Town bully is dead -- Skidmore will never be the same


SKIDMORE, Mo. -- Town bully Kenneth Rex McElroy is causing as much commotion in this small farm community dead as he did alive.

For most of his 47 years the man they called 'Ken Rex' was known throughout the northwest Missouri town of 438 as a scrapper, a livestock thief with a fondness for big bankrolls, young women, guns and beer.


Since his death, folks say they can sleep a little easier. But it's hardly business as usual in Skidmore.

Lawmen, television crews and reporters have prowled the crumbling asphalts streets and gravel roads since July 10 when McElroy was surrounded outside a pool hall by about 60 townspeople -- a group what some have termed a vigilante gang.

While his 24-year-old wife watched, someone pulled out a deer rife and shot 'Ken Rex' once in the head. The terror of Nodaway County fell over dead.


More than 100 people have been interviewed by various law enforcement personnel, said Jim Kish, investigator for the county sheriff's department. Some of them have been questioned five or six times.

Six of them appeared Tuesday at the coroner's inquest. Six more sat on the jury that found McElroy was murdered 'by person or persons unknown.'

Many more will be questioned by the FBI. Should a grand jury investigation be instituted as requested by the widow's attorney, they'll all be called again. When that's over, the attorney said, if no one has been arrested, he'll conduct his own investigation and bring civil charges.

But while everyone is being questioned, no one is talking.

Except for McElroy's wife, Trena. She repeatedly has identified her husband's slayer to police, she has identified him before the coroner's jury. So far, no one has been arrested.

'It's not that I don't believe Mrs. McElroy,' said prosecutor David Baird. 'We need evidence beyond a reasonable doubt and we don't have that yet. Homicide is a very serious charge.'

The young attorney has been prosecutor for three months. He said he expects he will some day have the evidence he seeks, but doesn't known when. When the time comes, that evidence will have to be strong enough to get a conviction from a jury in Nodaway County. The accused is unlikely to seek a change of venue.


Then there are the witnesses. Baird said the 60 or so people standing on the sidewalk and staring into McElroy's truck at the time of his murder all claim they looked the other way or hit the ground at the sound of gunfire.

Most of them had come from a meeting at the American Legion Hall where they discussed with Sheriff Danny Estes how to make the town safe from McElroy. The group included the town mayor and the postmaster.

Mrs. McElroy, Ken Rex's wife of eight years, has gone into hiding with six of his children. She claims she was told to stay out of town, that she and the children are next.

Mrs. McElroy and her attorney contend it was a vigilante killing, that McElroy was set up and that authorities are not particularly interested in finding his killer.

'He told me they were after him, that they were having meetings about getting him, but we just didn't believe the rumors,' she said.

'We feel very strongly that there should be full cooperation with the press because that way we can focus attention on this matter. Otherwise the investigation may just wither away,' said her attorney, Richard G. McFadin.


So Mrs. McElroy and McFadin have talked and talked -- to reporters, to television neworks, to Britain's BBC, to Columbia Pictures which wants to make a movie, to others who want to write books.

'I just want to see justice done, Mrs. McElroy said. 'I want to see the killer behind bars so I can come out of hiding with my children.'

In Skidmore, TV crews and reporters are as welcome as the summer heat.

'I'll talk to you,' Birt Johnson said to a reporter, stepping out from under the awning of his Skelly service station half a block away from the tavern, 'but only about the good things in town. Like our Punkin Festival next month.'

Across the street at Sumy Conoco, Harry Sumy said McElroy had pushed the town to the brink.

'I think anybody could have shot him without blinking an eye,' he said.

Outside the family, few mourn for Ken Rex, one of the 14 McElroy kids, the one who dropped out of school in the sixth grade and 'just went bad.'

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