I was a bored lawyer in Denver when the story of the “vigilante killing of the town bully” in Skidmore, Missouri, hit the national wires. I had written short stories in college, and ever since law school I had told myself that one day I would write a book. This was it: I had grown up in the Midwest, and I understood small towns. It was now or never. I was initially as fascinated by the cover-up, the absolute silence of the town about the killing, as I was the reign of terror or the killing.
I loaded up my car, drove across Nebraska, and found the small town nestled in the hills of northwest Missouri. I parked in front of Mom’s café, and went inside for a cup of coffee. Three tables of farmers fell stone silent when the screen door slammed behind me. I sat alone at the counter for several minutes, until I realized I wasn’t going to get waited on. I heard the voices resume as the screen door banged on my way out.
That’s the way it was in the beginning. I had doors slammed in my face. I had a shotgun pulled on me. I was bitten by a dog, who took a small chunk out of my leg. Pick-ups parked behind me at the local tavern. People suspected I was undercover FBI. Several writers had come to town looking for a story, and the town waited for me to leave like they had, with nothing but bad facts and clichés. But I stayed.
Gradually, the town began to accept me. I drank at the bars in Maryville with the locals. I bought drinks for the mayor. I attended the tractor pulls and school concerts. I drank whiskey and went coon hunting with McElroy’s friends in the dead of night. I set lines for catfish in the Nodaway River. I stayed for weeks on end, hoping people would get used to me.
I hooked up with Kriss Goslee, son of Q and Margaret Goslee, a highly respected farm family on the edge of Skidmore. Kriss had interviewed many of the participants in hopes of writing his own story. The Goslee family accepted me into their home and family. I had my own seat at the table, my own bedroom, and parking spot under the walnut tree. Q and Margaret and their four boys opened doors in the community for me, and slowly, piece-by-piece, I began to get the story. By the time I finally left four years later, I was selling tickets for the Mother’s Day Bazaar at the Methodist Church and serving as a judge at the dance contestant during the annual “Punkin’ Show.” I remember, standing on the stage during the contest, watching as the two alleged killers and their wives two-stepped in front of me. I shook my head at how strange it had all become. I had become more comfortable in Skidmore than in my hometown of Denver.
The townspeople by and large liked “In Broad Daylight.” When strangers come to town asking about McElroy—where his truck was, where the killers were standing—they tell them to read the book. The locals didn’t care that much for the movie of the same name: it didn’t tell the whole story of who McElroy was and what he had done to their community before he was killed. A common sentiment in town is: “They should give the killers a medal for what they done, but they should string ’em up for the way the way they done it.”
I go back to Skidmore every summer or two, and stay with the Goslees and visit the many friends I made there over the years. I promised them I would tell the true story of what happened in their town, and I tried to do that, and it’s important that they not feel I walked away once the book was completed.