Review

In Broad Daylight: A Murder in Skidmore, Missouri

by Harry N. MacLean



The killing of Ken McElroy, who was almost universally acknowledged
as the "baddest" man in Skidmore, Missouri, remains unsolved more
than 25 years after he was gunned down in his truck with his wife,
Trena, by his side.

Note the use of the word "killing." It is used advisedly. Was it
murder to end McElroy's life? While that definition technically may
be true according to the letter of the law, the answer may
ultimately depend on the reader's moral compass. IN BROAD DAYLIGHT
takes an emotionally exhaustive look at what led up to the events
of that July day. Originally released in 1989, Harry N. MacLean's
opus earned an Edgar Award for Best True Crime and was on The
New York Times
bestseller list for 12 weeks.

By all accounts, McElroy --- an unabashed and unashamed thief,
arsonist and sexual predator --- was the prototypical bully:
physically intimidating, ruthless, always willing to settle things
with a knife or a gun (even the use of the odd venomous snake was
not out of character). The citizens of Skidmore lived in constant
fear that only increased with time, frustrated by the inability of
the local law enforcement to remedy the situation. MacLean quotes
McElroy as having been arrested for felonies more than 50 times,
yet until the end, he was never found guilty by a jury. The author
writes of a shared frustration by police and prosecutors. "They
knew he was stealing hogs, cattle, and coon dogs; they were
convinced he ran a ring of thieves…; and they knew he carried
a loaded shotgun with him at all times. They even knew how he went
about his crimes. Proving what they knew was something else
altogether."

After many years, McElroy's criminal ways finally caught up with
him when he shot Ernest "Bo" Bowencamp, who, with wife Lois, ran
the local grocery store. McElroy managed to avoid an immediate
arrest due to a lack of witnesses. Once nabbed, he claimed
self-defense and sought to intimidate any witness who might dare
say otherwise. "Ken McElroy's presence hung over the town like the
threat of a May frost." (MacLean often depicts the situation in
agricultural terms, comparing the passage of time to the growing
season, a literary technique that can grate after a while.)

In a particularly poignant passage, MacLean reports how Lois
Bowencamp "wrote to everyone she could think of, seeking help." She
received "no assistance, Senator Eagleton sent [her] a letter
stating that the problem was a matter for local law enforcement,
and that he did not intend to interfere with the affairs of the
state attorney general."

Even after his conviction following lengthy delays, McElroy was
free to walk among the citizenry, still free to bully them into
fear and submission. What he didn't count on was that the townsfolk
would say "Enough!"

"If you kick and torment a nice dog long enough, if you're mean
enough to him, one day when he's cornered, he'll turn and fight,"
writes MacLean. "Perhaps that is what happened in Skidmore that
morning."

Even key local law enforcement, as frustrated as the people they
were supposed to protect, admitted they were looking for the least
provocation to put McElroy down. It is therefore no wonder that
they come across as ambivalent to find those responsible for ending
McElroy's sorry life.

MacLean does not scrimp on the unsavory details, whether
painstakingly going over every step of McElroy's crime spree over
the years or describing his postmortem. To that end, fans of the
true crime genre are well-served.

Although "[a]s a lawyer and advocate of the justice system, I know
it is a highly dangerous thing to excuse murder, no matter what the
reason," MacLean admits he was sympathetic to the people of
Skidmore. At the same time, "I wonder what goes through their heads
when they drive through town, past the spot where they stood with
their rifles, past the spot where McElroy sat dead in his
truck."

The re-release of IN BROAD DAYLIGHT contains a new epilogue that
marks the intervening years, including an update on some of the key
principals and pondering whether or not justice was truly
served.

Reviewed by Ron Kaplan on January 22, 2011

In Broad Daylight: A Murder in Skidmore, Missouri
by Harry N. MacLean

  • Publication Date: November 28, 2006
  • Genres: Nonfiction, True Crime
  • Mass Market Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's True Crime
  • ISBN-10: 0312942362
  • ISBN-13: 9780312942366