Skip To Content

    18 Facts About The Murder Of Ken Rex McElroy, One Of The Most Interesting Moral Dilemmas Ever

    Vigilante justice is a slippery slope.

    This week's (and previous) episodes of BuzzFeed Unsolved are now available on Hulu, Amazon Instant Video, and Roku TV. On this episode, Ryan and Shane investigate the murder of Ken Rex McElroy.

    View this video on YouTube

    BuzzFeedBlue / Via

    1. Ken Rex McElroy was shot dead in Skidmore, Missouri on July 10, 1981.

    In Broad Daylight by Harry N. MacLean / Via

    There were as many as 60 witnesses, yet the crime remains unsolved.

    2. At some point in his life, McElroy was believed to have been seriously injured on a construction site, causing him to suffer from chronic pain.


    Some attributed his bizarre and violent behavior to a head injury suffered in this event. McElroy was reportedly a large man (270 pounds), and a local farmer's description of him (seen above) was that he wanted to appear "big and important" and make people "afraid."

    3. McElroy made a living leasing land near his farm, and trading and racing dogs. However, he was also charged with various crimes.


    McElroy allegedly stole livestock, grain, gasoline, and antiques. He was indicted as many as 21 times, but escaped conviction all but once.

    4. There's a long list of crimes said to have been committed by McElroy, including shooting multiple people.


    One of the people shot was a local farmer named Romaine Henry, who McElroy shot in the stomach for trying to chase him off of Henry's own land.

    5. The stories of McElroy's relationships contain some troubling details, but the information is important to paint the full picture.


    McElroy was accused of raping two young women, as young as 12 years old, both of whom he was said to have "married" to keep them from testifying against him.

    6. One of these women was 24-year-old Trena McCloud, who was McElroy's partner. She was present at the time of his death.


    McCloud was McElroy's third "wife," though all unions were suspicious due to the fact that some of his marriages overlapped.

    7. McElroy first began his relationship with McCloud when she was 14 and the two had a child shortly thereafter.


    McCloud attempted to escape to her parents' house, but McElroy allegedly responded by burning down Trena's parents' home and shooting their dog. However, in 1981, Trena told People magazine that the fire was a result of "faulty wiring."

    8. McElroy was also accused of abusing his first two wives, Sharon and Alice, but Alice defended him in an interview shortly after his death.


    It's worth noting that the abused defending their abuser often occurs in domestic violence cases.

    9. It's said the county's law enforcement officials were afraid of encountering McElroy, who was known to be heavily armed.


    However, an incident would occur in 1980 that changed everything.

    10. On April 25, 1980 at Ernest "Bo" Bowenkamp's general store, a clerk asked McElroy's 8-year-old daughter to return a piece of candy she had not paid for.


    McElroy was furious when he learned of the incident. He reportedly began stalking the Bowenkamp family.

    11. On July 8, 1980, McElroy drove to the alley behind the Bowenkamp general store.


    Once there, he threatened Bo, and shot him in the neck at close range with a shotgun.

    12. Luckily, Bowenkamp survived, and McElroy was charged with attempted murder.


    In August of 1980, McElroy made attempts to intimidate the Bowenkamp family and their supporters to prevent them from testifying.

    13. McElroy was eventually convicted, but the charge was lessened from "attempt to kill" to "knowingly caused serious physical injury" to ensure a conviction. He was freed on bond.


    14. Shortly after being released, McElroy was at D&G Tavern making threats about murdering Bowenkamp.


    As a result, he was arrested, but quickly released.

    15. Only July 10, 1981, there was a meeting at the town hall, down the street from D&G Tavern. As many as 60 Skidmore residents attended, including the mayor and the sheriff.


    The meeting's entire purpose was to discuss what they could legally do to prevent McElroy from harming anyone else.

    16. Those in attendance felt the system had failed them, and it seemed like none of the authorities could stop McElroy.


    The group heard McElroy and Trena McCloud were spotted heading to the tavern nearby. It's said that the meeting adjourned, and the crowd quietly descended upon the tavern, flanking McElroy's truck.

    17. McElroy and Trena returned to the truck, where he lit a cigarette while she was in the passenger seat.


    Trena claimed to have seen someone pull a rifle from the back of the truck, take aim at McElroy, and fire shots that shattered the truck's windows. Trena jumped from the truck and a man helped her to safety.

    18. McElroy was hit twice and died. Bullet casings from two different guns were found.


    None of the witnesses called an ambulance or gave information about a shooter.

    Vigilante justice is certainly a slippery slope, but after years of dealing with Ken McElroy, the people of Skidmore reached their boiling point.


    The person(s) responsible for firing the shots that killed McElroy remains unsolved.

    Were the citizens justified in taking matters into their own hands? Tell us what you think in the comments below.