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?