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In Broad Daylight – Who Killed Ken McElroy?
Why Rex McIlroy’s murder may be the hottest event on record. On the morning of July 10, 1981, he was shot and killed while sitting in his pickup on Main Street in Skidmore, Missouri. Forty-five townspeople witnessed the murder. All denied seeing the gunmen. After three grand juries and an eight-month FBI investigation, no one was indicted. Twenty-five years later, no charges have been filed against the murder.
In December 2006, St. Martin’s republished Broad Daylight, an account of McElroy’s incredible reign of terror in northwest Missouri, his murder, and its aftermath. The new epilogue contains shocking information about the identity of McElroy’s killers and the murder.
In the spring of 2006, I gained unprecedented access to state police and FBI files on the murder. The files include a handwritten statement from an eyewitness that details the identification of Dale Clemente as McElroy’s wife’s first shooter. The statement is the first to identify local farmer Gary Dowling as the second shooter. The statement is detailed and convincing. Interestingly, the witness appeared at the sheriff’s office the next day with Del Clemente’s lawyer and returned the statement. Nevertheless, the statement, combined with Trainor’s identification, stands as strong evidence of the identity of the gunmen.
The files also dispel a major myth about murder. The media latched onto the idea that the entire town had killed McElroy, characterizing it as a vigilante murder, or an example of vigilante justice. My interviews, and numerous statements in the files, make it clear that, other than the two shooters, the people on the street that day were not part of the plan to kill Ken McElroy. They were unwitting witnesses to a murder.
I believe that’s why Rex McElroy’s murder will be the hottest cold case on record for a long time. No one–not law enforcement, not McElroy’s family or friends, and certainly not the residents of Skidmore–seemed to let his killers go free. The men on the street that day are locked in a silence that is immune to time or the spotlight. In their view, while killing may be a sin, what Ken McElroy did to the town and its inhabitants, young girls and old men, was unspeakably evil. It would be an even greater sin to turn those who ended the nightmare for the justice system that had failed society for so many years.
I spent three years in the city while researching the book. When I first arrived, I had a door slammed in my face, a shotgun pulled on me, and a dog biting me. While I was gone, I was judging the dance contest at the annual Punkin Show and selling tickets at the Mother’s Day bazaar at the local Methodist Church. I became quite attached to the city and the people and have stayed in touch over the years.
Personally, my sympathies are always with the townspeople, although it bothers me as a member of civilized society that two murderers go unpunished for their crimes. I doubt, however, that any good will come of prosecuting men. A prosecutor would be hard-pressed to find a jury of twelve Nodaway County citizens who would convict anyone of McElroy’s murder. Memories are strong and hearts remain unforgiving, and even young people in the area know Ken McElroy’s story well. When I returned to Skidmore for the one-year anniversary of Bobby Joe Stinnett’s murder–the young pregnant housewife strangled and her baby ripped 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,” added the younger one. “Right there.” He pointed to the inn.
“He has it coming,” said the older one.
Ken Rex was much more than a town bully. He terrorized all of northwest Missouri. Even the police and judges were afraid of him. Maybe, as the townspeople say, he needed to be killed; The main regret seems to be the way he ended up.
“The guys who did it deserve a medal,” one local told me. “But they should prepare for the way they did it.” I mean, I guess, in broad daylight.
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