In Broad Daylight: A Murder in Skidmore, Missouri by Harry N. MacLeanHere is a story for the picked-on.
There has been a lot of talk about bullying lately. Bullies at school. Bullies on the internet. A bully in – of all places – an NFL locker room. There is a national conversation about how to deal with bullies. And there is an equally important conversation about how to help the victims.
I mention this because Harry Maclean’s In Broad Daylight is a bully story.
It tells of a mean, hulking man, a man with guns and a taste for liquor and a touch of sociopathy who stalked and terrorized and threatened the meek farm-folk of the backward, back-road town of Skidmore, Missouri. This is the bully story to end all bully stories.
The bully’s name was Ken Rex McElroy. He’s no longer a bully, because the town of Skidmore shot him down in the streets, and then refused to point fingers. That happened in 1981. To this day, the murder is open and unsolved. Even though it took place… Well, in broad daylight.
Ken was the fifteenth child of poor tenant farmers. He dropped out of school in eighth grade and embarked on a lengthy career as a statutory rapist (he met the last of a string of wives when she was 12), a thief, and a rustler. He also attempted to murder two of his neighbors – Romaine Henry and Ernest Bowenkamp. He was charged with 21 felonies and was only convicted once – the result of a fancy Kansas City lawyer, a cowardly judge, indecisive prosecutors, and pusillanimous juries.
The Skidmore “vigilante” shooting was national – even international – news when it took place. As tends to happen when complex news events are broken down into thirty-second to one-minute increments, the Skidmore shooting was reduced to its most shocking and sordid elements. MacLean’s book is an antidote to that.
In Broad Daylight is an exhaustive account of McElroy’s reign of terror, leading to his violent end. It scrupulously refuses to take sides, even though no one paying attention is ever going to take McElroy’s side. MacLean spent years on this book, living in the area, talking to as many of the reticent denizens as he could. He also spoke in-depth to McElroy’s wives, to get – and weave – his side of the story into the narrative.
MacLean begins his book with the end of his story. He immediately thrusts you into the final minutes of McElroy’s life, as he is ambushed as he sits in his truck, his wife at his side.
Behind the driver’s seat, the rear window had been blown out. The driver’s door hung open, its window shattered. There obviously had been a hell of a lot of shooting, probably from more than one rifle, and much of it had been wild…Teeth and pieces of bone lay scattered on the dashboard in front of the steering wheel. Blood splotched the seat and formed a deep puddle on the floor; it had run over the edge of the doorjamb and collected in a purplish, jelly-like pool on the ground. The air was dead still…
From there, MacLean takes you back in time, to McElroy’s hardscrabble upbringing, his troubled youth, and his nascent criminality. The arc of McElroy’s life bends from youthful rogue making trouble and making kids, to a fat slob who rolled around in a pickup with his rifle and his dog.
True crime tends to be a somewhat disreputable genre. It wallows in misery and death; it is fueled by graphic and salacious details. The more blood, the better. In Broad Daylight is at a whole other level. It is ambitious, and consciously strives to reach the summit of literary crime reportage occupied by In Cold Blood.
As in Capote’s masterpiece, MacLean spends as much time as the setting and the place as he does on the death of Ken McElroy. He marks time – as a local farmer would – by the turning of the seasons.
The Great Planting Debate began in March and was in full swing by early April. The discussions went on continuously in the café, at the gas station, in the tavern, in the grocery store, on the sidewalk outside the post office, over the dinner table, inside the farmers’ heads. An early spring intensified the debate, because the farmers could start planting earlier, and the earlier they planted, the more time the corn would have for growing, and the bigger the yield would be.
MacLean pays close attention to these details, many of them mundane. By the time I finished the book, I had the physical layout of the town well-formed in my mind. I felt like I could walk the streets; I believed I could spot the various stores and watering holes on sight. Eventually, some of the detail becomes overwhelming, and the book feels longer than necessary. There is a lot of repetition, because Ken McElroy’s life was a cycle. He’d commit a crime. He’d get arrested. He’d be released on bail. He’d scare all the witnesses. His charge would be dismissed. This wheel kept turning until someone – perhaps Del Clement, who was identified by McElroy’s wife – blew him away.
In Broad Daylight is interested in much more than McElroy’s damaging existence. By the end, it is a marvelous exploration of systemic and communal breakdowns. MacLean is a lawyer, and proves a good guide to all the ways that the justice system could be abused by a sophisticated operator. (I can only assume that many of the laws that protected McElroy have since been changed. For instance, at the time, Missouri’s laws regarding bond did not seem to take into account a defendant’s potential dangerousness. I doubt that is still the case. Had McElroy’s bond been properly revoked, he wouldn’t have caused as much trouble as he did; and he wouldn’t have been shot).
Throughout the book, you will continually shocked and outraged at the inability of anyone to stand up to McElroy, to hit him on the nose to back him down. It is breathtaking how he’d cowed everyone, including law enforcement officers. At one point, he stuck a gun in a police officer’s face, and never picked up a charge.
One of the refrains you hear from the Skidmore residents, time and again, is how the “system” failed them. By the time I read the last page, however, I was convinced they’d failed themselves. This was a community problem. The problem being that their community sucked.
Skidmore is a tiny farming town, a place certain politicians would call “real America.” These are self-reliant people. They don’t like governmental intrusions. They don’t like governmental institutions. Their little “town” lacked basic services, such as a full time marshal. They rolled with guns and relied on those guns. Instead of banding together in the face of McElroy’s assaults, each family entrenched themselves. Just about the only thing the community ever did together was keep silent about who gunned McElroy down.
The fate of Ken McElroy was the obvious result of Skidmore’s values. If you don’t respect civil institutions, if you don’t try to make them work, then of course they are going to fail. If you elect a weak prosecutor or a weak judge, then you are going to let criminals who go free. If you create a town in which everyone lives in their own bubble and minds their own business, then you are susceptible to falling one by one. Skidmore’s mentality naturally meant that in order to take care of McElroy, a private citizen would have to use a gun.
The citizens of Skidmore deeply resented the media invasion following McElroy’s death. They felt that they were being unfairly maligned, and that all the facts hadn’t been told. Having read MacLean’s comprehensive tale, I think all the facts are out. And Skidmore had good reason to resent the media. I wouldn’t want the rest of the world to know this is my town either. They were embarrassed. They should have been.
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In Broad Daylight: Message and Moral Essay
I had written short stories in college, and ever since law school I had told myself that one day I would write a book. This was it: I had grown up in the Midwest, and I understood small towns. It was now or never. I was initially as fascinated by the cover-up, the absolute silence of the town about the killing, as I was the reign of terror or the killing. I loaded up my car, drove across Nebraska, and found the small town nestled in the hills of northwest Missouri.
National Library of Australia. Search the catalogue for collection items held by the National Library of Australia. Jin, Ha. Under the red flag : stories. Ha Jin, who was raised in China and emigrated to the United States after the Tiananmen Square massacre in , writes about loss and moral deterioration with the keen sense of a survivor. His stories examine life in the bleak rural town of Dismount Fort, where the men and women are full of passion and certainty but blinded by their limited visions as they grapple with honor and shame, manhood and death, infidelity and repression.
In broad daylight Mu Ying was a dynamic character in this story; Meng Su is a static character in this story; Point of view Literature Analysis.
life is what you bake it meaning
How to cite this essay
Chad Zawadzki Literature Professor S. Mu Ying is paraded around the town for the whole community to witness and mock her. The story is written from the point of view of, White Cat, a Chinese boy living in the town. White Cat joins the townspeople in humiliating punishment of Mu Ying. Throughout the story it is clearly seen that women in China have a specific role. The role women are required to uphold is honesty, loyalty, and modest. The author, Ha Jin, conveys the injustice in the punishment of Mu Ying through the use of numerous literary devices.
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