The Legend Of Kenny Rex

“Kenny Rex got what was coming to him.”

It’s a popular opinion for anyone who’s heard the story.  It’s the opinion of those who know what really happened.

I’ll go ahead and admit I’ve been predisposed to opinions on this story.  I’ve met people who grew up not far from Skidmore, Missouri.  Ken McElroy was a scourge.  He was the closest thing to a small-town terrorist as they come.

That small town killed Kenny Rex in 1981…and then protected its own.  Bullets flew from at least two vantage points into a pickup truck parked in the middle of Main Street, but no one gave up the shooters.

Ken McElroy's pickup in July 1981. Though dozens witnessed his killing, no one gave up the shooter.

I write of McElroy mostly because I saw an excellent article last weekend by the KC Star’s Donald Bradley about his murder and the cover-up that’s unsolved to this day.

JULY 1981:  SKIDMORE, MISSOURI

As a group gathered in a town meeting hall, Kenny Rex and his wife arrived in the small town of Skidmore.  McElroy’s attorney had advised him to stay out of town because he recently violated bond in the small Nodaway County town, but being told what to do wasn’t McElroy’s thing.

Ken Rex McElroy, 47, was already known for “stealing livestock, burning houses, chasing women, preying upon young girls,” and he’d recently shot a local store owner over a piece of stolen candy.  Kenny Rex promised to finish that particular job the next chance he got.

Though law enforcement tried to intervene several times, McElroy avoided significant prison time over and over again.

The McElroys’ presence in town that day was quickly noticed.

My account of Kenny Rex’s reign in Nodaway County is entirely insufficient, but what happened after locals learned he was nearby that summer day is what law enforcement has tried to solve for nearly three decades.  FBI investigations, grand juries, lawsuits…no one has talked.

A large group (some describe the group as small as 30 people, some as large as 45) surrounded Kenny Rex’s pickup as he and his wife left the bar.  Bullets struck the bully in the head and neck.

No one called for an ambulance.

One woman who heard the shooting saw Kenny Rex’s pickup begin to catch fire.

“Burn!” she thought.  “Burn until there’s nothing left of any of it!”

PROSECUTION

The murder of Kenny Rex never went to trial.  No one was ever even charged with murder.

Though evidence was collected, not one of those witnesses in the middle of Main Street talked.

As retiring Nodaway County Prosecutor David Baird puts it to this day, “As a prosecutor, I have to know we have the evidence to prove a case.  In my estimation, we never had that in this case.  And two grand juries agreed.”

THE RESULT

As I’ve said, the result has been nothing.  Or perhaps for the people of Skidmore, everything.

I’ve known people who grew up near Skidmore, which is why I call McElroy by his nickname “Kenny Rex.”  I suspect many of the people who saw him die have passed on themselves.

The Nodaway County Prosecutor is retiring.  He was defeated in a primary election last month, which was the reason for the KC Star article.

If you have a chance, In Broad Daylight is a fascinating read.  Harry MacLean is the only journalist/writer to ever gain this small, tight-knit community’s trust.

The most intriguing stories never deal with black-and-white issues.  They cover countless, legitimate shades of gray.

My question:  cold-blooded murder or vigilante justice?  Black?  White?

What shade of gray?

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One Response to “The Legend Of Kenny Rex”

  1. Jeff (Fuzz) Says:

    Hey man! I had never heard of this case before but after reading up on it, it’s pretty fascinating. I’m really perplexed by the fact that the prosecutors and police seemed unable to stop this guy. He gets an underage girl pregnant, but then once he marries her all charges are dropped? I didn’t think the victim had a choice in pressing charges in a rape case, the state actually prosecutes on behalf of the victim whether they want to or not. Also, if he was known for intimidating witnesses before and during trials why were the police and prosecutors seemingly unable to offer them any kind of protection? Seems like a colossal failure of the justice system in Skidmore.

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