Ken Rex McElroy was a criminal and convicted attempted murderer who resided in Skidmore, Missouri. He was known as "the town bully", and his unsolved murder became the focus of international attention. Over the course of his life, McElroy was accused of dozens of felonies, including assault, child molestation, statutory rape, arson, animal cruelty, hog and cattle rustling, and burglary. With as many as 45 witnesses to his murder, no one would admit to having seen anything.
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How do you deal with a bully, do you bully them right back? Do you plead for help? Hurt people, hurt people and in our story today, this bully did more than hurt people and he will feel the ramifications of his actions, eventually.
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Welcome to The Secret Sits, I’m your host John Dodson. Join us every Thursday as we uncover the Secrets behind the world’s most fascinating true crime cases. You can find all episodes of The Secret Sits for free on Apple Podcast, Spotify or where ever you get your podcasts. And if you like what you are hearing, reach out to us on Instagram and Facebook @The Secret Sits Podcast or on Twitter @SecretSitsPod. Now, on with our story.
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Today, I am going to do something a bit unusual, and I am going to start at the end of our story first. It was a disgustingly hot Friday morning in Skidmore, Missouri in July of 1981. Its that kind of hot day when there is simply no relief from the heat and you can feel the small individual beads of sweat as they drip down parts of your body, that you had no idea could even sweat in the first place. Ken McElroy, the antagonist of our story today, was driving into the small town aboard his shiny new Chevy Silverado pickup truck, it was a shit brown color, like a lot of cars in the early 80s and it had a large khaki colored stripe that wrapped around it horizontally. The truck cab was mostly windows, the truck’s back window taking up most of the truck’s cab walls. There was no mistaking this truck and everyone in the town of Skidmore knew exactly who was driving this truck. And Ken McElroy counted on just that, he drove his truck to Main Street and he parked it right there on Main Street, so that everybody in town could and would see his truck and know that Ken was around.
You see, Ken had gotten word that he was going to the part of a rump session down at the local Legion Hall. And just to be completely honest, I had to look up what a rump session is, I had never heard this term before and it turns out that a rump session is an informal meeting that takes place before or after a large organized meeting. So, for example a rump session might be an informal meeting in the school parking lot after a school board meeting. Anyway, as I said, Ken McElroy had gotten word that he was the subject of one of these rump sessions and attending this meeting were around 60 local residences, which were all men, who wanted to speak to the local sheriff, Sheriff Danny Estes, about Ken McElroy’s behavior and his hold on the town of Skidmore. What I have fortuitously forgotten to mention is that Ken McElroy was known as the town bully, and I am not talking about a bully like Scut Farkus in “A Christmas Story”, no Ken McElroy was way worse than a bully, he was more like a monster.
Sheriff Estes stood in there in the Legion Hall as this horde of men shouted their frustrations and grievances at him, the men demanded that Sheriff Estes safeguard the town from Ken McElroy, to which, the Sheriff suggested that the men form a sort of neighborhood watch, to keep an eye on Ken at all times, but one of the men shouted over the throng, “But Isn’t that your job, sheriff?” and I have to say, he is not wrong, why is the town paying you to be sheriff, to be Law Enforcement and all you can do is tell a group of unpaid, untrained men to look out for themselves? But that one seemingly simple question spelled out what would happen later this day, July 10th, 1981 in Skidmore, Missouri. The town had seen time and time again as Ken McElroy got off scot-free, beating the court system for crimes he had perpetrated against them, and they had seen, even just now at this meeting, how unwilling the law enforcement of their town was to deal with the situation themselves. And on this sweltering hot day, the people of the town of Skidmore had, had enough.
The men spoke to each other in raised voices, not voices raised at one another in anger, but rather the rubble that becomes a roar when a crowd is whipped into a frenzy, all of them facing one common enemy. And just as the crowd began to reenact the scene from Beauty and the Beast, when Gaston whips up the towns folk into pitchfork wielding mad people, the group spots Ken’s truck parked right there on Main Street. They could not believe this man’s audacity; he truly was a narcissistic psychopath.
But you see, this was one of Ken McElroy’s proven methods of intimidation, something he had done many times in the nearly two decades he had been terrorizing this town. Ken McElroy was an extremely proficient stalker, he commonly used drive by shootings as an affective form of intimidation, oh and he was a ravenous pedophile. And this was just the tip of the iceberg; during Ken McElroy’s sordid life as a career criminal, he also partook in spousal abuse which led some of his victims to develop abused-spouse syndrome. Ken beat female he was ever with, and almost all of them kept coming back over and over until Ken threw them out like yesterday’s garbage, this usually happened because something newer and younger had come along.
Ken had wiggled his way out of charges for theft and livestock rustling by intimidating witnesses in the case. Ken had repeatedly pulled his gun out to intimidate people around town, including a town marshal and even worse, a deputy sheriff, in each of these incidences, Ken walked away with no more than a slap on the wrist. When Ken did actually shoot a man, point-blank, the man survived his injuries and identified Ken McElroy as the man who shot him, but the jury in this case, somehow acquitted Ken of these charges.
When Ken began to rape adolescent girls without repercussion, he truly thought he was untouchable. When one couple found that Ken had raped their 13-year-old daughter, they went to the police, in retaliation to this action, Ken burned the couple’s house down and shot their family dog. After this, the couple dropped the charges against Ken and then they allowed this 30-year-old monster to marry their 13-year-old daughter, who he had raped, just so he could beat the impending statutory rape charges, because it’s not legally statutory rape if they are married. No matter what happened, no matter what level of chaos this man brought upon this town, no one did anything about it, until the summer of 1981.
So far, Ken McElroy had prevailed on over 22 felony charges, but when Ken shot a 70-year-old grocery store owner, Ken was finally convicted on assault charges for the shooting, Ken had terrorized this shop keeper for months, and for this assault, which was a shotgun blast to the side of the man’s neck, Ken was sentenced to two years in prison.
So now imagine what this mob of angry men are thinking as they see Ken McElroy’s shiny new truck parked, right there on main street. Wasn’t this son-of-a-bitch suppose to be locked up in jail? That is what they all believed, but little did they know, Ken was already out on bail while he was going through a 21-day appeal of his conviction. After Ken had parked his truck on Main Street, he clambered out of the vehicle and he walked over to the D&G Tavern, his assault rifle out and in his hand. Ken entered the tavern and lifted his considerable backside onto a bar stool and he ordered a bear, Ken began to mutter threats about finishing the job, an obvious reference to the grocery store owner, he had wounded, but intended to kill. This was the crime that had spurred on the rump session with the sheriff to begin with, and Ken relished in the fact that the people from that little town, that quiet village, were at that moment having their heated debate with the sheriff about controlling his behavior. Ken was not alone as he sat at the D&G Tavern either, his now wife, Trena, the former 13-year-old who was forced to marry him was also there.
Ken’s plan to antagonize the town had worked out beautifully, just as Ken had wanted it to all of the angry men in the Legion Hall could now see Ken’s truck parked on Main Street, and all of these men were seething with rage. The men sequestered at the Legion Hall ended their meeting and the Sheriff left, headed in his car back to his office approximately 15 miles away in Maryville. The hoard of men left the hall and began walking up Main Street in the direction of the D&G Tavern, it was not a far walk, and as the men arrived around 30 men entered the tavern, some of these men had never even set foot in this bar before this very moment. A few of the men walked up to the bar and ordered beers, some simply had sodas, while others just stood around and stared. After a few minutes of this intimidation from the town’s men, Ken McElroy decided to get up and be on his way, he ordered a six pack of beer to go and then Ken and Trena walk out of the tavern’s doors right into the bright afternoon light. Almost all of the men who had entered the tavern flowed back out of the doors, just after Ken and Trena. Ken McElroy and his young wife were surrounded by 45 men as they made their way to Ken’s truck.
As they got to the truck, Trena opened the passenger side door and lifted herself into the truck, Ken placed his hand on the doorhandle of his new Chevy Silverado and he pulled the door open, then he climbed inside the cab of the truck. Ken looked around at the men who had tried to use his own intimidation techniques on him and the corners of his mouth twitched as his narcissism allowed him to think he had won. Ken opened a new pack of Camels, which he had just bought from the tavern, and with a victorious smile on his face he lifted his hand and placed a Camel cigarette to his lips. Suddenly the glass in the truck shattered and began to fly all around, two rifle shots pierced through the noise, the shots were coming from the left, then shots began coming from the back of the truck, who was shooting, where were they, no one could tell. Some of the men in the crowd ducked for cover, or they laid flat on the ground, some even fled the scene.
Trena, sitting in the passenger’s seat of the truck, had no idea what was going on, but then she saw the red, red covering everything, even her cloths, she scrambled for the door handle, finding it in the chaos, she flung the truck door open, she leapt from the vehicle screaming, in a total fight or flight moment, and she was flying, a gentleman from the crowd ushered the young traumatized girl away to safety.
Sheriff Estes, still on his way back to his office 15 miles away, heard the dispatch as they came over the radio with a call for shots fired. And this would be the part in the movie when someone knows they just fucked up so they say, please not Skidmore, please not Skidmore and of course it is Skidmore. So, the Sheriff does a great cinematic uewy in the middle of the road, his tires cause a bunch of gravel or dirt to spray everywhere and now we are driving directly back where we came from. Maybe if we had done our jobs correctly in the first place, this would not have been a problem. As Sheriff Estes reenters Skidmore and drives to Main Street, he can clearly see the crowd in the street, they his eyes focused on the brown-on-brown truck, which now seemed to have a lot more holes in it, than when it came off of the assembly line. There was also an unnervingly large red patch of something on the Truck’s windshield.
The Sheriff got out of his car and walked up to Ken McElroy’s truck to find him already deceased in the seat. Sheriff Estes could very clearly see that there were bullet holes of different caliber guns in the truck. “Well shit”, the Sheriff thought, “A man murdered in the middle of broad daylight, in the middle of Main Street. But hey, at least this will be an easy open and shut case, look at all these witnesses.” But the Sheriff would soon find out that nobody seemed to have seen anything. Trena McElroy pointed out a few of the men, who she had seen standing close to the truck before the shooting started, but even these men were like, oh I sneezed and I could not see or hear anything when this happened. The citizens of the town of Skidmore, the Skidmordians, or Skidmoretalains, whatever they are called, said a collective, good riddance to bad rubbish and they did not morn the death of Ken McElroy, not even one little bit.
The town’s postmaster, Jim Hartman, was quoted as saying Ken McElroy’s killers should get a medal instead of a noose. Ol’ Jim went on to say the killers were like the inventors of penicillin, “Nobody tried to hang them for finding a way to kill a germ.”
And that is a pretty good description of what Ken McElroy had allowed himself to become, a germ, or the scum that feeds on the germ; and Ken had nurtured this narcissistic psychopathic personality for almost 47 years.
Ken McElroy was born in 1934, born to a poor family of tenant-farmers, who already had 14 children by the time he showed up and he would not be the last, the couple would have 16 children in total. They wandered, almost aimlessly from one financial opportunity turned failure, to another. They traveled from eastern Kansas, to the southern Missouri Ozarks to the Norwest of Missouri, where out story today is helmed. Ken was raised in a small two-bedroom house on the outskirts of Skidmore, Missouri. And mind you, that is a two-bedroom house for a family of 18 people, like whole people who have to use the bathroom and kitchen and they have to sleep, it is mind boggling. Ken had deep blue eyes and jet-black hair like Elvis, his hair gave evidence to the Cherokee blood that ran in his veins, from generations gone by. Some would say that Ken was good looking, but not many.
Ken did not perform well in school, and who would have expected him to with his living situation and poverty, these things to do go hand in hand, believe it or not; anyway, Ken dropped out of school before he could even read and instead of going to school, he took up a new found passion, racoon hunting, it is so much better than being able to read.
Racoon hunting is done at night, because night time is daytime for a racoon, that is what nocturnal means. For racoon hunting, there are some very basic tools, a great flashlight, like your standard mag light, or whatever and then you need a rifle, to shoot with and lastly, a great hunting dog, you’ve got your Blueticks, your Redbones, your Plott Hounds, whatever you pick. So, in this hunting scenario, the dog is released first, and they run around sniffing and looing and when they pick up the scent of a racoon, they began to bay, that is that sound a dog makes like a blood hound, here we will play one for you now.
So, when the dogs find the racoon, they begin baying and they look for the racoon until they find it and then they chase it up a tree and then they hop up and down at the base of the tree, yelping and baying even when you have told them to stop. Once the hunter catches up with the dogs, they use the flashlight to shine up into the tree, illuminating the animal which has now regretted climbing the tree to get away from the dogs and it just sits, stuck in the tree, until the hunter shoots the animal and they hopefully use this animal the maximum of its potential.
Ken McElroy loved racoon hunting, but he also discovered he had another talent that his best hidden by the dark of night, burglary. Ken always had a new truck; he was surrounded by a variety of woman who had produced a brood of Ken’s children. But Ken never seemed to have a legitimate job. It had become pretty well know around the town that Ken specialized in stealing grain, gasoline, alcohol, antiques and any other town commodities he could get his hands on. What Ken specialized in however, was livestock, another nocturnal habit Ken had neutered over the years. After rustling some livestock, Ken would pay off auction barns to sell his stolen livestock. The local farmers knew that Ken McElroy was stealing their cattle, the local law enforcement knew it too. But the state of Missouri did not require branding of livestock, so it was almost impossible to pin the crime on Ken. In 1972, Ken was finally brought up on charges of cattle rustling and Ken hired a big-shot lawyer from Kansas City named Richard McFadin who got the case dismissed with some big city trickery. After this case McFadin kept in close contact with Ken, McFadin constantly kept Ken out of jail and Ken made McFadin a very wealthy man.
Ken McElroy’s home county reported more cattle rustling than any other county in Missouri, for years on end. Ken would wonder into the D&G Tavern holding wrinkly brown paper bags filled with thousands of dollars in cash, and he would set his bags of money right there on the bar, so all of the farmers around him could see the profits he had made off the sweat of their backs and Ken would gloat.
Ken was married for the first time in 1952, when he was just 18-years-old. Ken had married a young woman named Oleta and the couple traveled to Denver for a short time, but after Ken failed at holding a job, the couple moved back to Missouri. While just into his 20s, Ken’s friends noticed Ken had a propensity toward extremely young girls, what their group of classy hunting buddies would refer to as, “young meat” Ken would hang out around the local junior high school playground where he would stalk his prey. Ken raped several of these girls, because even if they consented, we know that a minor can not give consent. Ken would even befriend the junior high boys in order to get closer to their female counterparts. Ken was not completely naïve about how he was doing what he was doing either. Ken preyed on girls from lower income families and if the parents were poorly educated, even better. Ken would lure these girls with rides in his shiny truck, to frivolous gifts from the dime-store. After their encounters with Ken, several of these girls found themselves pregnant. As parents protested Ken’s involvement with their underage daughters, Ken would begin a string of threats against the family or he would pay them off if they were so inclined, this is why he chose poor families to begin with.
After Ken and Oleta had been married just a couple of years, Ken divorced Oleta for the opportunity to marry an even younger, 15-year-old girl named Sharon. Once he had secured this new 15-year-old, and she became pregnant, she also seemed too old, so Ken began courting a 13-year-old girl named Sally. When Sally gauged at the idea of having sex with Ken, he beat the girl severely and told her that he would kill her father, so Sally had sex with Ken McElroy and then she moved into his house with his 15-year-old wife Sharon. These two girls, Sharon and Sally would be the beginning of Ken McElroy’s own personal harem. These two teenagers would end up giving birth to 7 of Ken’s children. Sharon gave birth in 1961, 63, 64 and 65 and Sally produced offspring in 61, 63 and 64.
After all of these children and all the years that had gone by, Ken was bored. It was 1964 and Sharon had just had a new baby and she was already pregnant again, Sally also had a new born to care for. So, Ken began seeing a 15-year-old named Alice. Alice was not from Skidmore, she lived in St. Joseph located about 50 miles south of Skidmore. Because Alice was younger and fresher, Ken left his wife and his, I don’t know, other wife and all of his children and he moved in with Alice, who then began producing more offspring for this pestilent pedophile. After Alice grew stale, in the 1970s she was joined by a new girl named Marcia.
These young girls just kept showing up, dedicated to this man, so what did they see in this man? He was not spectacular; he beat and abused every woman in his life and we would later learn that his proclivities in the bedroom skewed towards violence and demeaning practices. In Ken’s younger years some in town considered him attractive, he was well built with dark hair and long sideburns, he resembled a poor man’s Elvis Presley. He was always flush with cash and he did mind spending it to get what he wanted. But just like the King of Rock and Roll, by the 1970s Ken McElroy had trouble seeing his own toes. Despite this, Ken carried himself like the ultimate tough guy, and he felt tough because he was typically always carrying a gun or a knife. No one in the town had ever seen Ken throw a punch at a dude, Ken only hit women.
Trena McCloud was in eighth grade and she had just turned 12-years-old when she caught the eye of Ken McElroy, who was now in his mid-30s and the father of 10 children. At this time Ken was still sharing his bed with Alice and Marcia, but he would go out of his way to spend time with his new young blond infatuation. Ken would hide his courtship of Trena by paying a boy her age to pretend to be Trena’s real date, the boy would retrieve Trena from her parent’s house, then the boy would deliver Trena to Ken, when Ken was done with Trena, the young boy would deliver her back to her parent’s house with them none the wise.
The adolescent girl would ride the big yellow school bus to school, only to exit the bus and get into Ken’s waiting pick up truck, park just off of the school grounds. This relationship was no big secret, I mean Dan Brown is not writing any novels about it, and Ken was well known around town as a pedophile, although he had never yet been held accountable for his actions. As 9th grade started for Trena, when she should have been starting pre-algebra, she discovered that she was pregnant. Because of this, Trena dropped out of school at the age of 14 and she moved in with Ken and Alice, Marcia was moved out of the house upon Trena’s arrival. Trena and Alice were both unhappy with this arraignment and the two girls and Ken argued quite often. Ken would beat both of the girls into submission and just move on with his day. Trena gave birth to her first child, a bouncing baby boy, sixteen days later, Trena and Alice, along with all of the children fled Ken McElroy’s house. They traveled to Trena’s parents’ house, hoping to find sanctuary with her mother and stepfather. But soon enough Ken was at the house and forced the girls to return, with all of the children, as he held them at gun point. After the family arrived back at Ken’s house, he beat Alice within an inch of her life. After he was done abusing Alice, he held a rifle on Trena and forced her to do a strip tease which led to demoralizing sex acts. Later, Ken drove Trena back to her mother’s house, when he knew the couple was away for the afternoon. Ken spread a can of gasoline around the house, he shot the couple’s dog and he lit their house of fire.
Two days after this horrible incident, Trena took her baby to the doctor in Mound City, Missouri. At this appointment the young teenaged mother appeared scattered and frightened. The doctor calmly talked to Trena until he coaxed the story out of the frightened girl, and it was much more than this doctor was ready for. The doctor contacted juvenile services and the social welfare authorities. The baby was taken and placed into a foster home. In an effort to keep Trena safe from Ken, she was given tranquilizers and hospitalized.
Trena was interviewed by authorities and in June of 1973, Ken McElroy was indicted on charges of arson, assault and rape, all based on Trena’s story. Ken was arrested, booked and arraigned, then he was released on $2,500 bail. And who do you think Ken ran to as soon as he was released, well his big city lawyer from Kansas City, Dick McFadin. Ken walked into Dick’s office a placed a bag filled with $15,00 cash on his desk. McFadin told Kent that these charges would be difficult to beat, especially if Trena, the rape victim and eyewitness to the arson, testified against him in court. Trena and the baby were being kept in a safe house in Maryville, but it would not stay safe from Ken McElroy for long.
Join us next week, on The Secret Sits as we finish our story about Ken McElroy and we will see what comes from bulling an entire town. We dance round in a ring and suppose, but the secret sits in the middle and knows.