Tuesday, August 12, 2014


Ok, you ask, what's in Skidmore? Well it's not what's in the small northern Missouri town, but what happened there. Every town has it's characters, some good, some bad. Skidmore had a bad one, in 46 year old Ken Rex McElory. McElory had numerous run-ins with the law and was charged with various crimes over the years. He was never convicted of his crimes as he had a habit of intimidating witnesses against him.

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 a younger 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. 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, and made graphic threats about what he would do to Mr. 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.
On the morning of July 10, 1981, after his appeal hearing was again delayed, 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. After telling the assembled group not to get in a direct confrontation with McElroy, but instead seriously consider forming a Neighborhood Watch Program, Sheriff Estes 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. While McElroy was sitting in his truck he was shot at several times and hit twice, once by a center fire 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. No one called for an ambulance. 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. The DA declined to press charges. An extensive Federal investigation did not lead to any charges.
In 1988 a book, In Broad Daylight was written by Harry MacLean, which I read at the time. I was intrigued by the authors description of the town and the surrounding area. I specifically remember his description of the mud on the roadways left by the farm tractors. Later a movie of the same name was made starring Brian Dennehy as McElroy. Dennehy played a great villain in the movie. At the time I told myself that someday I would like to pay a visit to Skidmore. Well, now was the time. About 100 miles south of Omaha, we took a drive down to get a look for ourselves.

The population of Skidmore had declined in the ensuing years as has the town. The grocery has closed, no gas is sold at the service station, and the D&G Tavern is no more. Farming is still the main source of income in the area with corn and soy beans the main crops. At as we drove toward town, mud from the tractor tires was evident on the roads
In 1980 on the television show Dallas, J.R. Ewing was shot at the end of the season. CBS played up the next season with advertisements asking, "Who Shot J.R?"  Around the same time, after Ken Rex McElroy was shot, some one had T-shirts made up which on the front said, "Who Shot K.R?" and on the back said, "Who Cares".



You can buy the book In Broad Daylight on AMAZON


Delta Mike said...

Part of the fun of small midwestern towns is chatting up the locals. The guy riding the lawn mower downtown could be the mayor cutting city property grass. Sadly the small town gas station, garage, gathering place is long gone.

Dibb Family said...

Great article Dana. Is the book a worthwhile read?

Dana Gassaway said...

Yes Randy a great read if you like true crime type books.

Unknown said...

Quoted by the eastern big-city newspaper reporter the 1880s Kansas rural marshal declared "Some folks just need killin'." Oh so true in the case of that horrid Rex barbarian.