Dec. 4, 2022

Ken McElroy // 140 // The town bully // PT 3

Ken McElroy // 140 // The town bully // PT 3

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 2 the town of Skidmore decided to stand up for themselves. They had a town meeting and decided they would all keep an eye on Ken McElroy for the next 10 days while they waited for the hearing, but things didn't work out the way the intended. Ken showed up in town as the meeting was ending and he was shot and killed by at least two people, maybe three. There were about 40-50 witnesses standing around the truck when Ken was shot, but they all said they didn't see anything. Ken's wife Trena had been sitting in the truck next to him when he was murdered and she said Del Clement was one of the shooters. There were a few different theories tossed out by the townspeople. They saw some men in suits were seen that day, maybe it was them? Or it could be Ken's mobster friends from Kansas City? Perhaps it was the sheriff, Danny Estes?

The investigation began and everyone kept repeating that they didn't know who killed Ken and they didn't want to know. The KMA radio stations mentioned that the whole town was responsible for killing Ken and they used the word vigilante. That's when everyone heard about the small community that killed the town bully and it spun into a national story. 

The community had originally tried to protect Trena and they had sympathy for her after Ken had been murdered. If Ken was able to intimidate a whole town, of course he could intimidate his wife. Unfortunately, they really changed their minds about her when she kept running her mouth to the newspapers and she said the town was making up stuff about him. She said, “He was a goodhearted person. He'd help anyone that needed to be helped. He was good to his kids and good to me.” She was asked about all the bad things Ken had been accused of and she said, “They're making most of it up. He was just a man who would stand up for his rights.” Trena denied that Ken had ever harmed her and said, “I was not a victim. We loved each other very much. I've heard those stories, too, about how he threatened my stepdad with a shotgun and burned his house down to get them to let me marry him. It's all lies.” She also said he never stole from anybody.

Ken's daughter, Tammy also defended his actions. She said, “All my life they've blamed him for everything. He was the best father anyone can have. I worshipped the ground he walked on. He took care of his family and loved us all. I don't know how anyone could shoot him down in cold blood.” 

Investigators worked this case as much as they could, but Sergeant Rhoades explained that there had been 90 leads and 90 dead ends. They had been calling the investigator team NOMIS, but they disbanded the group and turned over the files to the sheriff. Trena sent a letter to the FBI, so they stepped in after NOMIS stopped. Trena and Ken's lawyer McFadin were saying that officials had conspired to kill Ken and that deprived him of his civil rights. The government conducted a small investigation to see if Ken's civil rights had truly been violated, but they ended up expanding this into a full field investigation. The town was flabbergasted. Where was all this help when they were being tormented for so long? 

Prosecutor David Baird had a really interesting problem on his hands. He fully understood that the town felt that Ken got what he deserved, but he had an oath to uphold and Trena was clearly stating that Del Clement was one of the shooters, but the 30 to 40 eyewitnesses weren't talking. In Missouri, the law required that a coroner's jury be impaneled whenever a death occurred under suspicious circumstances. The coroner's jury must determine if the death occurred in an unlawful manner, then they need to name the person responsible if possible. If they named someone, that person must be immediately arrested and an indictment filed. If they name no one, the case goes back to Prosecutor David Baird. Eleven days after the murder, the coroner's jury met. Several witnesses testified, but they all said they didn't see who the shooter was. Trena was the final witness and stuck to her story that Del Clement was the shooter. The jury deliberated for 27 minutes and they came back with a verdict. Ken Rex McElroy had died from a felony committed by a person or persons unknown. 

Prosecutor David Baird made it clear that there was absolutely no evidence of a conspiracy or vigilante act, but the news sources clung to this narrative because it was far more interesting. The prosecutor had to decide if they should file criminal charges, but here's the problem. The coroner's jury didn't name Del Clement as the shooter and they only needed to determine there was reason to believe that a person committed a crime. If they didn't have reason to believe it, how on earth could they take this to trial and get a jury to find guilt beyond reasonable doubt? 

If you think the town went back to normal after Ken's death, you'd be wrong. There were so many rumors swirling around afterwards. Ken had many children and they were obviously very upset about his murder. All his family members started showing up to the local bank to close their accounts and a friend of Ken's received a note in the mail that said “This is the only warning you will get. Our bellies are full of your kind. Ken did not pay any attention to leave the county when told to. Get out of this territory while you can. You have been warned. We don't want any thieves or rustlers or troublemakers.” This only sparked more suspicion of a vigilante group. There was also some rumors that Ken's oldest son, Jerome was heading to town from California with a bunch of motorcycle buddies to avenge his father's death. Jerome did have plans to show up in town for the funeral, but his aunt asked him not to come. 

So, let's discuss the grocery store shooting where Ken shot Bo. Ken had been charged, tried, and found guilty of the crime. Since the motion for a new trial hadn't been filed yet, a judgement couldn't be entered by the court. Since the case was still alive, that meant it could be dismissed and if it was dismissed, the records could be sealed. The town heard about about the case being dismissed and the records being closed on the radio. It was another slap in the face. The case against Ken had been thrown out since he had been murdered and he was no longer guilty of second-degree assault for shooting Bo. 

On September 25th, the final day of the grand jury session, Prosecutor Baird announced that the grand jury would not be issuing any indictments for the murder of Ken McElroy. The grand jury heard 45 witnesses in more than 8 days of testimony and they did not find probable cause to return an indictment. The prosecutor criticized the press during his speech and said, “I think the major misconception has been the idea that it was some sort of vigilante killing..a killing by a town, so to speak. The point of view many papers have taken from the very beginning is the vigilante-type killing. That is one area where we've disagreed. The idea that it was a vigilante killing makes a nice story, but I simply feel there is no evidence to confirm that.”

When the grand jury failed to indict, it forever marked Skidmore as the town that killed the town bully. The media portrayed it as the entire town going in to testify that they didn't see anything because they were all in on this vigilante justice. A Kansas City paper called it a “planned execution” that threatened the “destruction of the system of government we have fought for 200 years to maintain. The bullet that killed McElroy was a direct hit at the basis of democracy.” 

As time went on, the story became taboo in Skidmore. No one talked about what happened and if an outsider brought it up, it was shut down immediately. Festival, a band, was touring after the release of a tape called “Just Another Band from Skidmore.” and during their performance, people would always yell out, who shot McElroy. At first, the band thought it was funny and they would all raise their hands and say, I did. They eventually dropped their Skidmore routine all together because it got out of hand. 

The FBI did end up launching a full investigation of the case and they interviewed more than 100 witnesses and issued 60 subpoenas to appear in front of the federal grand jury in Kansas City. The FBI agents tried to fit in with the town, so they dressed up as farmers and wore overalls, scuffed up boots and wrinkled shirts. The town thought this was just laughable. Farmers don't have soft hands. Nothing really came of this investigation and there weren't any charges.

Trena and Alice clung to each other during a lot of this mess and they wanted to make sure their children grew up together, but they ended up severing ties. According to Alice, Ken had always said that he wanted to give the Chevy to his son Juarez and Trena initially agreed to this, but later changed her mind. Alice was also under the impression that she was entitled to some of the money that Trena received for the photos of Ken in People magazine, but that didn't happen. About 10 months after the killing, Trena called Alice to say she was with a new man and he didn't want her to have anything to do with her or her children any longer. Tena married Howard J., but for some reason, there was always a rumor that she was actually with Ken's lawyer. They both denied it, but it does make a good story.

In the fall of 1982, the farmhouse where Ken lived burned down. Some neighbors claim that they saw lightning strike the building in the middle of the night and by morning, only the stone foundation and a few outbuildings remained. Since no complaint was filed, the sheriff didn't have to do an investigation. 

On July 9th, 1984, one day before the 3 year statute of limitations would expire, Trena filed lawsuits in state and federal courts against the city of Skidmore, Nodaway County, Danny, Estes, Steve Peter, and Del Clement for the death of her husband. She alleged that the defendants had knowingly violated Ken's civil rights and she sought $3 million in damages. In the state court she charged the defendants with the wrongful death of her husband and an assault upon herself and sought $6 million, including $2 million for loss of support services and companionship, $3 million in punitive damages due to the reckless nature of the acts, and $1 million for pain and suffering. This blasted the town back into the spotlight.

In February of 1985, Trena provided her deposition and in the book , it was described as a disaster. She wasn't sure of basic information, she was plain wrong about many things and she contradicted herself. The only thing that was the same from her previous testimony was that Del Clement was the one that killed her husband. She said she lied under oath about the rape, arson and molestation charges against Ken McElroy when she was younger, but she insisted that she wasn't lying now. She said that he absolutely never raped her, she made that up because he was still seeing his wife and she was jealous. She also said that he never burned her parent's home down, it was actually faulty wiring that caused it to go up in flames. 

She just wouldn't have been a good witness if this went to trial. After her deposition, Trena decided she didn't want to go through with the lawsuits any longer, so she asked for it to be dropped. She was working with Ken's lawyer McFadin and he felt that they had a strong chance at winning a substantial settlement and he told Trena that the money could go to all of Ken's children, but she said no. Trena eventually agreed to let him try to obtain an out-of-court settlement. 

The lawsuit was settled and Trena received $17,500 from the defendants. Nodaway County paid $12,500, Del Clement paid $3,000 and the town of Skidmore paid $2,000. So, she originally wanted $15 million, but ended up with a whopping total of $17,500 

The amount paid was less than the legal fees would be and the witnesses wouldn't have to testify again or face the possibility of losing. This settlement ended things once and for all. 

In the documentary called No One Saw a Thing, a Skidmore resident, Britt Small, said, “That was the one mistake that they made was that they didn't kill his wife. I would've killed his wife. I probably would've ambushed him in his driveway. I would have waited for him in the cornfield, let him have it in his driveway and then I would have set his house on fire. I would have burned everything.” 

The town was being threatened and tortured on a daily basis. Murder is wrong, but what were they supposed to do? 

Questions still remain. How could an entire town keep quiet for so long? Typically, things fall apart really fast in a murder case if there is one witness, but the whole town witnessed it! Or did they? Does anyone really know what happened? Everyone had a motive. Several people have said that they know exactly who shot Ken in the back, but they know to keep their mouths shut if they want to stay alive. The violence and misfortune didn't stop after Ken was murdered and some people believe that the town is cursed. Most small towns don't see quite as much tragedy as this one has. In fact, the story about Ken McElroy may have launched the town into the media, but this isn't the first time they had been accused of a vigilante-type act.


Raymond Gunn lived in Nodaway County. On January 12th, 1931, in Maryville, Missouri, Raymond Gunn was burnt to death on a schoolhouse after a mob took him from police custody. Raymond was a black man who was accused of murdering a young schoolteacher Velma Coulter on December 16th of 1930. She was discovered dead inside the school by her neighbors and she had stayed late to decorate the classroom for Christmas. She had been badly beaten and the townspeople were furious. Some witnesses came forward and accused Raymond Gunn and said he had an argument with Velma the day prior. He had a bad reputation around town and he was an ex-convict that had already been convicted of an assault against a student. 

He was interrogated for several days and finally confessed even though the evidence didn't really point to him. After he was accused of the crime, he spent a month in police custody, but he was moved several times because there was a threat against his life and they were waiting for his trial to begin. He was returned to Maryville for his indictment and the police basically handed him over to an angry mob and watched as they hauled him away to his death. We still don't even know if this man had anything to do with Velma's death or not. 

When the sheriff arrived, he pulled into the middle of the mob, the mob grabbed Raymond, put a rope around his neck and dragged him to the Garrett Schoolhouse where Velma had been murdered. They brought him to the roof of the school where they cut holes to hang his legs through, chained him up, poured gasoline over him and the school and started the building on fire. Men, women and children witnessed and participated in this lynching. A mother reportedly held her child up so they could have a better view. When photographers showed up, the townspeople broke their cameras so no members of the mob could be exposed. Reporters had questioned Sheriff England and he said he “contemplates no action against leaders of the mob unless ordered to do so by higher authorities.” He said he was aware of several members of the mob, but he didn't reveal their names and allowed them to remain anonymous. 

You can't witness something like this or be part of it and not have some type of psychological damage. That damage gets engrained in your DNA and can pass down for generations. This legacy of vigilante violence was passed down and this was the ancestors of the people involved in Ken's death. 

On October 16th, 2000, Greg Dragoo murdered his girlfriend, Wendy Gillenwater by stomping and beating her to death. Greg was on a methamphetamine high and he beat her with a flashlight. He broke 8 of Wendy's ribs on one side and 6 on the other. There were lacerations all over her face and arms. At some point, Greg actually drug her body down the stairs and outside into the yard. The neighbors saw this and he didn't care, he kept going. Wendy was bleeding everywhere and no one came to help her. As she was taking her last breaths, Greg poured Dawn dishsoap and water down her throat. She died of severe damage to her chest and stomach. Some internet sleuths found evidence suggesting that she was dragged around Skidmore hanging from his car until she died. Wendy's mother was only able to identify her daughter by the rings on her hand. Greg had been beating Wendy for years and no one in town said or did anything. Greg is serving a life sentence at the Western Missouri Correctional Center in Cameron, Missouri.

On April 11th, 2001, 20-year-old Branson Perry disappeared. On the day of the disappearance, he went out to a shed to put away some jumper cables and never returned. His father was in the hospital, so he was cleaning up and getting ready for him to come home. His van and all his belongings were left behind. One of the weirdest things is that he specifically said he was bringing the jumper cables to the shed before the disappearance, but the jumper cables were never found.....until two weeks later. They were found in plain sight, hanging in the shed by the front door. The police said the jumper cables were not there when they originally checked. There's a rumor in town that Brandon was murdered and fed to the hogs. 

One suspect is Jack Wayne Rogers, a former Presbyterian minister. He admitted to killing the “blond-haired man from Skidmore” in an online chatroom and he ended up in prison for child pornography. In the chatroom, Jack Rogers went by the name buggerbutt. Here's how the conversation went and I'll just say anonymous for the other person involved in the chat.

Anonymous: You gotta tell me the whole thing from start to finish. I'm most intrigued.

Buggerbutt: The boy was from Skidmore. He was hitch-hiking when I picked him up. Tied it to a tree with its legs spread.

Prepared a stake for it....

Anonymous: Did it talk and scream?

Buggerbutt: screamed nicely. It broke emotionally and started crying like a baby...begging and pleading

Anonymous: Did it beg you to take the stake out?

This conversation allowed police to launch an investigation and get a search warrant for his home. During the search, they found a leather necklace with a turtle's claw on it and Branson's father said it belonged to his son. Later, it was discovered that this was not his necklace, but he had one very similar. In the documentary they discussed the horrifying rumor about what happened to Branson. There's a rumor that he was tied to a tree naked, a stake was pushed through his genitals and his genitals were cut off and eaten in front of him while he was still alive. Even though this matches up with some information from the chatroom conversation, Jack says he made this all up based off the information he was hearing in the media.

Jack Wayne was also charged for cutting off someone's genitals. Both he and a Boy Scout leader decided to do a makeshift gender reassignment surgery in a hotel room and Jack Wayne Rogers performed the operation. He promised Madison that he could remove their genitals in a 4 hour operation, but it went longer than that, there were complications and the bleeding wouldn't stop. Madison wanted the surgery and said she originally didn't feel like a victim, but changed her mind after prosecutors told her about Jack's criminal history including child porn, cannibalism allegations, and he had a collection of photographs of severed genitals. 

There were rumors about some kind of drug involvement being the cause of Branson's disappearance and law enforcement believed that the the person responsible was from Skidmore. There was a big problem where people were making meth and he fell into the wrong crowd. It is known that Branson was supplying the ingredients to make the drugs. He got in trouble with an officer and it's believed that a kingpin was worried that he might talk. Police found 9 people that they think were involved and they were all interrogated separately. Two of them pointed to the same spot on a map and said that's where he was buried, in an empty field. The police brought some dogs out and they kept hitting on one spot. They walked them out a mile away and started the process over and the dogs brought them back to the same spot. Nine of the ten dogs stopped in the same location, but police were not able to find a body. They did notice that the dirt was packed different in a specific area, so they believe that Branson's body was there and then someone dug it up and moved it. The house where they think he was shot, was burned down before they could investigate. Rumors say that his body was cut up into little pieces and put in the water.

A cousin of Branson Perry's ended up being murdered. 23-year-old Bobbie Jo Stinnett was 8 months pregnant and she was killed on December 16th, 2004. The murderer also cut her baby from the womb. Bobbie Jo's mother was the one who found her and she told 911 operators that she looked like “her stomach exploded.” THE BABY IS SAFE. Bobbie Jo was a dog breeder, so she met Lisa online and she claimed that she wanted to buy a terrier from her. When Lisa went to her home, she strangled Bobbie Jo 2-3 times. Clumps of Lisa's hair, and spots of her blood were found at the scene, so Bobbie Jo definitely put up a good fight. Evidence shows that Bobbie Jo was still fighting back even after her stomach had been cut. Luckily, the baby was found safe in Topeka, Kansas and returned to the father. The police showed up at Lisa's home and she was sitting inside, holding the baby and watching a news story about the murder. Lisa Montgomery had been lying about being pregnant and she had done this many times even though she had her tubes tied 9 years earlier. She called her husband and said she had given birth and he went and picked her up and brought her home.

Lisa told everyone in town that she was pregnant, so she went around and showed the baby off. She went to the diner, she went to the preacher's house, she wanted everyone to see her new baby.

Lisa was sentenced to death by lethal injection and that took place on January 13th, 2021.

All this violence and negativity has really changed the entire town and it's collapsing on itself. The older generation has been dying and the younger generation is moving away. Outsiders don't really show up in the town and they're not welcome anyway because they just want answers to what's going on and the town doesn't want to talk about it. Most of the people that were there on the day that Ken McElroy was killed are dead now. His wife Trena passed away, the sheriff died, and the man that Trena claimed was responsible, Del Clement, drank himself to death afterwards. The community murdered a man in broad daylight and now the town is left with a black cloud that just doesn't seem to lift.