McElroy Prosecutor Defeated in Primary

   David Baird was a few months out of law school when he was appointed country prosecutor in Nodaway County, Missouri. A few months later, he tried Ken Rex McElroy for the shooting of an elderly grocer in nearby Skidmore. He obtained a conviction–the only prosecutor in Nodaway or surrounding counties to do so–and McElroy was sentenced to two years in prison. On July 10, 1981, McElroy was shot to death as he sat in his truck on the main street of Skidmore. Baird convened a grand jury and despite the testimony of Trena McElroy, Ken’s wife, that she saw Del Clement shoot her husband, no indictment was issued. A federal grand jury also failed to issue an indictment.

  Baird won has won election to the prosecutor’s post every four years since. He recently lost a Democratic primary by 25 votes. He told the Kansas City Star that maybe he had been there too long. 

  Baird was helpful to me when I was investigating the crime for my book In Broad Daylight. The suspicion always was that Baird didn’t indict Del Clement for the murder because either (1) He thought the town did the right thing, or (2) He was worried about his re-election if he did. I doubt either of those are true. I think Baird didn’t go forward, as he says, because he didn’t have the evidence–the evidence necessary to obtain a conviction of McElroy’s killer in Nodaway County. The evidence in those days would had to have been overwhelming to get a conviction from a local jury. With an acquittal, the defendants could not be charge again at a later time if new evidence developed. It would have been a circus, and while I think Baird had the stomach for it, he wasn’t inclined to go through it all if he thought he might end up with an acquittal at the end;. 

  When I returned to Skidmore a few years ago to take a new look at the case for the 25 year anniversary edition of the book, Baird was again helpful. He arranged for me to see the original investigatory files. But a long time has passed since the day McElroy was shot to death. His secretary had never heard of McElroy or the story of his killing. 

   So now the primary shooter, Del Clement, is dead, and the man who would have prosecuted him, David Baird, will soon be out of office. What’s next in this story that never seems to end? Is there a reality TV show in the works?

4 thoughts on “McElroy Prosecutor Defeated in Primary

  1. Harry, this post gave me an excellent opportunity to give my youngest niece some grief. My sister attended NWMSU in the ’70s and has lived in Nodaway County for over 40 years. ( More on a McElroy connection in another post ) Her youngest daughter worked as an assistant for Dave Baird for a couple of years before going on to Tulsa Law. When I saw what you said about the secretary, I immediately got on the phone with the niece. After the initial perfunctories, I asked her “What’s the big idea of never having heard of Ken McElroy when that author came to the office looking for the files?” She didn’t have a clue what I was talking about. I read that portion of your post, and she said that no author of a book on McElroy had ever come in and talked to her. I told her I didn’t believe her. She asked what year this supposedly happened, and I told her 2010, the year Baird was defeated. She replied, ( rather in a huff ) “Well, Uncle Tom, if you recall, I had quit there and was getting ready for my third year of law school at that time!” I apologized and gave her a lame story about age, forgetfulness, and all the years seeming to pass too fast and all blend together. She said, “I understand.” I said “No you don’t, you’re only 32, but trust me, you WILL eventually understand!” Then I confessed that I had known she was gone by then all along. Not to mention she’s always been sharp and alert, knows what’s going on, and I knew she’d heard of the McElroy case. Anyway, thanks for the post. I am always looking for an excuse to rattle her chain whenever I can.

  2. My sister went out and campaigned hard for Dave Baird in that primary. Was quite torqued that he lost, and still is 4 years later. According to her, Rice has successfully prosecuted 1 ( ONE ) felony case in his almost 4 years. She might well be right, she’s not one to exxagerate, but even if there’s a couple she’s unaware of and it’s actually 2 or 3, that’s still kind of abysmal. I assume she’s right; she still knows people in that office and the niece stays in touch. Seems as if Rice encouraged cross-over voting ( which I’ve always wished they’d do away with ) knowing Baird’s primary opponent wouldn’t stand a chance against him. And there may have been somewhat of an anti-Democrat backlash that year due to Obamacare, although I’ve always thought that the D or the R before your name doesn’t matter so much at the very local level. But I could be wrong, perhaps to just enough folks, it does. Baird only wanted to do that one more term and then he was going to retire. His plans were forced on him four years earlier than he wished.

  3. I just read your post again and realized I misread something. The post was from 2010, but you would have been in the office in 2006. (25th anniversary of McElroy shooting) That would have been at the time she was working for him. I don’t think she was his secretary as much as a general assistant, so it must have been the other woman in the office, who I believe was not a native of the county if it’s who I’m thinking of. I know that my niece had heard of the case; she has always been extremely bright and in touch with goings-on. You’d have to be to become a lawyer, right? She is working as an assistant prosecutor in Sedgwick County ( Wichita ) Kansas, dealing with Child Advocacy. Extremely time-consuming, not to mention frustrating, work for her on pretty much a daily basis.

  4. Some people in the county are so disgusted with Rice’s lack of performance, they have suggested to my niece that she move back to Nodaway and run against him! She says she needs a lot more experience first, and then maybe someday, but probably not. I think if she ever wanted it she might have a chance, and might be good at it; she’s a tiger when she sees injustice.

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