"Love Forever, Louise": The Mystery of Room No. 1046

Photo illustration by Mental Floss. Image: iStock
Photo illustration by Mental Floss. Image: iStock

Ruby Ogletree knew something was wrong when a typewritten letter arrived from her son, Artemus, in the spring of 1935. The teenager didn’t know how to use a typewriter, as far as she knew; all of his previous letters, mailed home to Birmingham, Alabama, and written with the nonchalant cadence of a young man out seeing the country, were in longhand. The tone in the new letter wasn’t quite right, either—whoever wrote it used slang that didn't sound like her son.

Soon, more letters started arriving, always typewritten. One said Artemus was in Chicago attending a business school. One said he was sailing from New York to Europe. Then, in August of that year, a man who said his name was Jordan called Ruby, said he was a friend of her son, and claimed that Artemus had saved his life and was now married to a wealthy woman in Cairo, Egypt. Artemus couldn’t type anymore because he’d lost a thumb in a brawl, the man said. Growing increasingly suspicious, Ruby finally sought help from the cops, the FBI, and the American consulate in Egypt—but no one could locate Artemus.

As it turned out, her son's life had become entangled with one of the 20th century's strangest crimes, one that remains unsolved to this day: the mystery of room 1046.

THE MAN IN THE OVERCOAT

On January 2, 1935, a well-dressed young man checked into the President Hotel in Kansas City, Missouri, and signed the register as Roland T. Owen of Los Angeles. A little heavyset, he had the cauliflower ear of a boxer or wrestler and the left side of his head was marred by a large, white, horizontal scar. He carried no luggage.

Owen asked for an interior room (one without a window to the street), and a bellboy took him up to 1046. Later that day, a cleaning woman, Mary Soptic, walked in on a nervous-looking Owen. His shades were drawn—as they would be all three days of his stay—and a single lamp provided the only light source. Shortly after the maid arrived, Owen left; he asked her to leave the door unlocked, as he was expecting a friend. In later statements to police, Soptic said that Owen's actions and facial expressions made it seem like “he was either worried about something or afraid,” and that “he always wanted to kinda keep in the dark.”

A few hours later, Soptic entered the room again to deliver fresh towels. She found Owen lying on his bed, fully dressed. A note on the desk read: “Don, I will be back in fifteen minutes. Wait.”

The next time the maid saw Owen was mid-morning the following day, January 3. His door had been locked from the outside, so she was forced to use her passkey, which opened every door in the hotel. Again, he was alone, sitting in the dark.

As she proceeded to clean the room, Soptic overheard Owen on the phone. “No, Don,” he said, “I don’t want to eat. I am not hungry. I just had breakfast. No. I am not hungry.”

The locked door, darkened room, and nervous inhabitant were all strange enough, but it wasn’t over for Soptic. Later that day, bringing a new set of towels up to the room, she again knocked on the door. She heard two men talking and then was answered by a rough, decidedly non-Owen-sounding voice. When she offered the towels, he told her they didn’t need any.

The next person to interact with Owen was likely Robert Lane, a worker for the Kansas City water department. At around 11 p.m. on January 3, Lane offered a ride to a young man walking along 13th Street, about a mile and a half from the hotel. The man was clad in pants and an undershirt, with no coat, and had a deep scratch on his arm. Something about the way the young man cupped his hands made Lane think he was trying to hide the blood from another, worse wound somewhere else on his body. The young man asked to be dropped somewhere he could pick up a taxi. When Lane inquired about his arm, the young man mumbled, "I’ll kill [him] tomorrow," using an expletive that was redacted by the newspaper reports. He hopped out when they reached the taxi stand, and that was the last Lane saw of him.

Witness reports would later place Owen with two women in several bars along Twelfth Street earlier that afternoon. At the time, he was again wearing an overcoat. What he did to receive the slash on his arm, no one would ever find out.

"TURN ON THE LIGHTS"

As Thursday night broke into the wee hours of Friday morning, January 4, a guest in room 1048 heard arguing—what sounded like both male and female voices—in room 1046. Shortly after that, the telephone operator noticed that the phone in 1046 had been off the hook for a while and sent a bellboy up. When he knocked on the door, a deep voice told him to come in—but the door was locked. The bellboy told the guest this, but the man inside the room didn't address it, instead saying, “Turn on the lights.” The bellboy knocked for several more minutes, to no avail; before he left, he shouted through the door, “Put the phone back on the hook!”

At 8:30 a.m., the phone in 1046 was still off the hook, so another bellboy went to the room. When his knocks received no response, he let himself in with his passkey and noticed Owen, naked in his bed, in sheets stained with dark marks. Figuring that the guest was passed-out drunk, the bellboy put the phone on the stand and left.

But drunkenness wasn't the issue, as the next bellboy who went up to deal with the situation would discover. "[W]hen I entered the room this man was within two feet of the door on his knees and elbows—holding his head in his hands," the bellboy would later tell police. "I noticed blood on his head." He turned the light on, placed the phone on the hook, and took a look around: "[I] saw blood on the walls on the bed and in the bath room ..." Frightened, he fled downstairs, telling a manager what he'd seen.

Detectives were quickly summoned. They discovered that Owen was tied around his neck, ankles, and wrists, and had been stabbed repeatedly in the chest. One of the knife thrusts had punctured his lung, and his skull was fractured from repeated blows to the right side.

A detective asked Owen who had been in the room with him. Though drifting into unconsciousness, Owen had a chance to finger his assailants, to earn a measure of justice for himself. Nevertheless, he answered: “Nobody.”

How did you get hurt?, the detective asked.

“I fell against the bathtub.”

Did you try to commit suicide?, the detective asked.

“No.”

Owen then slipped into a coma. He died at the hospital in the early morning hours of January 5, 1935.

WHO'S DON?

It was as befuddling a case as the Kansas City police department had ever encountered. Whoever had assaulted Owen had stripped him and his hotel room almost bare. No towels, no shampoo, no clothing. All detectives found were a necktie label, a hairpin, an unlit cigarette, a safety pin, and a small unopened bottle of diluted sulfuric acid. A broken water glass with a jagged edge was in the sink. The only prints found were lifted from the telephone stand, which police surmised belonged to a woman.

The bigger mystery was just who "Roland T. Owen" was. While several people could identify his body, they all knew him by different names. It turned out he’d stayed in more than one hotel prior to the President: The staff at the nearby Muehlebach Hotel knew him as single-night guest Eugene K. Scott of Los Angeles, who also preferred an interior room. He’d also stayed at the St. Regis Hotel in town, this time as Duncan Ogletree, and shared a room with a man who went by Donald Kelso. Then there was the wrestling promoter who said Owen approached him about signing up for some matches weeks earlier, under the name Cecil Werner of Omaha. As it turns out, in his own anonymous way, Owen had touched the lives of many people—yet he remained a mystery.

Police and the media put out calls to the public to help identify the battered young man with the unusual scar. Hundreds came to view him, but no one could claim him as their own.

The other shadowy figures—"Don" and the woman who may have left her prints behind—could not be located, nor could police figure out exactly how they fit into the crime. Was it a love triangle gone sour? And why had Owen refused to name his attacker(s)? Was it love, fear, loyalty, or the traumatic brain injury?

The mystery only deepened in March, when police announced they’d be burying Owen in a potter’s field. But before the burial could take place, an anonymous male donor called the funeral home and said he would send the funds to cover the young man’s funeral and burial in Kansas City's Memorial Park Cemetery. By some accounts, the man also explained that Owen had jilted a woman the man knew, and that the three of them had met at the hotel about it. “Cheaters usually get what’s coming to them,” the man said, and then hung up.

The cash arrived wrapped in a newspaper, and Owen was buried in a ceremony attended only by police detectives. An anonymous order was also placed with a local florist for 13 American Beauty roses to be laid on his grave, with a card that read, “Love forever—Louise.”

Around the time of the funeral, there was another puzzling phone call, this time to a local paper. A woman—who refused to identify herself—called to chastise an editor for reporting that Owen was to be buried in a pauper’s grave. (It's not exactly clear when the call occurred, but the paper had apparently not covered the subsequent burial at Memorial Park Cemetery.) “You have a story in your paper that is wrong . . . Roland Owen will not be buried in a pauper’s grave. Arrangements have been made for his funeral," the woman announced. When the editor pushed back and asked what had happened to Owen in the hotel room, the woman answered, “He got into a jam.”

ARTEMUS REVEALED

Shot of the exterior of the President Hotel in Kansas City, Missouri
The President Hotel in Kansas City, Missouri

In the fall of 1936, nearly two years after the murder, a friend of Ruby's showed her a copy of the May 1935 issue of The American Weekly, a now-defunct Hearst Sunday supplement. Inside, under the splashy headline “The Mystery of Room No. 1046,” lay Artemus in repose. His body was shown in profile, and there was no mistaking that scar on his head. He’d been burned as a child, she would later explain, and the mark of his injury had followed him into young adulthood.

But if the article was correct, and the boy in the photo was her son, he had been dead long before she started receiving those typewritten letters—and the phone calls from “Jordan.”

Letters and photos that Ruby subsequently sent to the Kansas City Police Department confirmed Owen’s identity as Artemus Ogletree, and in early November 1936, newspapers around the country printed Owen’s real name.

That was the last break in the case of Room 1046. In the decades since, many have tried to unearth new details or float new theories. Was "Don" the benefactor? Was he the murderer as well? Was Louise a jilted lover, somehow connected to Don, or both? Theories have abounded, but to date no one has puzzled out just why it was that Owen met his death that night, or at whose hand.

One promising lead surfaced in 1937 when a man who went by the alias "Joseph Ogden" (he refused to provide his real name) was arrested for the murder of his roommate. One of Ogden’s other known aliases was Donald Kelso, and his appearance was similar to the description of the Donald Kelso who’d stayed at the St. Regis with Ogletree. But the connection was never pursued.

And what about the mysterious “Jordan?” Could he have been Donald Kelso (a.k.a. Joseph Ogden), determined to keep the Ogletree family and the KCPD off his tail? If so, his actions had only succeeded in making them suspicious.

As of today, the secrets of the last days of Artemus Ogletree, a.k.a. Roland T. Owen, a.k.a. Eugene K. Scott, a.k.a. Duncan Ogletree, a.k.a. Cecil Werner, remain locked away in the lives of victim and perpetrator—or perpetrators. And by the look of it, they’ll continue to bedevil us for decades more to come.

Additional Sources: John Arthur Horner, "The Mystery of Room 1046, pt. 1: Roland T. Owen" and "The Mystery of Room 1046, pt. 2: Love Forever, Louise."

How Queen Victoria Almost Learned the Ending to Charles Dickens's Unfinished 'The Mystery of Edwin Drood'

Rischgitz/Getty Images
Rischgitz/Getty Images

By 1870, Charles Dickens had reached the height of his fame. The British novelist had concluded his second reading tour of the U.S., where fans stood in line for hours just to be in the same room as the literary superstar. His last three major works—A Tale of Two Cities, a historical novel; Great Expectations, a coming-of-age story; and Our Mutual Friend, a social satire—had all been critical and commercial successes. For his next project, he chose a darker genre to explore.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood is a whodunit set in Cloisterham, England (the fictionalized version of Dickens’s hometown of Rochester). In the tale, Edwin Drood is engaged to be married to Rosa Bud, but his fiancée has attracted romantic attention from two other men in town: his uncle John Jasper and the hot-tempered Neville Landless. Tensions boil over when the three men spend an evening together, and Landless nearly chucks a wine goblet at Drood. Days later, Drood disappears without warning, and though foul play is suspected, the culprit’s identity is unclear.

Before starting the book, Dickens wrote to his friend and biographer John Forster that he had “a very curious and new idea for my new story. Not a communicable idea (or the interest of the book would be gone), but a very strong one, though difficult to work." The writer’s vision would never be fully realized, however; Dickens died of a stroke on June 9, 1870, at age 58 after publishing the sixth installment of The Mystery of Edwin Drood—which was meant to be serialized in 12 parts.

The author took the ending of his final novel to the grave, and to this day, the full plot of The Mystery of Edwin Drood remains mysterious. There was, however, one person he came close to sharing his secret with: Queen Victoria. To the people who knew Dickens, she seemed like the last person he would confide in.

An Unlikely Meeting

Queen Victoria was one of the few people who rivaled Dickens’s fame in mid-19th century Britain. She held the throne from 1837 to 1901, making her the longest-reigning monarch in British history at the time of her death. The queen devoured literature—she also published a book of her own, Leaves from the Journal of Our Life in the Highlands, in 1868—and like many of her subjects, she enjoyed the works of Charles Dickens. She described Oliver Twist as “excessively interesting,” and tried many times during her reign to set up a meeting with the author. But for 22 years, Dickens declined.

Dickens wasn’t as enchanted with royalty as some of his peers. To him, Queen Victoria was "merely a provincial devotee,” and he didn’t feel compelled to meet this one fan out of many, even if declining a royal invitation was a great violation of social norms at the time. Despite the insults implied with each rejection, the queen persisted—and in March 1870, she finally succeeded in getting the most famous novelist in England into her palace.

The meeting was a little awkward—they both stood the entire time—but any frank opinions the author had about his host or royalty in general he kept to himself. When Queen Victoria presented him with a copy of Leaves from the Journal of Our Life in the Highlands, he accepted it politely, and did not mention the fact that he had once called it “preposterous” in a letter to a friend, and described those who gave it positive reviews as a “shameful lick-spittle chorus.”

Yet Dickens also didn’t exactly go out of his way to make Victoria happy. When the queen expressed regret over never making it to one of Dickens’s famous live readings, he told her didn’t do private shows (a statement that wasn’t entirely truthful). Dickens instead offered to share something with her on his terms: the ending of the novel he was currently writing, The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

It's possible Queen Victoria didn't realize the full significance of this gesture; Dickens hadn’t shared the full ending of the book with anyone, and as far as historians know, he hadn’t written it down anywhere—an unusual move from the normally meticulous note-taker. Whatever her reasons, the queen said 'no thank you,' and the rest of their conversation consisted of much less historically important matters, such as rising food prices and how hard it was to find good servants in England.

Dickens died less than four months later. Following their meeting, Queen Victoria had described Dickens as "very agreeable, with a pleasant voice and manner." After his death, she wrote in her diary, "He is a very great loss."

The Unsolved Mystery of Edwin Drood

Charles Dickens was known for his cliffhangers, and dying halfway through writing his last novel produced the greatest cliffhanger of his career. Whatever ending he had planned for The Mystery of Edwin Drood, it likely wouldn’t have matched the 150 years' worth of mystique that has developed around the story.

Some have claimed they were in on the secret. John Forster, a friend with whom Dickens often shared his work before publishing it, wrote in his biography of the author that Drood ends with the discovery of Edwin’s lime-resistant gold ring. This apparently confirms speculations that John Jasper murdered his nephew and dissolved his remains in lime.

Other scholars and writers have attempted to solve the mystery on their own over the years. In 1914, the Dickens Fellowship held a mock trial for Jasper, with G.K. Chesterton serving as the judge and George Bernard Shaw as the foreman of the jury. (The fictional character was found guilty of manslaughter.) In 2015, the University of Buckingham set up a website called Drood Inquiry, where the public could submit their theories on the book’s conclusion. The ending that pinned Jasper as the murderer was by far the most popular, but the project also attracted some more surprising ideas. According to one submission, Edwin Drood was killed by the sweet mother of the local reverend.

All of this speculation might have never have happened if Queen Victoria had agreed to hear the ending Dickens offered to share with her. Instead, she lived out the remainder of her life just as in the dark about what the writer intended as the rest of us—even if she was lucky enough to once share in his company.

Killing Fields: The Town That Got Away With Murder

iStock.com/river34
iStock.com/river34

The townspeople who had gathered near the D&G Tavern in the small farming community of Skidmore, Missouri, that July morning could feel the shift in the atmosphere. The fear that once hung over the town's 440 residents had been replaced by something else. Anger—a deep, long-simmering anger—was part of it, but so was a sense of obligation. Men stood near vehicles that held rifles and shotguns inside. Bank employees and grocery clerks watched from nearby windows. Dust hovering over the sparsely developed main road through town helped lend that moment in 1981 the tension of a Wild West showdown.

The tavern door opened, and out stepped Ken Rex McElroy, 47, a bulky man with a ragged pair of sideburns and a piercing stare. To someone passing through town, McElroy may have looked like a strong farmhand, a callused good old boy. But to locals, McElroy was a vengeful bully, a thief, and an attempted murderer who eluded any and all attempts to put him behind bars. He terrorized the rural town of Skidmore (which had no police force of its own), taking point-blank aim at those who crossed him, and was routinely charged with three to four crimes a year.

McElroy was not ignorant of the town's hostility. He simply didn't care. That morning, he was out on bond, once again free to walk Skidmore's streets. As he moved from the tavern and opened the driver's side door to his Chevy Silverado, he said nothing to the 30-odd residents who stood nearby or watched from a gas station just up the hill. His wife, Trena, climbed into the passenger’s seat.

Trena looked around, then behind them. She was the first to see the rifle as one of the gathered men hoisted it to shoulder-level. She heard the rear window of the Silverado shatter, and saw her husband slump over the steering wheel.

In seconds, Ken McElroy would be dead, and the people of Skidmore—who had seen everything—would claim to have seen nothing at all.

 

If anyone could drive a normally peaceful community to cover up a murder, it was Ken McElroy. As one of over a dozen children raised under modest financial means in and around Kansas and the Ozarks, McElroy appeared to consider a proper education frivolous at best. According to In Broad Daylight, a comprehensive account of the Skidmore saga by author Harry N. MacLean, McElroy dropped out of school in the eighth grade. Having never learned to read or write, he set about a life of labor, eventually winding up in Nodaway County, Missouri.

It became apparent to McElroy fairly early on that an honest living would fail to provide the material possessions and leisurely lifestyle he desired. So he began stealing. Mostly, it was the livestock in and around Skidmore, a small town roughly 90 minutes north of Kansas City. In the dead of night, he'd pull up next to farmers' hog pens and make off with animals he could sell at auction or to third parties who knew better than to ask too many questions. He also leased his own land and trafficked in hunting dogs, which he had a talent for training. Through means legitimate and illicit, he was usually flush with cash—money that would come in handy when he inevitably lost his temper.

A shotgun barrel is pictured
iStock.com/stsvirkun

McElroy was rarely without a firearm of some kind, either on his person or mounted in his vehicles. Possessing a weapon was not unusual in Missouri, but brandishing it was. McElroy had no reservations about stuffing a shotgun in someone's face or belly to make a point. When a farmer named Romaine Henry had an encounter with McElroy on Henry's land in July 1976, McElroy shot him in the stomach. Henry survived and expected some measure of justice. But in court, McElroy produced witnesses who swore he was home at the time the shooting took place. A jury subsequently found McElroy not guilty.

Sliding out of trouble was a McElroy specialty. In addition to allies—often his hunting-dog cohorts—who would guarantee he was some place other than the scene of a crime, he had the money to hire Richard McFadin, a skilled defense attorney, to represent him. McFadin would use every legal maneuver at his disposal to get hearings postponed or delayed on the premise that the longer it took to go to trial, the colder the case against McElroy would get. Suddenly, defendants who had been assaulted or witnesses who had seen McElroy's impropriety would spot a pick-up truck parked outside their house or hear a shotgun going off in the middle of the night. Sometimes McElroy would confront them face-to-face and explain in a measured tone that he'd kill anyone opposing him in court.

Perhaps they could have held out for a month or two. Faced with extended periods of McElroy's harassment, many of them recanted their statements. Time and again, McElroy would simply walk away from serious charges with nothing more than a dent in his wallet.

 

As McElroy aged, his behavior grew more audacious, and the town of Skidmore grew more apprehensive. After two marriages, he wed Trena McCloud, whom he had met when she was just 14 years old. She accused him of raping her but—like many of McElroy's victims—later withdrew her statement. When McElroy was all but confirmed to have burned her parents' house down in a fit of rage, Trena blamed it on "faulty wiring." She became his accomplice, accompanying McElroy on several of his nocturnal visits to people he had targeted for harassment. As McElroy ranted, she would stand nearby, a firearm in her hands.

In 1980, Trena entered a grocery store in Skidmore with one of Ken's daughters from a previous marriage, Tonia. Before long, an argument ensued between Trena and shopkeepers Ernest "Bo" Bowenkamp and his wife, Lois, over whether Tonia had taken candy without intending to pay for it. For McElroy, the misunderstanding turned into an accusation that his daughter was a thief. He began to haunt the Bowenkamps at their store and at home, parking outside for hours at a time. Knowing McElroy's reputation, the couple feared it wouldn't be long before his harassment turned violent.

One evening in July 1980, McElroy approached Bo Bowenkamp near the loading area of the grocery store. After a brief verbal exchange, McElroy raised a shotgun and fired. Bowenkamp flinched as the buckshot tore through his neck. The 70-year-old was lucky to survive.

A cornfield is seen under a full moon
iStock.com/crisserbug

McElroy peeled off in his truck. A highway patrol corporal named Richard Stratton was alerted to the incident and gave chase. Having had run-ins with McElroy before, he knew the man would attempt to get out of the county via an alternative route going through neighboring Fillmore. He found and arrested McElroy, but not before considering he might just get shot. McElroy had previously threatened that he was capable of gunning down police, and at that point there was no reason to doubt him.

 

In what was becoming a routine occurrence, McElroy enlisted McFadin to represent him in the resulting criminal case. McFadin asked for and received a change of venue—this time to Harrison County—and prepared a defense that portrayed Bowenkamp as the aggressor. The store owner, McElroy claimed, had approached him menacingly with a knife. McElroy had no choice but to defend himself.

In the interim, McElroy stuck to his usual strategy of intimidating victims, driving by the Bowenkamp household and making harassing calls. This time, his words fell on deaf ears. The Bowenkamps never lost their nerve, and McElroy was convicted of second-degree assault. He received a two-year jail sentence.

Anyone in Skidmore rejoicing at the news McElroy had finally been cornered by the law found their relief short-lived. A judge allowed McElroy out on a $40,000 bond pending an appeal of the conviction.

McElroy remained a looming presence in town, and the sentence did nothing to curb his behavior. At the D&G Tavern, he brandished a rifle with a bayonet attached to it, vowing to finish the job on Bowenkamp. Such a display was a clear violation of his bond, and eyewitnesses found the courage to testify against him in the hopes he would finally be locked up. But a crafty McFadin got the hearing delayed again. On the morning of July 10, 1981, when McElroy should have been answering to charges of wielding a firearm, he was in the tavern.

To the people of Skidmore, McElroy's continued presence was inexplicable. Time and again, the law had failed to protect them from a violent, abusive man who had stolen from them, raped them, terrorized them in their homes, and fired guns in the hopes of killing them. There was no predicting what kind of pain he could inflict before he was sent to jail. And that assumed he'd wind up there at all.

A windshield with a bullet hole is pictured
iStock.com/BirdofPrey

A town meeting was convened at the American Legion Hall up the road from the tavern. Many of the same people who once cowered from McElroy now discussed the best way to protect their town from another rampage. Someone voiced the idea of trailing McElroy in a pack to prevent him from acting out—a kind of roving neighborhood watch. Others simply couldn't believe McElroy had once again sidestepped punishment for his actions.

The meeting dispersed, and the residents walked toward the tavern. Many walked inside and surrounded McElroy, a silent statement that there was solidarity among the townspeople.

McElroy said nothing. He exited the building and climbed into his Silverado. His wife, Trena, would later tell investigators she saw a man behind them raise a rifle before the shooting began. A shot shattered the car window and ripped through McElroy, leaving glass everywhere. Then one of the men opened the passenger-side door and ushered Trena out of the line of fire.

She was led into the nearby bank. The shooting continued for 20 seconds or so and then stopped. The only remaining noise was the Silverado’s rumbling engine.

A few residents walked up to the truck to peer inside. But when the ambulance arrived, it was obvious no one had tried to help.

 

From the time she was brought in for questioning, Trena was unwavering in her assertion that she knew who the killer was. She identified a man People magazine later named as Del Clement as the one who had held up the rifle and shot McElroy. Clement had motive—he was part-owner of the tavern where McElroy idled, driving away customers, and was also victimized by his livestock heists—and was known to have a quick temper.

Trena told Nodaway County's prosecuting attorney, David Baird, that it was Clement. She told FBI investigators and three separate grand juries. But she was the only one talking. Local law enforcement and federal officials tried every approach possible to gather information from residents. They tried playing nice. Then they played a heavy hand, demanding to know what had happened. They insisted no one would be getting away with murder—certainly not in broad daylight and in front of dozens of witnesses. FBI vehicles crawled through town, stopping in front of houses. Agents sat in kitchens, hoping to pry even the tiniest bit of detail from locals.

A close-up of a man's eye is pictured
iStock.com/Yuji_Karaki

Nothing worked. Skidmore's population had little else to say other than that they heard shooting and hit the ground to avoid being struck by a bullet. They didn't see who started it, if there had been one shooter or several, or if anyone was fleeing the scene. One witness mentioned seeing Clement and a passenger speeding down a road after the shooting but later recanted.

None of it was enough for Baird to bring a case. Trena's testimony would wither without anyone to corroborate it. After a year, the FBI announced they would be closing their investigation.

The town was deluged by reporters intoxicated by the idea of frontier justice. They composed headlines like "Town Bully is Dead" and "Woman Says Husband Killed by Vigilante." They knocked on doors and sat down in the tavern. But they couldn't loosen the tongues of the locals.

Highway patrolman Stratton, who knew of McElroy's sinister reputation first-hand—McElroy once terrorized his wife outside of their home with a shotgun—seemed resigned to the town's silence. "They did what they did because we didn't do our job," he said in 2010. "Then they went home and kept their mouths shut and kept them closed all these years. There wasn't much David Baird could do about that."

No one was ever charged with the murder of Ken McElroy. Clement, the man Trena named as the shooter, died in 2009. Baird moved to private practice. Trena managed to get a $17,000 settlement in a wrongful-death civil suit against the county sheriff, Skidmore's mayor, and Clement, and nothing more.

Skidmore's population continues to dwindle. And as its residents age, it grows even less likely that anyone will come forward with information that could solve the case.

McFadin summarized his feelings in a 2010 New York Times interview. "The town," he said, "got away with murder."

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