Sunday, January 28, 2024

Reprint Heaven: Brutality

 The Normalization Of The Night World
(From June, 2022: Still meaningful today as it was in the olden times.)

Ken McElroy's Chevy Pickup, Elm street; Skidmore, Missouri; July 10, 1981

My favorite opening in a short story is T. Coraghessen Boyle's 1984 "The Hat": They sent a hit squad after the bear. It's really a story about people caught in a cul-de-sac of life, marginal at best, and not a large Ursine animal just doing its Bear Thing -- but I dare you to pass on reading a story with a hook like that, just to find out where it would lead.

This doesn't have much to do with the little screed which follows. Oh, maybe a little -- I'm in my own corporate / retirement merry-go-round cul-de-sac at the moment, wondering when They will send a hit squad after America; how long the current precarious balance of all things will last. Who knows.

The population of Skidmore, in Nodaway County, Missouri, as captured in the 1980 National Census, was 437 people.  One of them was Kenneth Rex McElroy, born 1934; according to Wikipedia, the next to last of 16 children, born to a dirt-poor, migrant tenant-farming couple. At age 15, still in 8th grade, he dropped out of school "and quickly established a local reputation as a cattle rustler, small-time thief, and womanizer."

McElroy worked on occasion, stealing and selling to fences when he wasn't; barely drifting along at the edge, smack in the middle of flyover country. He had a reputation in Skidmore as a rough customer, someone you shouldn't cross. 

Reportedly, while working on a local construction site, an iron girder fell and grazed him on its way down; he suffered skull fractures and other injuries. He healed -- but some in Skidmore believed the injuries, particularly to the head, changed him. 

The Grendel Of Nodaway County; His Grave Marker Says, "Fearless... Compassionate"

McElroy was already a town tough, but then he went further: he became proactively vicious and cruel -- someone who went after people, because he could. Because he wanted to. Because it seemed to give him pleasure to do so.

For the next twenty-plus years, McElroy was the the monster in the Corn of Nodaway County.  He was suspected of stealing "grain, gasoline, alcohol, antiques, and livestock", and was charged 21 times with various offenses. McElroy was helped by a clever, not very principled defense attorney, Richard Gene McFadin.

Reputed to have connections to organized crime in Kansas City, McFadin did the legal work. McElroy terrorized witnesses against him, or members of juries; several times, he put rattlesnakes in the Rural Route mailboxes of his targets. And -- su-rprise, su-prise -- suddenly, witnesses' memories faltered and became hazy, or complainants withdrew charges, or if matters ever got as far as a courtroom, juries hung when some members claimed they just couldn't reach a decision.

Rape, theft; extreme physical violence -- McElroy did more or less whatever he wanted. There is plenty of reporting on McElroy's reign of terror in Skidmore. He was a living Id, untethered and loose.  Some stories leave you shaking your head, wondering just how this violent, narcissistic sociopath was allowed to get away with it all for over 20 years.

Example: McElroy was married to his second wife when he met Trena McCloud, a twelve-year-old girl. He raped her repeatedly. The McClouds told him they wanted his 'attentions' to end. McElroy didn't like that, and so burned the McCloud family home to the ground and shot their dog.

Trena moved into McElroy's house, living there with him and his then-wife, Alice. According to Wikipedia, "McElroy divorced Alice and married Trena in order to escape charges of statutory rape, to which she was the only witness. Sixteen days after Trena gave birth, both she and Alice fled... McElroy tracked them down and brought them back. He then returned to Trena's parents' home when they were away and, once again, shot the family dog and burned the[ir] house down."

In 1980, McElroy shot the 70-year-old owner of Skidmore's only grocery store, for accusing one of McElroy's daughters of shoplifting. Just --  bang -- shot him. The man survived.  And, McElroy was finally convicted of a crime... second-degree assault. The jury specified the maximum sentence: two years in State prison. 

His attorney, McFadin, had McElroy released, pending appeal -- unbelievable, given McElroy's history of witness and juror intimidation. Predictably, he began harassing the grocer at his home, and any Skidmore citizens he encountered. None of McElroy's previous legal issues had gotten this far -- and possibly, he sensed whatever bully's magic charm of invincibility he may have possessed was disappearing. 

On July 9, 1981, he walked into Skidmore's local bar, carrying a Garand M1 with a bayonet, and threatened to kill the old grocer. Sheriffs were called; McElroy was taken into custody, his weapon impounded -- but again, he was released.

Parked In Front Of The Bar; July 10, 1981-
A Reenactment, In Skidmore, For Television Documentary

On July 10, McElroy drove into Skidmore with his wife, Trena, in his maroon-and-white Chevy pickup truck and parked on Elm street, the town's main drag, directly in front of the bar. He went into the town grocery store -- where he had shot its owner -- while his wife waited in the truck.

While McElroy was in the store, a group of Skidmore's men held a quick, impromptu meeting inside the bar. Other residents in the immediate downtown area had seen or were told of McElroy's arrival, and began to gather on the street. There was a sense something was about to go down.

McElroy walked out of the grocery, unwrapping the pack of cigarettes he'd purchased, and got into the driver's seat of his truck. The men came out of the bar and confronted McElroy. Several, apparently, were armed. McElroy, still sitting behind the wheel of his truck, casually lit a cigarette, appearing completely unconcerned.

Suddenly, and for the next twenty seconds -- which I can tell you is an eternity when discharging firearms is concerned -- several armed individuals shot McElroy. He was struck multiple times by .22 rifle rounds (a poor man's gun, for hunting small game, Foxes, Coyotes or other predators) from at least two different weapons. 

Apparently, McElroy took some time to die. He bled out, slumped in his truck. No one made any attempt to help, or call for emergency medical assistance. When the shooting began, Trena had jumped out of the truck in a panic; she was unharmed.

As investigators worked the crime scene, canvassed, identified and interviewed, every witness to the shooting said the same thing: They didn't see who fired any weapon, had no idea -- as if, collectively, everyone present had suffered a crucial erasure of memory at the same time.

McElroy's wife, Trena, claimed to have recognized one of the shooters -- but they denied it, there were no other witnesses; Trena's testimony alone was not a strong enough case for prosecution. 

The same witnesses told the same story to County Sherriff's detectives, State investigators, and eventually the FBI.  Richard McFadin, the attorney who had helped McElroy to walk free on so many prior charges, said "the town got away with murder". 

Skidmore's population as of 2020 had fallen to 247.  To date, no one has been charged in connection with McElroy's death. The original DA and chief investigator in the case have retired. McElroy's wife,  his attorney McFadin, and a number of witnesses have passed away. The case is still open. And for almost 42 years, no one who was on Elm street in Skidmore that July afternoon has said a single thing.


In America we are witnessing the blowback of a culture awash in guns, in hatred, in insane and illogical ideas about nearly everything, broadcast eagerly 24 hours a day by the political Right's private propaganda stream, its special opinion-makers.

We're watching a country where the political Left is marked by indecision and learned helplessness, by complicity with the same corporate interests and wealthy Oligarchs.

And, the political Right's rhetoric continues to become more shrill, more apocalyptic, by the day -- talk about "taking back" the country, before guns are taken away, before the liberals / gays / unchristian / colored persons and immigrants / socialists destroy America. 

They attempted to overthrow the government of the United States in January, 2021. They want to try again. It isn't guns that someone is coming for; the Right wants your soul.  This isn't hyperbole and it isn't exaggeration.

At the same time, Rightist-dominated state governments and their Rightist governors pass laws they know will be appealed to their Supreme Court, secure in the knowledge that whatever challenge to existing Lib-Socialist law will be taken up, and affirmed by a slate of second-rate, rightist legal hacks appointed for life.  With the fervor of the 'christian' zealots they are, they can't wait for their day, their chance to do god's work.

America and its citizens are being cowed, and bullied. The Right has decided if it wants to burn down your home and shoot your dog, they will. And no one is coming to your aid.

A nation's government which can't govern, a society which can't maintain basic public safety and human rights, is five minutes from being overthrown. Ask the Royal French bureaucracy in 1789. Ask the Duma. Ask the Cambodian government in 1975. Ask the Weimar Republic's Reichstag. 

In the larger world, Western democracies were more concerned with making money -- making a world safe for the corporate interests, globally: a neoliberal New World Order, wonderful for business and the rising Oligarch class. Not so much for the little people. But, who cared.

The sages of the West believed the assumed stability of a post-WW2, post-Soviet world would be forever. Hitler and Stalin were dead; so was Mao. No one wanted to go back to the world on September 1, 1939. War was a thing we had tamed. Dictators could be dealt with through sanctions, economic coercion. 

NATO was just one method of maintaining the nation-state structure to support corporate business -- but the day of military force had passed, unless something happened in one of the shithole countries: Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia; North and Central Africa; Afghanistan. 

And if it did, said the businessmen gathering at Davos, we don't care. No one is crazy enough to mount a major military conflict to grab territory and resources. This isn't 1938 or 1939, after all.

Trump Is A Fucking Tool.  But, Then; So is Sad Vlad.

But, Putin was crazy enough. He nursed a set of historical grievances which sound as delusional as the disinformation pouring out of the Murdochs' media. After more than a decade of coordinated manipulation and misinformation aimed at the West, Putin pushed the envelope in Georgia, in the Crimea. NATO and the West did little, or nothing. 

Europe was fractured, distracted by Brexit and the fumblings of the UK's Clown-Prime Minister. America was consumed with the predations of its own Clown-leader, then an attempted coup -- and above it all, a pandemic. Putin felt he could take Ukraine. The West could do nothing; the Ukrainians had elected a fucking comedian as their President! And like a bully in central Missouri long ago, Putin did what he wanted.

The stability in the world everyone has taken for granted is over. That of itself is a huge challenge to the neoliberal New World Order.  It isn't clear what will replace it. That it's coming at the same time as effects of climate deterioration are beginning to make themselves felt is rancid whipped cream on the proverbial Shit Pie.

The bullies have always been with us. They've just made it impossible to ignore them any longer. They aren't going away. Like it or not, we are going to have to deal with them individually, and collectively. One way or another.  And how that happens, or doesn't, is the story of the next months and years.

MEHR, MIT DIE FRAGE:  Hey! Did you notice how many people in this story had last names that began with "Mc"? Pretty wild, eh?

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