behind bars.

But if he ended up dead instead, well, it isn't my fault that nobody saw what happened.



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