Skidmore's fate

Friday, December 31, 2004

Skidmore, Mo., a tiny hamlet in Northwest Missouri, has once again become the focus of worldwide attention. For the residents of the town, which would much prefer to be known for its annual pumpkin festival, the tragedies that have brought the town so much attention have also left deep personal scars.

The latest event was the kidnapping of an infant removed from its mother's womb, resulting in the mother's death and another pall over Skidmore's residents.

According to various news reports, the grotesque crime of removing an infant from the womb occurs more often than anyone might expect. While similar crimes result in big local headlines wherever they occur, they do not generally receive the international attention of the baby snatching in Skidmore.

That's probably because of the sensational news coverage, books and movies that followed the killing of Ken Rex McElroy on Skidmore's main street in the mid-1980s. News organizations from around the world were captivated by reports that several dozen townspeople killed McElroy, a violent man who had created havoc in the community, in broad daylight.

There's just one thing wrong with the story: It isn't entirely true. Yes, McElroy was killed while sitting in his pickup on Skidmore's main street. But a lone gunman did the deed after a small crowd of townspeople dispersed, mainly out of fear over McElroy's arrival.

The townspeople had gathered with a sheriff's deputy to discuss ways to keep the bully from terrorizing the town. When McElroy arrived, the meeting quickly ended, and the deputy left town.

No one has ever been charged with McElroy's death. A civil lawsuit filed by McElroy's widow named the alleged killer, but to no avail.

Interestingly, most of the reporters who helped to sensationalize the McElroy story never went to Skidmore. Instead, they sought the relative safety of the nearby county seat town of Maryville, home of Northwest Missouri State University.

Much of the on-the-scene reporting was done from bar stools at The Pub, a popular watering hole.

The local newspaper, the Daily Forum, was besieged by requests for photos and stories that were later given new bylines by major newspapers, magazines and TV networks.

One major Arizona newspaper even published an artist's drawing of Skidmore's main street. Unfortunately, the scene depicted looked nothing like Skidmore.

With the McElroy publicity and a subsequent murder involving death by stomping, any lurid crime in Skidmore is guaranteed major news coverage.

Few news outlets have reported, however, that the pumpkin festival was called off this year.

--Southeast Missourian