The Death of Ken Rex McElroy–35 year Anniversary

inbroaddaylight_justfront_cover-2McElroyPhoto Several readers have reminded me that tomorrow, July 9, will be the 35th anniversary of the killing of Ken McElroy on the streets of Skidmore, Missouri. “In Broad Daylight,” the story of the killing, was my first book. Although I’ve since moved on to fiction, in “The Joy of Killing,” I think my first book will always mark me as a writer. The story has an almost mythical quality to it, and I’m convinced it will never fade.
A few things are particularly notable: no one on the street that day, has yet to come forward publicly and identify the killers. Many of the people involved in the twenty-year drama are dead, including shooter Del Clement, accused shooter Gary Dowling, the victims of McElroy’s reign of terror, Bo and Lois Bowenkamp, and McElroy’s attorney, Gene McFadin. Many live on, however, including Trooper Richard Stratton, the cop who stood up to McElroy.
The town is fading in vitality. Most businesses have closed. Young people have moved on. Some yards are unkempt and stacked with junk.
The debate continues, as it will forever, about whether justice was done, where the town had the right to take the law into its own hands. Personally, I always sympathized with the town, the situation it found itself in, while being critical of it for not dealing with the situation much earlier. I’m convinced it was not a vigilante killing, in the sense that it was a planned an organized act. The situation blew up, and the predictable happened.

17 thoughts on “The Death of Ken Rex McElroy–35 year Anniversary

  1. “In Broad Daylight” will be timeless. For anyone interested in the true crime genre this is a must read. I imagine the transition from non-fiction to fiction would be a tad difficult, but you handled it flawlessly with “The Joy of Killing”. I hope you continue to write, fiction or non, you are an author that is worth reading.

    Richard Conforti

    • Thanks for your comments and kind thoughts. Transitioning to fiction was an interesting process, requiring kicking into another part of the brain, letting go of the obsession with facts. I’m working on a hybrid now — I worked a year as a prison guard in a max security prison, and I’m writing it part memoir part novel. Tentatively entitled “The Violinist.”
      Thanks gain.

      Harry MacLea

  2. I get the same feeling along the back of my neck when visiting Skidmore the same as I have when I have made a few photographic trips to Mount Carmel in Waco, Texas.

    I have yet to figure out what it is that bothers me so much about the two places, it might just be the mind playing games, but nonetheless it brings about a very uneasy feeling.

  3. I grew up in neighboring oregon mo. Graduated high school in 1981. This was the news of the day. The general belief is the town took care of a problem that had gone on way to long, and yes the law did let them down. The town did what they had to do. The law was scared to do their job. Government by the people, and for the people. Law by the people and for the people as well. My oppinion.

      • Mr. MaClean, I found this site after watching the first part of the Sundance documentary. I was amazed at the fact that this has had such longevity and interest. I was born and raised in Saint Joseph. I hunted around Skidmore, Fairfax, Craig and Mound City for many years, never met anyone connected with the incident or the town. I do know those that did and those that pursued Ken. An immediate family member was Commander at Troop H for many years in the 70’s and I currently live two houses from the gentleman that took over when he retired. I have heard the stories from my family member and he was amazed at Men’s ability to stay out of jail. I played ball with a guy that bought a dog from him that couldn’t find his way home. He took the dog back, tied him up when Ken was gone and stopped payment on the check. He said he slept with a shotgun under the bed until that final day. Shame how that town has had such terrible luck.
        Thanks for your investigation and telling of the book, I think everybody in my family has read it. Have a good day.

    • I’ve read 3/4 of this book and it was a bit too detailed for me with the “corn is five feet tall’ kind of description. I was so glad that when the shooting part finally came, it was long over due in the book and in actual life.

      The media called the man the town “bully.” That man was literally criminally insane. Far, far, far more than a mere “bully.”

      I did question the accuracy of some of the narrative, though. I worked in a funeral home once and the sequence of how the “bullies” body was handled doesn’t make sense at all. To the hospital for determination of death, yes. An autopsy is to determine all about the decedents fate. not just the obvious gun shot wounds but blood alcohol, etc. To take him first for embalming, which involves puncturing the torso and veins with equipment to embalm (and to first drain the blood), doesn’t make sense at it destroys the body and renders an autopsy essentially invalid. The proper sequence I’m certain would have been to the autopsy and then, lastly, to be embalmed.

  4. I grew up near this small town and when I was in high school my best friend and I actually got in his truck after work one night and cruised around town. We were young and stupid and I hate to think what could have potentially happened. I also remember Cpl Stratton he and Cpl Trullinger stopped us for various teen hijinx and we’re both so kind to us.

      • Mr. MacLean; I watched the movie when it aired on TV many years ago. It’s one of those movies you don’t ever forget. A few years ago I took a back road cross country road trip on a Harley. I didn’t realize that part of Missouri was the actual place that the movie was based on. Recently retired I came across your book, which I have yet to read but I been doing the internet thing. I’ve watched the movie twice this week and looked at the “crime” scene pictures I could find. My question is, the shooters were behind McElroy’s truck and his wife was dragged out of the truck when the shooting started why did she not see the shooters? Information I found says she was taken into the bank which was behind the truck not in front of the truck as portrayed in the movie. Was there a delay when the shooting stopped and when she was removed from the vehicle? One shooter was directly behind the truck shooting through the window behind McElroy’s head and the other shooter had to be off to his right, shooting through the slider back glass to hit McElroy. That would place him in front of the post office or the bank.

  5. Mr. MaClean, I found this site after watching the first part of the Sundance documentary. I was amazed at the fact that this has had such longevity and interest. I was born and raised in Saint Joseph. I hunted around Skidmore, Fairfax, Craig and Mound City for many years, never met anyone connected with the incident or the town. I do know those that did and those that pursued Ken. An immediate family member was Commander at Troop H for many years in the 70’s and I currently live two houses from the gentleman that took over when he retired. I have heard the stories from my family member and he was amazed at Men’s ability to stay out of jail. I played ball with a guy that bought a dog from him that couldn’t find his way home. He took the dog back, tied him up when Ken was gone and stopped payment on the check. He said he slept with a shotgun under the bed until that final day. Shame how that town has had such terrible luck.
    Thanks for your investigation and telling of the book, I think everybody in my family has read it. Have a good day.

    • I also watched that first episode and would like to watch the series but I didn’t see the series listed within that website. When I tried, it said episode 2 was not available. ????

  6. Knew someone who was family friends with del clement. They said it was pretty common knowledge he did it and his life was not great after it happened

  7. Mr. MacLean; I watched the movie when it aired on TV many years ago. It’s one of those movies you don’t ever forget. A few years ago I took a back road cross country road trip on a Harley. I didn’t realize that part of Missouri was the actual place that the movie was based on. Recently retired I came across your book, which I have yet to read but I been doing the internet thing. I’ve watched the movie twice this week and looked at the “crime” scene pictures I could find. My question is, the shooters were behind McElroy’s truck and his wife was dragged out of the truck when the shooting started why did she not see the shooters? Information I found says she was taken into the bank which was behind the truck not in front of the truck as portrayed in the movie. Was there a delay when the shooting stopped and when she was removed from the vehicle? One shooter was directly behind the truck shooting through the window behind McElroy’s head and the other shooter had to be off to his right, shooting through the slider back glass to hit McElroy. That would place him in front of the post office or the bank.

    • Trena saw Del Clement raise the gun and begin shooting. She did not see anyone else shooting. The bank was not behind the truck; it was directly up the sidewalk from where the truck was parked. One of the shooters was in fact right in front of the post office.

  8. Finally got around to reading The Story Behind Broad Daylight. I really enjoyed both the book and the follow-up, and Harry most of your writing is even-handed and mature. But I had to say I think your treatment of Del Clement here on the blog is a little petty. It comes off like you didn’t like him because he wouldn’t talk to you. Your statements that it was cowardly to shoot Ken in the back are macho nonsense, and seem out place. Now I didn’t know any of the people involved, and maybe Del was a hothead. But I’m guessing his goal wasn’t to win some tough guy award that day, but to kill Ken McElroy. Shooting him in broad daylight may have been impulsive, but shooting him in the back was the smartest way to do it because Ken never saw it coming. Del had to assume Ken had guns in the truck. Heck, if he did it from the front there very well could have been shots fired both ways and more casualties. After reading the whole story, it’s hard not to conclude that Del Clement saved lives, not just by killing Ken but by doing it so Ken never had a chance to react. Shooting him in the back was smart, not cowardly. You can make the case it would have been smarter not to do it in the middle of town, but I have a lot of respect for what Del did and how he did it. Drunk or not, he had the guts to do what had to be done, and he did it in a way that left zero innocent bystanders.

  9. Harry, I read the book ” In Broad Daylight” and have seen the Movie. The whole story is so sad for anyone involved. I thought there was a man named Charley that you wrote about that had approached Ken with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I would have loved to have heard the conversation. I think he was the true hero of the book. Who knows if a seed was planted in Ken’s heart.that would have changed everything. The truth is Jesus has paid our debts to our creator with his shed blood on the Cross, we only need to believe and trust him. All have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God. The wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life for all who believe. Did Ken believe? Only God knows. The real question is will I believe and share that Good News ?

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