Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Ken McElroy

The Art of Intimidation

An officer arrested McElroy a few hours after the shooting. He said he knew nothing about the assault—wasn't there, didn't do it. He called his Kansas City lawyer and was out on $30,000 bond the next morning. That night, he and Trena were back in the D&G Tavern having beers.

Bo Bowenkamp spent 10 days in the hospital for a gunshot wound to the neck, but he lived. Over the ensuing weeks, McElroy kept intimidating him. When a minister went to comfort the Bowenkamps—one of few who dared offer sympathy—he began getting threatening phone calls. In between expletives, the man the minister knew to be McElroy gave a simple message: "Mind your own business."

Ken McElroy on the phone
Ken McElroy on the phone

McElroy's plan was to isolate his victims, cut them off from sympathy with his intimidating tactics. A measure of the Bowenkamp's isolation can be seen in pleading letters that Lois wrote, begging the governor, attorney general and state legislators to intercede. She wrote, "Are we to live in fear for the rest of our lives? Please help us see justice done."

In the meantime, McElroy had begun to tell anyone who would listen that Bo Bowenkamp had menaced him with a butcher knife, and he fired in self-defense. The scenario made no sense. Bowenkamp was harmless, docile. Yes, he admitted he was holding a knife when he was shot, but only because he was cutting up boxes. His intimidation didn't stop with the victims and their minister.

One night, McElroy confronted the part-time town marshal, David Dunbar. He asked Dunbar, an untrained law enforcement officer paid just $240 a month, whether he would testify against him in the Bowenkamp case. Dunbar said he might have to.

McElroy replied, "I'll kill anybody who would put me in jail."

The bully then extracted a shotgun from his truck and pointed it at Dunbar. The town cop managed to calm down McElroy. Dunbar went to his car and radioed the sheriff's office to alert them of the threat. Dunbar later said he got this response: "Don't provoke him. Nothing we can do. Keep an eye on him."

When the Skidmore town hall opened for business Monday morning, Dunbar walked in and turned in his badge. A family man, he decided that he was not going to jeopardize his life over a job that paid less than $3,000 a year, particularly if the county authorities were not going to support him.

Corporal Richard Stratton
Corporal Richard Stratton

It later came to light that McElroy had placed threatening phone calls to the home of the state trooper who arrested him, Richard Stratton. When the trooper was at work, McElroy slow-rolled past his house, much to the terror of Stratton's wife.

Dunbar and Stratton thus got a taste of the treatment of the Bowenkamps, Romaine Henry, Trena's parents and anyone else who had crossed Ken McElroy over the years.

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