Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A town called Skidmore

About 20 yellow sticky notes sit crumpled on my desk this afternoon, evidence of my effort to mark interesting sections of a true crime novel about Skidmore, MO.

The November edition of Land Line includes a feature story on the farming and trucking town of Skidmore, MO.

Skidmore has unfortunately become famous for being the site of several awful crimes, including the 1981 shooting of noted bully Ken Rex McElroy.

Originally, I started marking the most interesting portions of the book, “In Broad Daylight,” as I read it. After the 20th sticky-note, it seemed half the book was covered in sticky notes.

I was sort of looking for names of people that might be key players to revisit nearly 30 years later. We found a handful of truckers, diesel mechanics and several OOIDA members to use as sources for our article.

If you like crime stories and true novels with deep, rich background, I recommend picking up a copy of Harry MacLean’s “In Broad Daylight.” Two copies of the book have been floating around our office for weeks now as my co-workers have enjoyed diving into the book as much as I have.

One copy happens to belong to my grandmother – who bought her copy in the 1980s and who has always loved a good mystery, especially if it’s true. Half of the fun I had working on this article came when I got to check in with her and exchange info about Skidmore and Nodaway County – an area she has visited since she was a child in the 1930s.

As you’ll read, MacLean relied heavily on an OOIDA Member named Kriss for background, interviews and story rights for many people in town. What resulted is a New York Times best-selling account of McElroy’s shooting, with several nods to daily Midwestern and small town life.

I have never called up a book’s author before, but MacLean was as interested in Skidmore as ever, and even offered to help a bit with our story.

MacLean, an attorney, pursued the story with a writer’s vengeance, spending about three years total in Skidmore to develop sources and write what would become a made for TV movie.

It wasn’t easy, he said.

“I just got in my car, found Skidmore and started knocking on doors,” MacLean told me by phone from his home in Denver. “I had doors slammed in my face, dogs bite me and shotguns pulled on me. It was pretty rough in the beginning.”

MacLean told me he had always been a great fan of the Truman Capote book “In Cold Blood,” the legendary true crime account of the brutal 1950s murder of the Clutter family in small town western Kansas.

His editor came up with the title of “In Broad Daylight” after seeing it in a sentence MacLean had written. The title seems to give a tip of the hat to “In Cold Blood,” while preparing readers for a distinctly different story of a small town killing.

“I reread ‘In Cold Blood’ about every five years, and I always get freaked out by it. It’s so powerful,” MacLean said. “I wasn’t trying to mimic the name, but it’s not bad that it comes out that way.”