Nov. 27, 2022

Ken McElroy // 139 // The town bully // PT 2

Ken McElroy // 139 // The town bully // PT 2

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.




In Part 1 we talked about Ken McElroy's nasty behavior towards the residents of the small town of Skidmore. Every time he got caught doing something wrong, the charges would just disappear and he would harass, stalk, or injure the witnesses so they wouldn't testify against him. He had a few wife, many girlfriends, and a bunch of kids. The last wife we talked about was Trena and she will come up a bunch in part two as well. There was an incident at the local store where Ken's children claimed they were accused of stealing. The cashier was Lois Bowenkamp and for some reason, Ken didn't really target her specifically, he ended up going after her husband, Bo. He was calling them, driving past their home, shooting guns outside of their house at night, and sitting outside of the store watching them. One day, Ken saw Bo outside of the grocery store and he shot him in the left side of the neck. When the marshal arrived, blood was pumping from Bo's neck and he couldn't talk because he was swallowing blood and that is where we left off.

Bo was rushed to the hospital and he had four wounds in his neck. The doctor was able to determine that the wounds were from shotgun pellets and it was amazing that he was still alive. The pellets had passed within half an inch of two major vessels, the jugular vein and the carotid artery. If either had been hit, he would be dead. Bo was able to tell the police the story and confirmed that Ken was the one that shot him. There were other witnesses as well. There were some young kids hanging around outside and Ken handed them money to go inside the bar to get a drink and they heard the gunshot seconds later. Bo did survive this attack, but he talked in a hoarse whisper for months and his left shoulder developed a permanent droop.

The police went to the grocery store to work the crime scene and gather evidence, but I'm not sure why they even bothered. They were terrified of Ken McElroy. The police actually told the marshal that if he ever got Ken alone somewhere, he should just blow him away. Remember, he has zero training and the cops are telling him to take care of it. Even though everyone was clearly afraid, there was one man that wasn't afraid of Ken and he was determined to take him down, even it meant he was doing it on his own. Richard Stratton was the only cop that was sick of letting Ken get away with everything. He started studying Ken when he would pull him over and he even took opportunities to talk to his friends and his mother when he saw them in town. 

When the dispatcher announced a shooting in Skidmore at the grocery store and mentioned that the assailant had used a shotgun and was driving a green Chevy pickup, Richard Stratton immediately knew that this was his chance. The dispatcher was yelling his number on the radio, “507, where are you?” But he didn't answer. He knew that Ken would be listening to police bands. He didn't call for backup, he just headed in the direction that he knew that green Chevy would be coming from. As soon as he hit the center of town, he locked eyes with Ken McElroy and he immediately called in the sighting and described every piece of the vehicle, including the CB antenna. Richard made sure to let the dispatcher know his position and said he was going to take Ken down by himself and he did. 

Richard took control of the situation and waited until he saw other cop cars arriving before he got Ken and Trena handcuffed. Ken said his cuffs were too tight, but Richard said, “You'll live.” Unfortunately, the Chevy was already cleaned out. The gun, ammunition, and anything else that was used at the grocery store shooting was gone. About ten minutes after Trena was released from custody, the phone rang at Richard Strattons's home. His wife, Margaret answered and a man's voice said, “Something bad's going to happen to your husband. He's not going to live until the trial.” Then the line went dead. 

When word got to Richard Stratton, he wasn't too concerned. He was in the middle of booking Ken McElroy and he assumed that Trena ran her mouth to one of their friends and had them make the call to scare him. When he walked back to the room with Ken, he got a big surprise. Ken said, “You got an oak bookcase in your study that has a top shelf filled with books bound in leather. Three of the books are red, three are brown, and two are black.” Richard Stratton didn't say a word as he walked away but he told the other cops that to his knowledge, Ken had never been in his home. He was right about the bookcase and the colors, but he was wrong about the number of books. They asked Ken how he could know about the books and he smiled and said, “I saw them through the scope on a high powered rifle.”

Robert Nourie, the prosecuting attorney filed a felony complaint against Ken McElroy and he was charged with the class A felony of assault in the first degree for attempting to kill or cause physical injury to Bo Bowenkamp at the grocery store shooting. At a hearing that morning, the prosecuting attorney strongly suggested that they set the bond at $50k, but it was instead approved at $30k. Under Missouri law, you're only required to get a written promise by two qualified citizens. Ken got two people to sign and he was released after promising to “keep the peace and be of good behavior until the case was finally disposed of.” The preliminary hearing was set for August 18th which was more than 5 weeks away. 

When Ken got out, he headed to the bar. The same one where he had shot Bo outside of. Many people from the town had gathered there and Ken loudly asked, “What was all the commotion about last night? Was there a burglary in the grocery store?” No one answered him and he just laughed. He was terrorizing them. No one was safe. People started carrying loaded shotguns in their vehicles because they didn't know if they were next. There were a few people that were on Ken's side and they would spy on others and tell him what they were saying about him. He told his friends that Bo came at him with a knife on the day of the shooting, so it was all self-defense and the townspeople just misunderstood him. 

Once Bo was released from the hospital, he went straight into hiding. Some of the people that were hiding him asked for protection and the police said they couldn't do anything. About a month later, Bo finally went home, but his family would not let him leave the house alone. The families in the neighborhood started working together. People would announce when they were going somewhere and if they didn't show up within a certain time frame, they knew there was trouble. The townspeople watched for Ken's truck and they would call to warn others when he was around so they could lock the doors and turn off the lights. They hooked up intercoms in their homes so they could easily communicate with each other, but everyone had to keep it a secret. If Ken found out that anyone was helping Lois and Bo, they were the next target. He even threatened the minister.

Tim Warren, minister of the Christian Church, visited Bo when he had been in the hospital. When he got home, the phone rang and a male voice told him not to see Bo again. They said, “If you don't mind your own business, we'll have to hurt you.” Tim Warren said it's my job, I have to help him and he was told, “you're going to be sorry.” Two days later, the minister stopped by to visit Lois and comfort her. His phone rang when he got home and these threats are WILD. When he answered, he heard, “I told you to mind your own business, and now we're going to take your little boy and kill him and throw him out in pieces in your front yard.” The minister recognized the voice this time as Ken McElroy. He received a call 20 minutes later and Ken said, “We're going to get you, you fat son of a bitch!” After this call, the minister loaded his guns and made sure he had one with him at all times, under his pillow, in his car, it was always near. 

The minister continued to frequently stop by Bo and Lois's home and he received daily threatening calls. The caller always said really vulgar things and during one, he said, “If you keep on minding other people's business instead of your own, we're gonna rape your wife in front of you, and then we're gonna cut your little boy's sex organs off and make him eat them while you watch.” “We're gonna tie you up and cut him into little pieces, and then all of us are gonna fuck your wife in front of you, and then we're gonna kill her.” On another occasion, the caller said, “I'm going to come over and castrate you, and then I'm going to cut your little boy up in pieces and feed him to you while you're laying there bleeding from the castration, we're going to send you the pieces of your wife's body in an envelope, and you're going to know that we're killing her bit by bit. It's too late now, you fat son of a bitch. You pushed me too far.” The minister had enough and said, if you're so brave, do it. 

Ken kept himself very busy with driving around, threatening people and calling them. He continued to contact Richard Stratton, the cop that arrested him. Since he was listening to the scanner, he was easily able to determine when Richard was on duty, so the calls kept happening when he wasn't home and his wife was alone. The caller would tell Margaret that her husband wasn't going to be alive to testify. They also described her two daughter's homes, the ages of their children, the schools the children attended and the caller knew the addresses of their babysitters. The voice warned Margaret, “If your husband testifies at the trial, several members of your family are going to die.”

One of Richard's daughter's, Pam, worked at a discount store. After Ken had been arrested, he started showing up at her store. He would fill a basket full of stuff, then walk out empty handed as Pam would ring up the items. So, he was basically just being a huge pain in the ass by making her rings stuff up, cancel the order, and put it all away. His other daughter Vicki worked as a nurse at the hospital and she saw Ken standing in the hallways on the floor she worked. He also started a fight with a man in town named Kriss and he said it was because his mother worked at the courthouse. Kriss ended up carrying a gun everywhere he went for months and finally ended up moving away. 

When he left, Ken turned his attention to the marshal, David Dunbar. Ken ran into him and said, “Are you going to testify against me at the trial?” David said, “I have to, it's my job.” Ken replied, “I'll have to kill anybody who'd put me in jail for the rest of my life.” Ken was drunk and causing a bit of a scene, so David decided he should call this in to the dispatcher and he said that Ken was pulling guns on people and he might kill someone. The response was, ok, just don't provoke him. The dispatcher said, “If we arrest him, he'll just be back on the streets in two hours. Just observe him and make sure he doesn't kill anybody.” David was blown away. He said, “You mean you're just going to let him run around loose tonight?” The responder said to just keep an eye on him because there's not much they could do. Ken was listening to every damn word of this conversation in his truck, so there really was nothing David could do.

The next morning, David Dunbar went to city hall, turned in his badge and formally resigned as marshal. Who could blame him? He was threatened and he wasn't allowed to do anything about it. The date of the trial was approaching and Ken was desperately trying to get Bo Bowenkamp to drop the case about the grocery store shooting. He continued to drive by his home and he also started dropping by the grocery store and scaring the customers, so business at the store was dropping off. 

The preliminary hearing began on August 18th, 1980. The judge found that there was reasonable cause to believe that Ken committed the crime of felony assault in the first degree, so the next court date was set for September 5th. Ken's attorney got a change of venue granted and they came up with a list of 20 people that would be called to testify. Ken was present at each deposition and he would stare them down. 

On September 13th, Ken and Trena found themselves in trouble again. Trena was backing out of a parking lot and she almost hit another vehicle. The woman gave her the finger and yelled asshole and the next thing she knew, Ken and Trena were tearing off after her. When police arrived, they saw a gun pointing out the driver's window of Ken's vehicle. Officer Rostock said, “Kenny, you're under arrest, and if you touch that gun I'll blow your fuckin head off!” Ken was arrested and while he was being booked, his wife Trena was sitting with the victims acting all sweety pies and apologizing for Ken's behavior. A felony complaint was filed charging Ken with violating state law by “exhibiting a deadly weapon, in a rude, angry and threatening manner.” He could face 5 years if convicted and he should have been charged for carrying a loaded weapon, but he wasn't. He was released that afternoon on a $10k bond. Ken decided to pay the victims a visit and told them that if they testified, their house would be burned down. 

The two victims completely changed their story to say that they were not intimidated by Ken and he had never approached their vehicle or pointed a gun at them. The judge was still able to move forward with the trial based on the testimony from officer Rostock. The trial was also coming up for Ken since he had shot Bo. His wife Lois was desperate to get any help they could, so she wrote to her state representative, Truman Wilson and the letter was forwarded to the Missouri Department of Public Safety. The department's executive director F. M. Wilson, wrote back and basically said there was nothing they could do. He acknowledged that Ken McElroy had a record of arrests dating back to the 1950's, but he had never been convicted. Lois tried sending a letter to Senator Eagleton and he said he would not interfere in the affairs of the attorney general. The attorney general said his office didn't have jurisdiction and this was a matter for the local law enforcement. Lois tried sending a letter to Governor Teasdale, but never received a response. 

One night, someone broke into a feed and chemical store and took about $20k worth of chemicals. On the police radio, they mentioned that Ken McElroy was the top suspect and he was listening. So, the police received a letter from Ken's lawyer saying they can't broadcast his client's name in connection with a burglary. They had to send a letter with an apology and Ken proudly showed it off to everyone in town because he thought it was hilarious. 

I mentioned earlier that while Ken was waiting for his trial, he had to stay out of trouble and obviously that wasn't happening. He had violated his bond by having a felony charge filed against him. Judge Donelson ordered the bond be forfeited and a new bond was sent for $40k, but he didn't have to pay this and he didn't spend any time in jail. It just meant that his mother and brother had to show up and sign a new promise to pay the additional $10k if he failed to appear for trial. There were two additional conditions added to the bond. Ken could not carry firearms on his person or in his vehicle. They also gave him a list of counties that he could be in and said he couldn't travel outside of that. Unfortunately, the judge made a large error. The travel restrictions accidentally prohibited Ken from going to Clay County which is the location of his lawyer's office, so it left Ken with a loophole to delay the case again.

It's not like he was actually going to follow the rules anyways, but it still gave him another way to mess shit up. He continued driving around town, terrorizing people and shooting his guns at night and the police did nothing, but they were feeling the stress too. Officer Stratton used his radio less frequently and began calling home before leaving work and he pulled people over less often too. 

The trial started on December 12th. This was because Ken pointed a gun at a couple during a driving incident. The two victims said it was all a misunderstanding and they were all friends now. The trial was over in a day and the jury came back with a verdict of not guilty. One of the jurors later explained that he didn't believe Ken's story at all and he knew the two victims were lying, but he figured, if the victims didn't give a shit, then why should he? No witness, no case.

Now, Ken just had to worry about the trial for the grocery store shooting and he was trying to pay people to murder Bo so they could just move on from the whole thing. He became a giant black cloud hanging over the town. The tavern started closing at 6PM, people didn't go to the grocery store after a certain time of the day and children had to be home by 4. The streets were all empty by dinnertime. Ken spent his time going to different events around town looking for people on his list. He was carrying a list of names that had the potential jurors. He was finding people that knew them and asking them to deliver a message. He would pay them a thousand dollars to make sure there was a hung jury. No one would ever have to know. They would just find money in their mailbox after the trial and that would be it! He didn't know it then, but the messages were never delivered to the jurors. Besides looking for jurors, he also hired some boys to find snakes to put in the jurors mailboxes, but the boys ended up backing out of the deal. 

The trial started on June 25th. Bo told the story about the grocery story shooting and he didn't waiver when they asked tricky questions such as, “Isn't it possible that you fell backwards after you were shot?” Or “Isn't it possible that you are confused about where you were standing.” Bo said it was not possible. He knew exactly what happened. Ken did testify and he said that on the day of the shooting, his truck broke down and he was waiting for the engine to cool. Bo came at him with a knife and he feared for his life, so he grabbed his gun and only meant to scare him when he shot the gun over his head. He never imagined that he actually hit Bo.

The jurors deliberated and the verdict was guilty of second-degree assault and he received a two year sentence and Ken was told that he had 30 days to file a motion for a new trial. With good behavior, he could serve less than 8 months. This really had a lot to do with the way things were presented during the trial. The decision was based solely off this incident and the jurors were given no information about Ken's criminal history. To them, it appeared to be a situation where Ken lost his temper and shot Bo and it was an isolated incident. Shortly after being released from court, two deputies told the jurors who Ken McElroy really was and told them about his past. They felt completely bamboozled and some of them were pissed because they weren't given the full story and they were responsible for letting him walk out a free man. 

Missouri law allowed the defendant 25 days to file a motion for a new trial and you had to show reasons why the judge should overturn the jury's verdict. This would allow the judge to correct any mistakes that could have been made. After the motion is filed within the 25 days, it could take months for the judge to review and file a written decision. So, the verdict wasn't final until the court entered a judgement and the the defendant is free during this whole time. 

Ken showed up at the tavern that afternoon to do a little bragging. He said that he had been fighting prosecutors since he was 13 and he was almost 50. He had been arrested for over 53 felonies and this was the first one he had ever lost, but he knew he would appeal and get off, just like he always did. Imagine how defeated the town felt. During Ken's trial, businesses had been open again and everyone was able to live their lives. Now they were going back to hiding. Ken did actually realize that things were different this time. Some business owners asked him to stop coming in because the place would clear out when he walked in the door. There were whispers around town that people wanted to shoot Ken, so he and his wife Trena signed legal documents granting his previous wife, Alice custody of their children if something happened.

Ken's attitude had changed. He tried to prepare his family for his death. He told Trena that when he died, he wanted her to take the girls and leave Skidmore because they people wouldn't let her stay there. He talked to his girls and told them where he wanted to be buried. He headed to the tavern and showed everyone a rifle. He announced that he was going after Bo again and he was going to shoot him in the face, then roll him over and rip him open from his ass up his spine to his neck. Finally, a former army officer stood up and said, “Like hell you will.” Up until this point, the town had kind of shunned Bo after the attack. Everyone stayed far away from him and refused to help because they didn't want to become Ken's next target. 

The former army officer, Pete, walked home and grabbed his high-powered rifle and stood at the corner of the gas station. If Ken was going after Bo, he would have to get through Pete first. It was this one act of defiance against Ken that gave the community a small sense of power. Some of them even signed a petition to have Ken arrested. He was possessing a gun in a public place and showing it off which was a felony in Missouri. This of course just added fuel to the fire because Ken wanted to destroy every person that signed the petition. His lawyer did tell him he was not allowed to go into skidmore anymore, but Ken said he wasn't afraid of anyone. 

Since Pete stood up to Ken, he decided to take things further. He went around and talked to all the farmers in town and explained why they needed to work together instead of hiding. They had a town meeting and many of them chipped in and they came up with $500 to call an attorney and get some advice. The meeting was chaotic because emotions were running so high. There were 100 people that attended and that's almost every adult in Skidmore. 

Even the sheriff was at the meeting. The townspeople clearly expressed their unhappiness and they were worried about their safety. They planned to put a group together to start patrolling the streets to keep track of Ken. Instead of clearing out of a place when Ken showed up, they would band together. They would have a network of people using radios to contact each other and if Ken showed up, someone would radio the others to send backup. Since Ken could listen to their radio transmissions, they came up with a code. If someone said, let's go and have a beer, that means Ken is here, send help. 

Ken found out about the town meeting and decided if it was about him, he should be part of it. Everyone left the meeting and followed him to the tavern. They were supposed to watch him for the next ten days as they waited for the hearing, that was the agreement. When they left the tavern, one of the men, grabbed his gun and shot Ken in the face. Eight to ten shots had been fired, but only two of them hit Ken. Jack Clement grabbed Trena and rushed her to safety. She had been sitting in the truck next to Ken, so she had blood spattered on her and tiny slivers of broken glass were in her hair. When it was all over, most of the townspeople headed home. Red cleaned up his tavern and about an hour after the shooting, he called the sheriff.

When the police finally arrived, they confirmed that Ken was dead. Trena positively identified the killer as Del Clement and she refused to take a polygraph test. Police examined the crime scene. The first bullet had shattered the rear window in the cab and penetrated Ken's lower neck or base of his skull, and blood had splattered on the top of the seat. There was a fine red mist which is referred to as high-speed blood, which sprayed the roof of the cab and the slivers of glass in the rear window. The bullet went through his mouth, tearing through his tongue, his teeth and his gums, then it exited through his lower left cheek.

The blast blew the unlit cigarette, along with chunks of his teeth and flesh, onto the dashboard. The slug shattered the driver's window and went through a small hut a few yards away. Another shot followed a similar path, but missed Ken. The high-powered rifle fired at least two more shots that went into the side of the truck bed and hit the metal wall of the cab. The second shot that hit Ken came from a .22 and the shot went through the rear window, knocking out more glass and went through the upper part of his skull and blasted through his brain. This bullet was the cause of Ken's death. At least two more shots were fired from the .22 and hit the side of the pickup and other shots were fired into the windows. There were two small unexplained wounds in the back of Ken's neck that may have been from pellets, so there could have been a third shooter. There were spider web cracks in the front windshield that look similar to what BB'S would do.

When Ken was shot, his foot slammed down on the gas pedal, so the engine was maxed out and started smoking. Then the engine blew and it was just silence. 

The investigation began and police started questioning everyone in town, but they all said the same thing, I didn't see anything. Everyone kept repeating that they didn't know who killed him and they didn't want to know. One morning, the KMA radio station mentioned that Ken McElroy had been murdered and they said the entire town had killed him. They used the word vigilante and that's when it all started. That Saturday, the newspaper had the headline: Farmer Shot To Death In Apparent Vigilante Attack and from there, it spun into a national story. Everyone heard about the small community that killed the town bully.

Reporters from all over descended upon the town and wanted to get quotes from the people, but they didn't want the truth, they wanted to push the vigilante story, so everyone stopped talking. Trena did tell the Times that there was a conspiracy to kill her husband. She said that when they left the tavern to get in the truck, the crowd was closing in on them and a man across the street started shooting. It was a set up and the town had been having secret meetings.

In reality, some people in the community were pissed that Ken had been murdered because they had agreed that they would not harm him when they had their town meeting. They were glad he was gone, but they didn't want to lie about who did it. By Sunday evening, the police had investigated 35 leads and all 35 people saw nothing and heard nothing. Ken had taught them all one valuable lesson. No witness, no case. As police pressed people more, the residents began giving some alternate theories about what happened. Some women said they saw a long black car with two or 3 men inside and they were wearing dark pinstripe suits and they were driving down the main street before the killing, maybe it was them?

One woman claimed that it was actually Danny Estes (es-tess), the sheriff that fired the first shot at Ken. Danny was the sheriff that showed up at the town meeting and saw how upset everyone was and he knew that Ken had showed up in town because they ended the meeting and everyone started heading towards the tavern where Ken was. The sheriff knew there was a problem and he claimed that he just simply left town, but a witness says she saw Danny fire the first shot from a roof and then he was the first one to arrive on the scene. 

Others saw the men in suits in the cafe drinking coffee that morning. Some people said it could have been Ken's mobster friends from Kansas City that murdered him, but others said it could be his lawyer McFadin. Maybe Ken knew too much about his alleged dealing with the Kansas City mob? Either way, they didn't know who it could be. There were 24 officers that had been assigned to working this case and they couldn't believe that they didn't have any information when there were 40-50 witnesses. 

By Friday night, the cops had narrowed it down to one farmer that they believed was the one who shot Ken with the shotgun. He was handcuffed and interrogated and eventually named two people. He agreed to a polygraph test, but after they got him all hooked up, he changed his mind. The following day, the officers interrogated another man and he gave a 3 page, notarized statement about what happened and his story matched Trena's statement that Del Clement was one of the shooters. The next day, this man showed up with an attorney, the same one representing Del Clement and he said he was under duress and the statement wasn't true.