31 Mar POPULATION: ONE BAD MAN – PART I
“The Story of the trials, life and death of Ken Rex McElroy and the Town of Skidmore, Missouri”
Every school has a bully or bullies, and every small town has “that family or families”. Just a single name can cause a physical reaction when uttered out loud in a room filled with those in the know. They are our real life bogey men, and the fear that they give us also leaves us fascinated. This is the story of a bully, and to the town of Skidmore Missouri he was the meanest, nastiest, bully that has ever lived. On July 10, 1981, the justice system let the people of Skidmore down, and when it did, they did something that changed their own lives and the town forever. They killed.
Just the name Ken Rex McElroy feels bigger than it appears on paper. A polite person would say that Ken Rex came from humble beginnings, but politeness doesn’t fit in a story about Ken Rex McElroy or the Town of Skidmore, so we will forego any. Ken Rex McElroy was born in poor and squalid conditions. He was the 15th child of 16 born to Tony and Mabel McElroy. Tony and Mabel were uneducated, and spent the early years of their marriage moving around Missouri and Kansas working as tenant farmers before eventually settling outside of Skidmore in Nodaway County.
By the age of 15, Ken Rex had dropped out of school and established himself as a coon hunter, and thief. He specialized in stealing cattle and anything else he could get his hands on. Ken Rex grew into a large and intimidating figure. At over six-feet tall and nearly 300 pounds he was a formidable presence by sight alone. However, there was more to Ken Rex than his size. He had steel blue eyes that would bore a hole right through you. Behind those eyes laid the cold, calm embrace of violence and death that wrote his biography. He lived to satisfy his own desires, and abided by his own sense of self-serving justice. Ken Rex took, and the only thing he ever gave was fear.
He was a womanizer, too. He didn’t just like being with many women, he did have a type, young girls. He liked young underage girls starting around twelve to fourteen. Over the course of his life Ken Rex would be married three times and father ten children. Our story begins when Ken Rex courting his third and final wife, Trena McCloud.
A COURTSHIP OR RAPE?
Trena McCloud first caught Ken Rex McElroy’s eye when she was twelve years old. Although Ken Rex was married to his second wife Alice, he could not help but notice the pretty girl with long blonde locks. Fidelity wasn’t a strong suit of Ken Rex, or of any interest to him at all for that matter. He had many affairs over the course of his marriage to both Alice and his first wife Sharon. When either woman did raise his cheating as an issue, he simply beat them and tortured them as a reminder that they were not entitled to issues or the bringing of them up. Ken Rex’s cruelty was well known because he was so brazen about showing it.
When a wife a Ken Rex McElroy came into town with a black eye, or busted lip, or broken bones of all varieties, the townspeople were not likely to guess or wonder at what malevolence may have befallen the lady. No, the townspeople all would have known that the injury was attributable to an intentional act, and that Ken Rex was always the responsible party. They knew this because they had all either witnessed or been the victim of a similar intentional violent act, and it was always at the hands of Ken Rex McElroy.
Ken Rex fell quickly in lust with Trena. He would follow the bus route that took Trena to school in his pickup truck. When he caught up to the bus, Ken Rex would start honking his horn and driving up to the window where the bus driver could get a good look at him. When the driver pulled the bus over, Ken Rex would demand that he open the door and let Trena out so that she could get in his pickup truck with him. If Trena did have a choice, it would never fall to the bus driver to protect the little girl if she chose to not go with Ken Rex. No, he would dutifully pull the bus over and offer her up, no doubt justifying his action by touting the safety of the other students as well as his own.
By 14 years old Trena was pregnant with their first child. Ken Rex moved her out of her parents’ home and into his, which he still shared with his wife Alice. By this point in his life Ken Rex had become a master of escaping punishment. Though arrest and criminal charges were a common part of his life, conviction or punishment was foreign to Ken Rex. It wasn’t that he was necessarily slick of sly in any way, he was a brute. He relied on witness intimidation to prove his innocence, and he was a master at it. He would sit outside a witness’s home, and shoot those cold blue eyes and the death that sat fixed behind them into the psyche of his target. The fact that he was always armed and had no issue with pointing the barrel end of any firearm at a person didn’t hurt either.
Not long after moving into McElroy’s farmhouse, both Trena and Alice (Ken Rex and Alice remained together despite him moving Trena in) fled to Trena’s parents’ home. They were running away, seeking refuge away from Ken Rex. McElroy tracked the women down, beat them both severely, and brought them home. He returned when Trena’s parents were away, shot the family dog and burned down the house. Trena had to be hospitalized because of her injuries. The attending physician was so appalled at the beating that the underage girl had taken and the history of abuse that she gave, family services was called in and took the girl into custody.
McElroy was arrested and charged with arson, assault, and statutory rape. The charges came as a result of what Trena had told the police. She was taken to a foster home in Maryville with the couple’s baby. Ken Rex made bail and was out within a day or so, and went looking for Trena.
When he found where Trena was staying he began relying on his old tactics of intimidation. He stalked the house where she was, brandishing his shotgun, and boring holes into the residents of the home with his steely eyes. He had time to work his system and get what he wanted.
McElroy knew that how to hedge his bets and he did just that when he hired Richard McFadin, a well-known and regarded criminal defense attorney from the Kansas City area. McFadin was creating delay after delay in order to prevent the case from going to trial, and time was all that Ken Rex needed in order to avoid facing a jury. True and tried, Ken Rex’s tactics did work. Eventually, Trena grew tired of the foster house and the rules she was expected to mind under, after all she was still a young girl, and she ran away. She ran away back into the arms of Ken Rex McElroy.
With the charges still looming over him, Ken Rex acted fast. He quickly divorced Alice, then drove Trena to Kansas and married her to avoid conviction of statutory rape. The other charges against Ken Rex would be dropped because the case was impossible to prove without either Alice or Trena testifying, and by this time both women were refusing to.
Ken Rex McElroy did not limit his torture and abuse just to those who lived with him. This is not the story of a brutal man that terrorized his family and did bad things. This is the story of a man that terrorized an entire community.
Romaine Henry was a Skidmore resident and farmer. On of his hands came to him one afternoon and reported that someone was on the property shooting a firearm. Henry took off down the road to investigate. While driving down a gravel farm road that abutted his property, Henry came upon a figure and a vehicle that he recognized instantly, Ken Rex McElroy. A shotgun in his hands, Ken Rex turned toward the truck as it approached. McElroy raised the barrel of the gun and pointed it at the cab of the approaching truck.
Henry stopped the truck and Ken Rex approached the passenger side, the window rolled down, the barrel of the 12-gauge trained on Henry. McElroy yelled to Henry when he got to the window. He accused Romaine Henry of being a “dirty S.O.B.” and said that Henry had been at his place in a white Pontiac. When Henry responded that he didn’t even have a “car like that”, Ken Rex told him that he was a “Lyin’ S.O.B.” and pulled the trigger.
The shot violently ripped Romaine Henry’s stomach opened, the right side of his body peeling away and laying across his lap. The metallic smell of his own blood consumed the cab of the pickup truck. Henry, his entrails falling into his lap, eased into unconsciousness and assumed death. The last thing he saw as he slipped into blackness was Ken Rex McElroy walking back to his truck, removing a cigarette from the pack in his shirt pocket, and light it with the same easy motion one would do if lighting a smoke after a meal. McElroy got in his truck and drove away, leaving the farmer to whatever fate.
By some miracle Romaine Henry lived. However, he lived only to experience the next chapter in the saga of being a victim of Ken Rex McElroy. He was stalked and threatened mercilessly, only to remain vigilant, appear at trial, testify against Ken Rex, and still see him walk away without consequence. When the matter finally came to trial two coon hunters testified that Ken Rex was with them that day far away in another part of the county getting their limit.
At this point Ken Rex McElroy had terrorized the community of Skidmore for over a decade, and all indications were that he was going to keep getting away with it. All told Ken Rex McElroy faced felony charges twenty-one times without ever being convicted. He was literally untouchable right up until the day he wasn’t.
In Part II we will learn more about the incident that would make Skidmore Missouri and Ken Rex McElroy a national news story and a mystery that stills haunts the town nearly forty years later.