It’s been 35 years since Ken McElroy was gunned down in broad daylight on the main drag in the small town of Skidmore, Missouri. In those three-and-a-half decades, no one in Skidmore has ever been charged with McElroy’s murder, even though he was murdered in front of dozens of locals.

What may seem like a senseless killing to outsiders was in fact a case of vigilante justice, as the residents of Skidmore had endured Ken McElroy’s violent bullying for years. But the question still remains: Who actually pulled the trigger that ended the bully’s reign in this rural Missouri farm town?

Years after his death, people still vividly recall the fear that McElroy left behind in Skidmore. One resident, who’s father was shot by McElroy, said, “No one has any idea what a nightmare we lived.”

McElroy had been terrorizing people in Skidmore for years. He was a large, menacing man, and he used his size to his advantage. He was charged over and over again with crimes as varied as theft, arson and statutory rape, but he always managed to escape the long arm of the law – mainly because he intimidated and terrorized witnesses until they refused to testify against him. Townspeople cowered in fear of McElroy, and he abused his self-appointed power, threatening anyone who got in his way.

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In 1976, a Skidmore farmer claimed McElroy shot him with a shotgun. In the lead-up to the court case, the farmer told authorities that McElroy parked outside his home at least 100 times, attempting to intimidate him. Yet that case, too, was thrown out.

Eventually, the people of Skidmore became fed up with McElroy’s bullying, and things reached a boiling point: McElroy shot Bo Bowenkamp, a 70-year-old grocer, in the neck. Bowenkamp had accused one of McElroy’s children of stealing from his store and had argued with McElroy’s wife, so, in retaliation, McElroy began stalking the elderly grocer and his family. When Bowenkamp confronted McElroy, McElroy shot him. McElroy was arrested and charged with attempted murder, but, regardless of the violent nature of his crime, he was released on bail.

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Upon his release, McElroy went to the local tavern with a rifle and told everyone there that he planned to finish off Bo Bowenkamp. But the people of Skidmore had finally had enough. On July 10, 1981, concerned citizens met at the local Legion Hall with the sheriff to discuss McElroy and how they could protect themselves from his attacks and bullying. Word spread in the hall that McElroy and his wife, Trena, were drinking at the local tavern, and, when the meeting finished, Skidmore’s townspeople descended on the bar, packing inside until it was brimming full.

McElroy and Trena decided to leave, so he purchased a 6-pack to go and went outside to his truck. The people in the bar followed. As McElroy was sitting in his truck, in broad daylight, shots rang out. Between 30 and 60 people watched as Ken McElroy was shot and killed – by two different guns. After the gunfire ceased, the citizens of Skidmore simply walked away. No one called for an ambulance. McElroy’s wife Trena was not injured.

Photo Credit: Kansas City Star

Remarkably, not one person in Skidmore – except for Trena – ever identified a gunman in McElroy’s murder. No one was charged with the crime. McElroy’s former attorney believes that “the town got away with murder.” Years later, Bo Bowenkamp’s daughter told the New York Times, “Once the shroud of silence fell, there was going to be no one talking. We were so bitter and angry at the law letting us down that it came to somebody taking matters into their own hands.”

And they got away with it.

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