Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Ken McElroy


In 1984, attorney Richard McFadin filed a $5 million wrongful death civil lawsuit on behalf of Trena McElroy against Sheriff Estes, Mayor Peter and Del Clement.

The defendants settled out of court for $17,600, with the county paying $12,600, Skidmore $2,000 and Clement $3,000. No one admitted guilt. They said the settlement was made to avoid costly legal fees should the suit go forward.

In various interrogations, Del Clement reportedly has adamantly denied shooting McElroy. In 2001, he told the Kansas City Star, "After 20 years of it, it might be an anniversary for you, but it's not for me. Everything I ever said about it has been said before."

Nonetheless, Clement's name is immortalized on the short list of alleged shooters in the case.

Almost anyone in Nodaway County can tick off the two or three names broadly credited with killing McElroy. But prosecutor Baird contends that few people know the truth. "Not as many people participated as everybody thinks...and not as many people know," he told the Daily Forum.

Some in Nodaway County have protested the media characterization of the incident as vigilantism. Author Harry MacLean returns frequently to the issue in his acclaimed book about the murder, "In Broad Daylight." Yet is seems a case of splitting hairs.

The possibility of killing Ken McElroy was not discussed at the Legion Hall meeting, according to Sheriff Estes. He used that fact to dismiss the charge of vigilantism.

The shooting was not necessarily a conspiratorial plan involving vast numbers of men. Perhaps it involved three men, maybe five or six, and it many have been spontaneous, with the killers deciding to go to their trucks to get weapons in case McElroy was armed when he came out of the bar.

But in the end, the men who pulled the trigger chose to take the law into their own hands, and that is vigilantism. And those who could identify the killers but covered up the crime are no less vigilantes.

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