Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Ken McElroy

The Investigations

When it became immediately clear that witnesses would be reticent to talk about what they might have seen, a task force of 23 officers from six law enforcement agencies in northwest Missouri were called to Skidmore. They compiled a list of 35 men who were at the scene of the crime. Not one would talk.

"We had 35 leads, and 35 leads saw nothing and heard nothing," Gary Howard, a Missouri sheriff assigned to the task force, told reporters.

A telephone hot line for tips was set up. No one called but the media.

On July 20, six days after McElroy was buried in St. Joseph, the task force turned over its evidence to Nodaway County prosecutor Baird. He and Estes convened a coroner's inquest, with a six-person jury of county residents, the following day.

Jurors heard evidence from law enforcers, Trena McElroy, and several men who were at the scene of the shooting, including Postmaster Jim Hartman, Skidmore Mayor Steve Peter and Red Smith, the bartender at the D&G.

Skidmore Mayor Steve Peter
Skidmore Mayor Steve Peter

The grand jury ruled that McElroy "died from bullets fired by a person or persons unknown." It issued no arrest warrant because of insufficient evidence.

Three weeks later, a state grand jury was impaneled, and it met for 15 sessions over the ensuing five weeks. The 12 jurors heard from the same witnesses as the county panel, as well as Sheriff Estes, and Romaine Henry and Bo Bowenkamp, the two men McElroy had been accused of shooting.

The state grand jury also heard from Del Clement, a young farmer and the son of the co-owner of the D&G Tavern. From the start, Trena McElroy had told authorities that she saw Clement holding a rifle as she got out of the truck in the moments after the shooting. The jury heard forensic evidence about McElroy's wounds, indicating he was hit by at least one .22-caliber slug and another from an 8mm rifle. This confirmed evidence of shell casings found on Main Street.

The location of casings and the forensic evidence indicated that one of the shooters was positioned in the spot where Trena saw Clement. On September 25, the grand jury ended its investigation with no indictment. Trena McElroy had identified Clement as one of the shooters in her testimony before both grand juries. But no witness could or would corroborate that identification, and the jurors apparently judged that her testimony alone was insufficient to bring an indictment.

On the 20-year anniversary of the shooting, Baird indicated to the Maryville Daily Forum that the six men on the county jury for the coroner's inquest faced the dilemma of whether to indict Clement based on Trena's word.

"But they were not willing to say based on the evidence it was done by a specific person," Baird said. "On the other hand, I wouldn't have been surprised had they named a specific person based upon Mrs. McElroy's testimony."

The U.S. Justice Department ordered an FBI investigation. Agents interviewed witnesses once again that winter, and in the spring of 1982 a federal grand jury heard testimony from the same witnesses.

That September, the federal probe ended without indictment. The feds announced, however, that they had turned over "important new evidence" to prosecutor Baird. He reviewed the information but was not impressed.

Baird announced, "After careful consideration and evaluation, I have determined that there is not current sufficient evidence with which to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt."

And there the case sits today.

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