On every visit to Skidmore I learn something new about the place. Even after all these years, I see something I’ve never seen before, or somebody tells me something I’ve not heard before. Last weekend, my almost-annual visit to Skidmore, was no different.
The year before we were marking the 30th anniversary of the killing of Ken Rex McElroy. This year I wanted to spend time with Margaret Goslee, who just turned 93, and visit other friends in the area.
Things seemed pretty much as usual: Kirby Goslee was waiting for the ground to dry so he could get in the fields and combine corn; Kermit was holding an auction on Saturday; Margaret was staying close to home, but still cooking meals for the hands, and for me. On Saturday I met three women who had come to town to chat and have their copies of “In Broad Daylight” signed. Two, Dawna Beam and Grace Tomlinson, had drive up from the Springfield area. Susan Cronk, the daughter of a former sheriff of Nodaway County, Roger Cronk, had driven over from Maryville. We took pictures, stood in the sun on the main street in the autumn sun and checked out those who were checking us out as they drove in pick-ups down the street.
The town, I began to see, was in somewhat of a state of confusion. After a long decline due to population loss and businesses closing, there has been some effort to bring the town back, and one man is primarily behind the effort. A few years ago he had reopened Sumy’s gas station at the top of the hill, and recently he had reopened the tavern, formerly the infamous D & G Tavern (for Del and Greg Clement), and renamed it the Skidmore Café. He had even torn up the wrecked sidewalk in front of the café and installed a nice smooth stretch of cement. The café, in which McElroy used to play pool and sit at the bar and drink, and in which he and Trena were sitting just minutes before he was killed, had been closed for years. This man had renovated it, knocking down walls, putting in a new kitchen and windows, and painting it. (He left the cement floor and the pine paneled walls like they were in 1981). There hasn’t been a breath of fresh air like this in Skidmore in 30 years.
The problem is, the man is a registered sex offender. There have been vicious fights about him on Facebook. Many people claim he is no good for the area; others insist he had been unfairly convicted; still others argued that he should be given a chance, that he was doing good things for Skidmore. This morning, pick-ups were lined up in front of the café. Dawna, Grace and Susan and I went inside for lunch, and the place was bustling with customers and help. Locals were eating there, and locals were working there. Still, there was talk. I shook my head; nothing was ever simple in Skidmore.
I have almost in the can the upcoming e-book release of “About In Broad Daylight, the Story Behind the Book,” and on this trip I wanted to find a photo cover for it. I had expected it to be a task of several hours, but Dawna and Grace quickly spotted the run-down facade of the Skidmore library on the main street. I posed next to it, in the mid day sun, and in a few minutes we had what we needed.
The other photo I wanted for “About In Broad Daylight” was one of the man accused of being the primary shooter of Ken McElroy—Del Clement. Del had denied the act, of course, but, as I detail in “About In Broad Daylight,” the evidence was pretty convincing. (Del had died a serious alcoholic a few years back.) In all that had been written about the killing and his role in it over the years, I didn’t remember seeing a photo of him. I had found a photo of him as an auctioneer, in his white cowboy hat, in a newsletter, but it was a little grainy. I wanted one from his high school yearbook.
On my last afternoon in town, a classmate of Del’s brought a copy of the 1972 Nodaway Holt yearbook to the farm. Del was a senior that year, and sure enough there was picture of him as a fresh-faced lad, and another one of him in a play in makeup and dressed in full cowboy regalia. The fellow who brought the yearbook said he had something else he wanted to show me, and he flipped a few pages and suddenly my eyes fell on a familiar face: Trena McCloud, as a freshman, pretty, open, innocent. I felt a shock of intense rage at Ken McElroy for what he was about to do to her, for the ruin he was about to visit upon this young girl, and for those who over the years had told me what in fact a good guy he was.
Something else hit me: Trena was in high school at the same time as Del. She had to know who he was. There were only 120 kids in the school. People used to discount Trena’s unwavering identification of Del as the shooter by saying she was just a kid and probably confused Del with someone else, maybe one of his five brothers. But the yearbook showed that one of the brothers was in her class, and another was in the class behind her. She had been going to school with them for years. She knew who Del Clement was. In those small towns, everybody knew everybody, and you sure would know the other kids in school. Del, after all, had been standing only a few yards away when she turned in her seat in the truck and saw him raise the rifle to his shoulder.
Over the years, a tiny doubt had lingered in my mind over the years as to who shot Ken McElroy. Now it was erased. The photos of Del Clement, Ken McElroy’s alleged killer, and Trena McCloud, McElroy’s wife, only a few pages apart in the same yearbook, had finally convinced me.