Nov. 20, 2022

Ken McElroy // 138 // The town bully // PT 1

Ken McElroy // 138 // The town bully // PT 1

Ken Rex McElroy was accused of many felonies, but continuously escaped conviction, except for the last one.  In 1981, he was convicted of attempted murder for shooting Bo Bowenkamp at the local grocery store.  Ken was murdered while he was out on bond, but no one in Skidmore saw a thing.



Skidmore, Missouri is a small town farming village and the town's population was about 450 people. The town has two paved streets, but no stoplights. It doesn't have a marshal, but they did one time..for about a month, but he took his job seriously and ticketed speeders and the town didn't like this. Life has been the same for many generations of families in Skidmore and it sounds like it's straight out of a movie. The farmers gather in the morning to drink coffee at Mom's Cafe and everyone attends the church bake sales. 

People were friendly, but there is a distinct difference between those that were born in the town and those that moved there later. One man who was a respected community leader, was responsible for reviving the Punkin' Show which was the town's annual celebrations. He had lived in Skidmore for 14 years, but he came to the realization that he would never truly be accepted because he wasn't born there. For the most part, life was peaceful and predictable, but the town did have one problem and his name was Ken Rex McElroy. The town bully. According to Larry King, the town referred to him as Bad Dog.

Ken had dark blue eyes that could look blueish-black, but the people in Skidmore say he had had pitch black eyes. When he looked straight ahead, only the bottom 3 quarters of the irises were visible. When he was young, the girls liked the brooding look and thought he was “sexy, but kind of cold” when he got older their tunes changed and they said he had “icy black eyes that could see into your soul.” Growing up, he showed little interest in working on the family farm and he never did his school homework. He kept to himself and rarely got involved in school activities. He gained a reputation for being mean and hard to control.

His family wasn't able to afford much, so he didn't have the best clothes to wear at school and the older kids picked on him. They teased him and pushed him around and in the fourth grade, kids found out that he couldn't read and they made his life hell. He was held back in fifth grade twice due to truancy and poor grades. When he got to 6th grade, he was the biggest kid in class, so he towered over the other kids. On his first day of school, he and his older brother got in a fight with some other boys and the McElroys pulled knives and threatened them. This was the start of all the kids staying away from Ken.

In the documentary, Ken's daughter said there were some pretty awful stories that she had heard about her father's childhood. She said that he loved animals, but Ken's father would try to force him to do abusive things to animals. His father would punish him until he would finally break and do the awful things that he was requesting. This wasn't elaborated on, but I think that's enough to draw some conclusions.

He ended up dropping out of school at the end of 8th grade, got a truck, and he and his best friend John would steal things so they could get gas or parts they needed. They removed the backseat and lined it with plywood. At night, the boys would drive to a farm and fill the truck with grain. They would drive to an elevator to unload the grain for cash and they would siphon gas from trucks that were sitting in fields during the day. When the transmission went out in Ken's 1936 Ford, he and John found another truck, stole the transmission and replaced his. Ken couldn't seem to hold a job and even his friend John believed that he resented anyone who had money and he just couldn't get over the fact that he was poor. He wanted money, new cars, and nice clothes, but he didn't want to work for it.

When Ken was 18 years old, he married 16-year-old Oleta and they moved to Denver where Ken's sister lived. Oleta was pregnant, but unfortunately, they ended up losing the baby. Ken got a job on a construction crew and some materials fell and hit him on the head which split his safety helmet and cut his scalp. This jammed the nerves and muscles in his neck so he had occasional blackouts for the rest of his life. Many people believe this caused some of Ken's violent behaviors later on. After Ken's injury, he stopped working. He and his wife moved back to Missouri and he started stealing again.

He started stealing calves or hogs in the middle of the night and he would sell them. In his hometown of Skidmore, rumors were flying. People were saying that Ken raped a 14-year-old girl and she became pregnant and died while delivering twins at home because she couldn't afford to go to the hospital. Then, a year later, he raped her older sister and she ended up marrying one of his best friends. Even though this is a rumor, I don't think it's completely far fetched. It turns out that Ken was really into young girls, like 13 or 14 years old. To call it like it is, that's rape. There was a 13 year old named Donna that would sneak out of her farmhouse to see him and she got pregnant with Ken's son.

He soon ended up with a 15-year-old named Sharon, but this ended very poorly. The two of them were fighting in Ken's truck one night and he pulled out a shotgun and told her if she didn't shut up, he would blow her head off. The gun actually did go off and tore open the bottom of Sharon's chin and she had permanent scars from this. Charges were filed and Ken had to go back to his wife Oleta to tell her that he needed to divorce her and marry Sharon instead so that he could avoid prosecution for assault with a deadly weapon. Oleta was like fine, let's divorce and in 1958 he married Sharon and she birthed their son Jerome in 1959 and they moved to a farm just outside of his hometown of Skidmore. They were apparently horrible parents to little Jerome, so Ken's sister Helen showed up for a visit and decided to take him back to California with her.

Sharon got pregnant again in 1961 and this time they had a daughter, Tammy Sue. Later that year, Sharon showed up in the sheriff's office and told them that Ken had locked her and the baby in the house for over two days and she was able to escape. She said he was beating her when he got angry, so the two of them were sent to stay with a foster family. Sharon mentioned that Ken had someone else living in the home as well. 14-year-old Sally and he was beating her and would have sex with both her and his wife. Again, that's rape. Ken did find out where his wife was and he showed up to talk to her. He said if she came back home, he would go get their other child Jerome and bring him back from California. Sharon decided she no longer wanted to sign the complaint paperwork. Ken took both her and Tammy home and he beat Sharon. He got the other young girl, Sally pregnant and she had Ken Jr. in 1961, Lisa in 1963 and Jeffery in 1964. His wife Sharon also had more children. Teresa Lyn in 1963, Tina Renee in 1964, and Debbie Ann in 1965. Ken had several girlfriends on the local farms in the area and he used them for his thievery. He would steal animals, then bring them to the ladies and they would sell them at markets or auctions using their own names instead of his. Ken would stop by to collect the money and sex.

Ken did eventually decide that he didn't want Sally any longer after they had 3 children together. Her father died and she didn't have any friends or family left, so she and her 3 kids moved into an apartment. One night, a friend got a babysitter for her and brought her to a party. The babysitter was a high school girl who invited her friends over for a big party. They drank and threw bottles off the rooftop and the police took Sally's children and they ended up in foster care. Since she didn't have any money, she couldn't get her children back and Sally just disappeared. She did show up for the court hearing where they decided to terminate parental rights and the children were adopted. 

In the mid sixties, the police were very aware that Ken was stealing animals and they were convinced that he ran a ring of thieves, but they were having a tough time proving it. An investigator said, “He was a mean son of a bitch and a snake-you never, ever turned your back on him.” Investigators believed they found the farm where Ken was holding the animals, but every time they showed up, he was always ready and he never let them in without a warrant. Ken said, “If you think you've got a case against me, prove it.”

Part of the problem really came down to Missouri livestock laws. They didn't require branding of livestock and farmers weren't keeping good records. A farmer could say they recognize their animals somewhere else, but good luck with that. It's impossible to identify them properly. The only way to bring Ken down was to catch him in the act....and they tried! Oh, boy did they try. The police speculated that he was behind the multiple break-ins around town, so they hired a night watchman to sit at the co-op because it had already been robbed twice. The police felt that Ken was the one doing it and they knew he'd be brazen enough to try again. Five nights later, someone did try to break in. The watchman contacted the police, but unfortunately, it was a snowy night and they couldn't get there in time. 

Jim McCubbin was the special agent assigned to this investigation. Even though they didn't catch Ken on the night of the third burglary, they learned something very interesting. On February 14th, 1969, so on Valentine's Day, a man ended up in the hospital in a small town, not far away because he had to get some bullets removed from his butt. Jim McCubbin went to the hospital and they confirmed that the patient was Ken. The pellets that were removed from his ass hole were the same size as the pellets from the watchman's gun at the co-op. Prosecutors filed an indictment to charge Ken and another man with 5 counts of burglary and theft and the judge issued warrants for their arrest, but nothing ever happened with this, they didn't follow through. 

In 1961, when Ken was 26, he met 15-year-old Alice. She came from a terrible home life and had been living in an apartment with a friend since she was just 13. By 1964, Ken left his wife Sharon and their four kids and he moved in with Alice. He beat her up so often that she was afraid to go outside because she felt ashamed and didn't want anyone to see. She knew that he was seeing other girls in town and this upset her, but she also realized that he was nicer to her and he was calmer when he wasn't focusing all of his attention on her. Ken liked to go after the women that were with rich farmers. He thought it was funny that he could take something from the rich men. Alice eventually got pregnant, she lost her first child, but she gave birth to Juarez in 1968.

In late 1969 to early 1970, Ken went on a rage. He stole and he was so violent that he got 19 separate felony charges: two in St. Joe, five in Savannah, and twelve in Maryville. Alice had finally had enough and she took their son Juarez and she left. Ken threatened her and said he was coming to get his son, so she sat in a bedroom with a pistol waiting. She was going to shoot Ken if he walked through that door. As she was loading the pistol, the gun accidentally went off and a bullet went through her hip. Her step-father Ortha said he would take care of the child while she was gone, but Ken showed up and a rifle shot tore through the window and went into Ortha's left thigh, so he also ended up in the hospital. Ken did get a felony assault charge for this, but after the charge was filed, he made life absolute hell for Ortha and his family. Ken called him daily and threatened to shoot him, to kill his wife, and to kill his child. He repeatedly drove by their home and harassed them as well. 

The assault case was repeatedly delayed and Otha got several subpoenas for a court date and when he showed up, he found out that the case had been continued again. The following is a quote from the book about Ken “McElroy was a bad dog. He'd sit and talk to you and smile and be as friendly and charming as he possibly could, but the minute you turned your back, he would shoot you if he felt like it. He used to tell me that when he got a bad coon dog, he would hook him onto the trailer and drag him behind the pickup until he was dead. With Ken, everything was always your fault. If he shot you, and you prosecuted him for it, you were the bad guy. He would beat up Alice, beat her silly, she would complain, and then she was the bad person because she was complaining. He shifted the fault onto the victim, and then the victim became responsible for his pain.”

Ten months after the shooting, Otha was drinking at Garland's Tavern and Ken showed up and pulled a knife on him. He said “I'm going to cut your guts unless you swear not to testify.” Otha said he wouldn't back down and Ken left...for a few minutes. When he came back, he was fuming. He had a shotgun and he locked the tavern doors and told the owners to close the place down. He stuck the barrel of the shotgun in Otha's face and threatened him. He said, “I'm going to start at your feet and shoot all the way up until there's nothing left of you.” He fired a warning shot into the floor just inches from Otha's feet and Ken ended up backing out the door. I'm guessing it's because there were a lot of witnesses. Ken was arrested and released on bond and received new charges. It was a felony crime, but the state later dismissed the felony and it was refiled as a misdemeanor. By the time he was tried, the witnesses, including the bartender, had all changed their minds and claimed they didn't see anything. Ken explained that he brought the gun to the bar to show a friend and it accidentally went off.

Ken was found guilty and sentenced to 6 months in prison, but it didn't stick. A notice of appeal was filed and this would automatically result in a new trial, but the files in the clerks office were mysteriously sealed a day later. Under Missouri law, records must be sealed when a defendant is acquitted or if charges are dismissed by the prosecuting attorney. Since he wasn't acquitted, that means charges were dismissed.

Police were determined to catch Ken, but they wondered if they were going about it all wrong. Instead of chasing him, maybe they could get one of his girls to crack? They targeted Alice and Marty and they held out for awhile, but they both agreed to drive around town to show the police which farms they had burglarized and they described what they took. At one of the farmhouses, Marty showed the cops exactly how they would steal the hogs and she said that they were able to quiet the squealing pigs by sticking a finger up its ass.

Based on the statements from both women, Andrew County Prosecuting Attorney was able to file 4 separate felonies against Ken for stealing and breaking and entering. They decided to arrest Ken on 4 separate occasions so he would spend time in jail and he would have to go through the hassle of being bonded out 4 times. Unfortunately, both women ended up recanting their original statements and all charges were dismissed. 

Ken certainly didn't stop everything just because the police were up his ass. He found a young girl named Trena and he would pick her up on her way to school, bring her to a motel and get her back in the afternoon in time to catch the afternoon bus home. This poor girl was seen crying on the bus many times after being with him and the kids told her to stop seeing Ken, but she got pregnant when she was just 14 years old and she had to drop out of school. After Trena had her baby, she attempted to leave Ken. Her and Alice both left with their kids. Ken caught up to them pretty quickly and the women paid dearly for the attempted escape. 

Ken slapped Trena repeatedly. Then he beat Alice and smashed the barrel of his gun into her face which broke both her cheekbones and her brow and she had to drive herself to the hospital. The damage from this left her suffering with headaches for the rest of her life. When the women tried to escape, they ended up going to Trena's parent's house, so Ken decided they needed to go there the next day to teach them a lesson. After he raped Trena, he filled up a gas can, went inside the home, SHOT THEIR DOG, and lit the house on fire. Trena ended up in a mental hospital after this and her baby was placed in a foster home. About 3 weeks later, Trena also ended up being sent to a foster family and 3 criminal charges were brought against Ken based on her testimony for rape, arson, and flourishing a deadly weapon. 

This was the first time Ken was in serious trouble because he was facing four felonies and the possibility of the death sentence for the rape charge. He and Alice left town and his sister took his kids. When the police heard about this, they took the kids away and said it was neglect. Ken was advised by his lawyer that the police were just trying to smoke him out by taking his kids, but he finally surrendered and was released on bond. Ken spent a lot of time searching for Trena. If there's no witness, there's no problems for him. She was able to get her child back, she renamed him Jeffy, never left the foster home, but Ken found her. He would sit outside the home and watch for hours. Since he wasn't doing anything illegal, the police couldn't do anything.

Ken started calling the foster family and threatening them to turn her back over to him. He would always call Trena his “little bride” and he told the family that he knew where their kids went to school and what bus they took. As time went on, the Prosecuting Attorney continued to build the case against Ken. Trena said that Ken used to take her from school and brought her to a motel. After she passed a lie detector test, he found the motel attendant who confirmed a man matching Ken's description had rented the room and they were able to file 8 additional child molestation charges against him. Since the charges all happened in different counties, they were split up and there were three different trial dates set. 

Trena had been with her foster family for about a year and she was finally doing well. As the trial was getting closer, her grandparents convinced the judge to let them take her. Unfortunately, she was miserable with them and after a few months, she called Ken and asked him to come get her and he did. He divorced his wife Sharon so that he could marry Trena, but she was only 15, so her mother had to notarize a statement to give her consent. They got married 4 days prior to when the rape case was due to be tried. This act immediately dropped 11 of the felonies because his wife couldn't testify against him. When Trena married Ken, she told him that he had to be a one woman man, so he had to move Alice out of the house, she left and gave birth to their son Ken Jr.

Ken had several tattoos. He had a cross on this lower right forearm and inside the cross it said MOM or WOW depending on how you look at it. KEN was on his fingers. LOVE was on his upper left arm and he had a dagger that said JOAN. On the back of his hand was the word OLETA which is the name of his first wife and his second child by his third wife. He befriended the young boys in town that were misfits or from poor families because he knew they would do anything for him. He taught the young kids how to steal for him and he paid them and gave them a shot at things they wouldn't normally have. They viewed him as a father figure. 

On July 27th, 1976, a local farmer named Romaine was working in his shop and his son came running in to tell him he heard gunshots. Romaine hopped in his truck to investigate and he saw Ken. He assumed Ken was on his land trying to hunt something and he didn't want any trouble, so he decided he would just drive past him and ignore the situation. Ken stepped in front of the vehicle and tried to opened the truck door, but it was stuck. Romaine opened the door and was greeted with a shotgun to his face. Ken was yelling about a Pontiac that showed up at his place and Romaine didn't know what he was talking about, but Ken decided he was lying and he shot him in the stomach and tried to shoot him in the face as well. Luckily, the gun jammed and Romaine was able to drive away. After Ken chased him in his vehicle for awhile, he finally let him go and Romaine shows up at his home, looks at his wife and says, 

Romaine had a hole in his stomach that was 8 inches from his navel. He had powder burns and there were seven pellets in his abdominal wall. Ken was arrested and charged with feloniously assaulting Romaine with the intent to kill him or do him great bodily harm. There were three witnesses in town that saw the high speed chase happen, but there were two people that were willing to lie for Ken and gave him an alibi. Ken decided to stick with his usual tactics since he wanted the case dropped. He would sit outside of Romaine's home or he would drive back and forth across the gravel so he knew he was there watching him. Just before the trial, Romaine's tractors stopped working because someone put sugar in the gas tanks. The filters were sent to a lab and they confirmed that they were definitely filled with sugar, but they had no proof that Ken did it. One of the men that was going to testify about the high speed chase, received word that if Ken was convicted, he was a dead man. He wanted protection for his wife and children, but the police said that was impossible, so he packed up and moved his family to Florida.

The other two witnesses refused to testify and the trial was really strange. The prosecuting attorney noticed that as she gave her opening statement, several of the jurors were looking away from her. As the trial progressed, she realized that no one was paying attention to her, like the outcome was already determined and a reporter noticed the same thing. They were able to get one witness to come back and testify against Ken, but he was very reluctant. His name was Danny Kinder and he said that his marriage was over and he felt that his was due to the shooting. This wasn't elaborated on, but I'm sure it has something to do with the way Ken tortures witnesses who want to testify. The lawyer was able to trick Danny by asking questions and saying isn't it possible? Danny, isn't it possible that it wasn't actually 5:30, maybe it was ten minutes later? After he admitted that it was possible, they said he changed his testimony and he was unreliable.

The jurors deliberated for two hours and unanimously voted, not guilty. This terrified the locals even more because it seems that Ken was untouchable, above the law. How could Romaine not know who shot him? The person was standing in front of him and placed a gun against his stomach. Romaine decided that he needed to move on with his life, so he gave up the fight, but in October, Ken showed up with a high-powered rifle and a bullet went right past Romaine's head. He did not report this to the police because, what's the point?

In April of 1975, Trena gave birth to her second child with Ken and they named their little girl, Oleta. They also had a child named Reno in 1978. They moved to a farm house and Ken was able to pay cash because he was earning so much by burning buildings for insurance money. Three of Ken's daughter's from his wife Sharon decided they wanted to live with him, so they moved in. Trena was left home alone for days or weeks at a time and had to care for all the children on her own while Ken was off...being Ken.

In April of 1980, a newcomer with absolutely no law enforcement experience named David Dunbar was bet a case of beer that he could win the upcoming election for marshal. He took the bet and won and was warned by many people that Ken would blow his head off if he fucked with him. He took the warnings seriously and asked the board to buy him a gun and they refused. The town said they would buy him ammunition, a light, and a radio, and that's it. David bought himself a gun, learned how to shoot on his own and had no training or orientation for his new responsibilities. So, that seems safe.

Ken wasn't too worried about the new town marshal and it didn't take long for him to zero in on his next enemy. On April 25th, 1980, two girls, a teenager and a preschooler approached a checkout counter with some candy and cookies. The teenager paid for her stuff and said the young girl had her own money. The teen ended up putting the little girl's stuff back and dragging her out of the store and she started crying. Seems like a typical temper tantrum from a kid that isn't getting their way, but this was Ken McElroy's kids. The teen told her parents that the employee at the store accused them of trying to steal. She likely didn't want to get in trouble for her younger sister crying, so she made up a story. Later that day, Ken and his wife Trena showed up and caused a big scene. Ken took out a knife and said he was just cleaning his nails, but it was an obvious threat. Trena, who used to be described as very shy, began yelling as soon as she walked in. She said, “I wanna know which one of you fuckin bitches accused my fuckin kid of coming in this fuckin store and raidin it!” She said, “I'm gonna take one or both of you fuckin bitches out here in the fuckin street and whip your fuckin asses off!”

The employee, Lois explained what actually happened, but Ken and Trena wouldn't hear it. Later that night, Lois looked out her window and saw 4 vehicles driving slowly past her home and they all had a rifle or a shotgun in the rear windows. Lois called up Russ Johnson, the deputy sheriff and he said, “Now, don't worry about it. He won't do nothing. Oh, he may harass you a little bit, but he won't do nothing serious.” Ken started showing up outside of the store and just watching Lois. On one occasion she marched over to his vehicle and tried to reason with him, but she couldn't. He offered her $100 if she could whip his wife's ass. He said he could go home and get her and wanted the two women to brawl in the street. When Lois refused, he kept repeating I'll pay the fine and she was like ok, I don't know what that means. When Ken showed up outside Lois's home that night, she called the sheriff and he said there wasn't a damn thing they could do as long as Ken stayed on public property. 

Ken started driving by the house at night and shooting his gun in the air repeatedly. Lois and her husband thought about calling for help, but they knew it wouldn't come. Everyone in town also knew that Ken was monitoring the police bands and he targeted people even harder when he heard that they called the sheriff. They did go to the sheriff the next day and he said they could potentially get a restraining order, but it would expire in 30 days and the best advice he could offer was to just watch Ken. 

Night after night, Lois and her husband Bo were woken up to the sound of gunshots. They finally decided to talk to the new Marshall, but remember, he has absolutely no training and he had only been in this position for 6 weeks. As David Dunbar was driving around one night, he saw Ken sitting outside of Lois's home and he questioned him about it. The next night, Ken was seen circling the marshal's home and then he went after Lois's husband, Bo. He was outside of his grocery store and Ken shot him in the left side of his neck. When the marshal arrived, blood was pumping from Bo's neck and he couldn't talk because he was swallowing blood.