Raging Media Torrent
CL: Your family was at the vortex of a national spectacle—subjected not only to a horrendous crime but to a raging media torrent. What was it like?
CHERYL: Right after the shooting some of us here in Skidmore were willing to talk about what we had gone through in the year prior to the shooting. No one was going to talk about the shooting itself. But it only took the first couple of stories that were printed for us to realize that it didn't matter what we said. It was going to be twisted. So...everyone quit talking. That seemed like the best way. Most of the stories that got printed were blown out of proportion and would have made a great western.
JOYCE: I managed to miss a great deal of the media circus. But my mother, father and sister got stuck in the maelstrom. To this day my mom rarely speaks to journalists. I'm talking right now because it's been 25 years since that god-awful day, and not a lot has improved in the criminal justice system. The media charged into Skidmore in July 1981 and painted the town colors no one had ever seen before—but unfortunately has seen many times since, and not just in Missouri. I heard stories and read stories about what happened in town that day that made me laugh, made my jaw drop from incredulity, and basically turned my stomach from their sensationalism.
CHERYL: One of the biggest shocks to my family and the entire town was discovering that the criminals have all the rights. Victims have virtually none. On top of that, the sheriff's department was scared of Ken McElroy. When we did call them, if they showed up at all it was usually three days later—always with the same story: "We can't do anything because he is operating just inside the law."
JOYCE: There was no such thing as anti-stalking laws like there are now. But even if there had been, we'd have been hard put to find anyone with enough guts to enforce them. The Nodaway County judges were terrified of McElroy. The county sheriff's deputies were terrified of him. Even the highway patrol for the most part didn't want to have to deal with him...How did one man manage to bully and terrorize his way to such a point that a judge wouldn't lock him up and throw the key away for the good of the community? Part of the answer is a problem that still haunts the justice system: The law of the land bends over backwards to insure the rights of the criminals, not their victims. Period.
CHERYL: Up until when McElroy was convicted, my family was pretty much on its own. The townspeople figured that we had brought this on ourselves, and that if they just stayed out of it it wouldn't affect them. One woman even came into the grocery store and said...it was our fault that the town was having to deal with McElroy.
JOYCE: How could something as tiny as a misunderstanding over a few pieces of penny candy blow up into such a horrible storm? Normal people just don't act like McElroy and his family did back in 1980...But my parents had no idea how much grief they were going to have to put up with over that candy. And it wasn't really about the candy, either. I think, looking back on it now, that it was because my mother never apologized or was subservient to him when he came into the store with Trena that day. She wasn't afraid of him at that time, and I think that infuriated him more than anything. He was used to having women cower and suck up to him. Dad set him off even more when he acknowledged that Mom ran the store, not him. I'm no psychologist, but I think McElroy really hated strong women, and they don't come much stronger than my mother. It was like oil and fire meeting.