If you have not heard of the town of Skidmore Missouri you are not alone. If you have heard of this tiny little dot on a map, it is probably because of the events disclosed in the documentary “No One Saw A Thing” (2019). I watched the Sundance Documentary this past weekend and while this is not going to be a review of the six-part documentary, I do recommend it. Instead of a review, I wanted instead to give details of the documentary because it is a town rife with tragedy, violence, and a Freddy Krueger-like curse. Each event on its own would be worth an article (or documentary), but for all of these things to have happened in a town of between 200-300 people is absolutely astounding.
Skidmore is the site of one of the most public and notorious events of vigilante justice outside of Marvel movies. On July 10, 1981, Kenneth, Rex McElroy was murdered in broad daylight while he sat in his truck on a main road in the town. What makes this remarkable is that there was somewhere between 40-60 witnesses and the crime remains unsolved.
McElroy was born June 1, 1934 and known as the “town bully” from a very young age. At age 15, he dropped out of school and was known as a hustler, womanizer, and petty thief. As McElroy’s life went on, his “bullying” got worse and worse. He was accused of dozens of felonies including assault, rape, child molestation, arson, statutory rape, pig and cattle rustling, gasoline, grain, alcohol, antiques, burglary, and attempted murder, . 21 times McElroy was charged with crimes and 20 times he got off clean. Witnesses often refused to testify against the monster because of his extreme intimidation tactics. It got so bad that a police marshal was dispatched to Skidmore with the sole purpose of watching McElroy. He was so badly intimidated that he turned in his badge the very next day.
Throughout his life, McElroy fathered 10 children with various women. His final wife, Trena McLeod, caught McElroy’s eye when she was 12 years old and became pregnant at the age of 14 with his child. McElroy asked her parents for her hand in marriage, but they refused. Their refusal was not only based on McElroy’s reputation, but the fact that he was currently married to another woman. McElroy was angry at the refusal and resorted to his usual intimidation tactics. After their house was burned down and their dog was shot dead, Trena’s parent’s finally agreed to the marriage. Trena dropped out of school and moved in with McElroy and his third wife who he later divorced.
McElroy attempted to kill farmer Romaine Henry by shooting him twice in the stomach with a shotgun, but was found not-guilty. The final accusation was an attempted murder charge for shooting the local store owner in the neck with a shotgun. Luckily, Ernest “Bo” Bowenkamp, the victim, survived and McElroy was found guilty of assault. The problem was that he was freed immediately on bail pending his appeal and was found the very next day in the local bar holding a rifle and bayonet and bragging about what he had done to Bo. More immortality, McElroy was promising to finish the job! This was not only the final accusation against McElroy, but the final straw for the townsfolk of Skidmore.
On the morning of June 10, 1981, there was a meeting at the town hall in Skidmore, Missouri. This meeting included anywhere from 40-60 adult citizens of the town including the sheriff and the mayor. As the meeting ended, across the street, as though it were written in a movie, Ken and Trena McElroy pulled up to the bar across the street. The meeting members filed out of the town hall, into the D&G Bar, and waited until the McElroy’s were finished. Ken and Treena left the bar and got into their pickup truck only to find that they were surrounded by members of the town. People they surely knew. It was then that the shooting started. For up to 20 seconds and witnessed by up to 60 people, bullets flew throw the air. Trena was pulled from the truck to safety, but Ken McElroy was dead. The streets cleared and the body was left in his truck, ignominiously murdered.
No Ambulance was called, and no charges were laid despite an extensive federal investigation into the crime. “No one saw anything” and it has stayed that way until today.
Here is where things get really twisted. There is a lot of discussion n the documentary about the emotional, mental, and even spiritual toll keeping a secret like murder takes on the people and town itself. There is an extremely high number of violent crimes per capita in Skidore Missouri after the death of Ken McElroy. Drugs ran rampant, businesses went out of business, and the town is still slowly dying. I am not subscribing to some angel of death and judgment falling on the town, or McElroy turning into Freddy Krueger and slaying the children of the people who killed him, but there are things worth looking at.
On April 11, 2001 a boy named Branson Perry disappeared. Perry was born on February 24, 1981 and had an innocent, youthful face with light, blonde hair. This young man was no angel, however, and his disappearance is hard to wrap my head around.
Branson Perry was deep into making meth and and was known to owe money to various drug dealers. Only days before his disappearance, the young man had drugged and raped his friend Jason Bierman. It doesn’t take much imagination to understand that a small, farming town in Missouri had a tough time with everything about Brandon’s life and lifestyle from drugs to his homosexuality. Branson did not fit in, in Skidmore.
The night of April 11, Perry took some jumper cables out to a shed in the back yard and was never seen again. Weeks after his disappearance, the jumper cable re-appeared in the shed.
Over 100 people were interviewed in the Branson Perry Case, but again “no one saw a thing.” One man, a priest named Jack Wayne Rogers, was the prime suspect due the messages he had on his computer about kidnapping, torturing, and killing a blonde boy from Missouri, but Rogers maintained that it was just a fantasy based on him seeing the story about Brandon missing. (Jack Rogers was a disgustingly sick man and I am working on another article solely about him.) Rogers was never charged with the kidnapping of Perry and no other suspects were ever named.
Branson Perry’s cousin, Bobbie Jo Stinnett, is an exceptionally tragic story. Born on December 4, 1981, Bobboe Jo was 8 months pregnant when her body was found by her mother. During the 9-1-1 call, her mother cried that it looked like Bobbie Jo’s “stomach had exploded.”
Yet another tragedy in Skidmore, but this time the town answered the call. It took very little time for the police to track down e-mails between Stinnett and a Lisa M. Montgomery (though Lisa used the alias Darlene Fischer in her e-mails). Both Stinnett and Montgomery were rat terrier dog breeders and, under the guise of buying a dog, on December 16, 2004, Montgomery drove from Melverne Kansas to Skidmore Missouri, strangled the young Bobbie Jo, viciously cut the premature baby out of her womb, and left her to die in a pool of blood.
Montogmery had been telling everyone for months that she was pregnant and attempted to pass Stintin’s baby off as her own. On December 17, 2004, authorities arrested Montgomery. The healthy infant was given to her father, Zeb Stinnett.
Montogmery was found guilty of “kidnapping resulting in death” and, on October 26, 2007, was sentenced to death.
This story is an absolute tragedy and heartbreaking. The only difference is that with Bobby Jo Stinnett, the town spoke up. They called the authorities, they mad themselves available, they allowed the investigation to happen. The result, a conviction.
I don’t know if the town was cursed, or of the people were broken beyond repair hiding their secrets. I don’t know if they thought “we got away with it once” and it opened the doors for other violent crimes, but something is off about the town of Skidmore. In the same county, back in 1931, Raymond Gunn, was lynched from a tree and burned by a vigilante mob of 2,000-4,000 people on the way to his trial.
Gunn had been accused and confessed to the rape and murder of Velma Colter. With heavy police protection, Gunn made his way to the courthouse to stand trial. He was quickly surrounded by a mob of 3,000-4,000 people. They quickly tied him up hanging from a tree above the schoolhouse and lit the school on fire, burning Gunn while he was being hanged.
- “He twisted and revealed a huge blister ballooning on his left upper arm. Pieces of his skin blew away to the wind as the blistering heat became more intense and soon his torso was splotched with white patches of exposed flesh. His hair burned like a torch for moment then his head sagged. His body writhed. It took the appearance of a mummy.”
But when they were asked, yet again, “no on saw a thing.”
Whatever the reason for the violence, crimes, drugs, dilapidation of the town, and sorrow in the lives of the people still living there, Skidmore will never be able to shake the reputation it has. Few heroes, many villains, and a long history of death. Even now, nearly 40 years later, the ghost of Ken Rex McElroy and those who hid their secrets of his murder looms heavily over the dying farm town. The victims of more recent tragedies will always live in the shadow of the man who “always had a chip on his shoulder” and the people who took the law into their own hands.