Ken McElroy was born in 1934 and grew up in Skidmore. As a child, he learned how to scare people into submission. He destroyed property and used threats to keep people silent. He stole animals, grain, and farm chemicals. He pulled a gun on Skidmore’s town marshal, David Dunbar, who resigned after fellow police officers refused to act.

In the early 1970s, McElroy began stalking an eighth-grader named Trena McCloud, raped her repeatedly, lit her house on fire, shot her family dog, and then bullied her family into letting him marry her to avoid criminal charges.

In 1976, he shot a neighbor named Romaine Henry in the stomach, but before the case went to trial, McElroy burned down the judge’s barn and stalked jury members. He was found not guilty. That was typical, locals say. McElroy always outfoxed the criminal justice system.

Four years later, McElroy shot a 70-year-old grocer named Ernest “Bo” Bowenkamp in the neck, resulting in a 1981 assault conviction. He should have gone to prison. Instead, the court released him on bond pending appeal.

A few days later, McElroy was spotted with a gun—a direct violation of his bond—and witnesses signed an affidavit against him. The bond hearing was set for two weeks away, on July 10. But when the court date arrived, residents learned the hearing had been rescheduled. An uneasy crowd gathered in town to discuss the situation and how to protect the witnesses. And then Ken McElroy arrived.

He had a drink at the bar, left, started his truck, and lit a cigarette. And then someone shot him in the head, in broad daylight, before 45 witnesses, with Trena at his side. After decades of terror, the bully was finally gone.

During the investigation into his death, every witness denied seeing anything, and most concurred that McElroy deserved it. Media outlets sensationalized the killing as vigilante justice. Trena identified one Skidmore man as the killer, but the prosecutor never pressed charges. FBI inquiries floundered and failed.

McElroy is buried in St. Joseph.

His killer was never identified.