When a small-town community comes together, the impossible can happen. In the wake of any natural disaster, stories flood the news of locals putting their lives on the line to save their neighbors, or lifting up a counterpart in a grand gesture.
But authorities were baffled when a Texas town united for the most absurd purpose. When one man confessed to the most heinous crime, locals threw their support behind the beloved perpetrator — and investigators found it nearly impossible to get to the bottom of the crime.
In the 1990s, Bernie Teide was one of the most beloved people in the town of Carthage, Texas. But, no one needed his assistance, generosity, and care more than a woman named Marjorie Nugent.
Nugent was an old and incredibly wealthy widow who lived in a secluded home on the outskirts of Carthage. Still, everyone in the area knew her; it was impossible not to with her having so much money and influence.
The 81-year-old kept to herself mostly, and she earned a reputation of being a very spiteful and unpleasant hermit. That’s where the beloved Bernie Tiede came into the picture.
The two actually met at the funeral of Nugent’s husband, Don, in 1990. Bernie was the assistant funeral director who oversaw the procession, and he was the first to comfort her after it was all over. That was how she roped him in.
Being the generous person he was, Bernie, at first, had no problem at all helping the elderly woman with all sorts of chores around her home. Plus, Nugent loved that Bernie was also a churchgoing man.
Admirably, he sang in the local choir and apparently brought tons of joy to those who attended mass and listened to him belt out hymns. “I knew Bernie could sing me into heaven,” one resident said.
But, it wasn’t only Nugent who thought fondly of Bernie. The guy was a huge with everyone who met him. His gentle demeanor made him one of the most popular people in Carthage. And he was all Nugent’s now.
For some time after Mr. Nugent’s funeral, Bernie spent nearly all of his time with the widow. Even though she had a reputation of being unpleasant and snooty, she treated Bernie well… at first.
And Bernie loved the attention. Who wouldn’t love making close friends with someone who was filthy rich and took them on expensive outings and vacations all the time? She showered him with presents.
She gave Bernie her late-husband’s $12,000 Rolex watch, and she ordered the local bank to start accepting checks signed by Bernie (who’d left his job). This started raising some eyebrows throughout Carthage. Did Bernie really care about Nugent, or did he want her money?
See, the city of Carthage had more than one wealthy widow who inherited her deceased husbands’ fortunes, and they all began to suspect Bernie was after the massive royalty checks she received every year from Mr. Nugent’s oil and gas business.
Brittany Sowacke / Bloomberg
The actual truth was Bernie felt too much compassion for Nugent, even after she started ordering him around and treating him more like a servant than a friend. Over time, however, Bernie came to resent his treatment.
The charitable and generous man from Carthage, in a moment of rage, shot and killed Nugent in her garage and locked the body in a freezer, where she remained for nine months until the police received an anonymous phone call.
A resident of Carthage called police and told them she was concerned about Nugent. Several officers, along with two of Nugent’s family members, searched her home. They eventually found the body frozen in the garage, and Bernie was arrested immediately.
When asked by officials why he killed Nugent, Bernie stared at them with a look of confusion, as if it was completely obvious. Over time she became “very hateful and very possessive,” and it broke Bernie.
News-Journal / Michael Cavazos
However, it wasn’t the crime that shocked police. The residents of the town seemed to all feel bad for Bernie! No one liked Nugent, and everyone adored Bernie, which created this bizarre empathy for the felon. “Poor Bernie,” they said.
It was such an unusual case that Hollywood director Richard Linklater actually took an interest and made a movie about whole incident: Bernie. Jack Black played the title character, and it detailed how incredibly odd the small town’s reaction was to the homicide.
District Attorney Danny Buck Davidson expressed his bewilderment about the case. “There are a lot of people who just want the whole thing to go away. They keep asking me if there aren’t some extenuating circumstances that would help his defense.”
In the end, Bernie was convicted of murder and sentenced to jail. No matter how liked he was in Carthage, he had to pay for his crime. There’s no telling what would’ve happened were the town not on his side, though. He could’ve suffered worse than prison.
Ken McElroy was the most hated man in Skidmore, Missouri, plain and simple. He was a big, burly guy who used his aggressive demeanor to frighten town residents and always get his way. He was a problem that needed to be stopped.
In the small town with less than 300 residents, McElroy’s negative presence was felt by nearly everyone. He did whatever he wanted to without consequence, and no one knew this better than a girl named Trena McCloud.
When McElroy met McCloud in the early 1970s, she wasn’t even of legal age; she was 12. But that didn’t stop McElroy. Two years after they met, Trena became pregnant, and McElroy did something that shocked the town…
He actually moved Trena into his home that he shared with his then-wife, Alice! Naturally, Alice was horrified by his blatant infidelity and decided to leave him. Once Trena finally gave birth, things got even worse.
According to court documents, she fled back to her parents’ house after she had her child, afraid of McElroy’s temperament. Upon learning Trena’s mother and stepfather didn’t want her to see him again, McElroy set their house on fire. But that wasn’t the only trouble McElroy started…
A farmer named Romaine Henry reportedly was shot at by McElroy because he confronted him about illegally shooting his gun on his farmland. McElroy was arrested, but he managed to convince two hunters to say he was with them during the time of the shooting, so he was acquitted.
Perhaps the worst crime McElroy committed was the murder of Ernest Bowenkamp, the town grocery store owner. Bowenkamp accused McElroy’s daughter of stealing candy, which infuriated McElroy so much that he shot and killed him. Since there were no witnesses, McElroy evaded charges yet again.
After the death of Bowenkamp, the people of Skidmore were done. It was time they put their foot down once and for all. But, what exactly were they going to do about their murderous local bully?
Nearly all of the Skidmore residents held a secret town meeting where they shared their complaints and fears about McElroy. After much deliberation, they came up with a sinister solution…
Early the next morning, some residents noticed McElroy and Trena sitting in a parked truck outside of the local bar where he spent much of his time over-indulging in alcohol. It was now time for McElroy to pay for all the crimes he got away with.
A large group of disgruntled residents approached McElroy’s truck and surrounded it. A few of them started shouting, but McElroy sat unphased by the angry townsfolk. He lit up a cigarette, and that’s when fate finally caught up to him…
Suddenly, several gunshots rang out! McElroy was struck and killed, and Trena was left screaming in the car. However, no one even tried to help McElroy. This was the plan the whole time; to rid their town of his abuse forever.
After the crowd parted ways, police soon arrived at the scene. They determined there were two shooters, one who fired from behind the truck and one who fired from roughly one block away. But, who were they?
The FBI, along with the local police, conducted nearly 100 interviews with residents of the town, but no arrests were ever made. The people of Skidmore refused to divulge any information, so it was impossible to make any indictments. As far as the residents were concerned, they were better off without McElroy.
As you can imagine, McElroy’s funeral wasn’t attended by many people. Trena tried to blame a local business owner for McElroy’s murder, but again, no confessions were made and no one corroborated her accusation.
McElroy was buried in Saint Joseph’s Memorial Park in Missouri. The words inscribed on his headstone read “brave, fearless, and compassionate.” Most people who knew McElroy probably wouldn’t agree he was full of compassion.
Trena filed a wrongful death suit and tried seeking $6 million, but she only ended up with an out-of-court settlement for $17,000. She left Skidmore soon after, married, and moved to Lebanon, Missouri, where she lived until her passing in 2012.
The incident in Skidmore was so bizarre and mysterious that it gained national coverage. There was even a book written about it and two made-for-television movies. People were intrigued by the tale of vigilante justice.
Still to this day, police haven’t found a single clue linking any residents of Skidmore to the murder of Ken McElroy. It seemed as though the town was willing to get blood on their hands in order to finally restore peace.
How wild is this story? It seems like something out of a fiction movie, which is why it got so much coverage when it happened. There’s a cloud that’s been hanging over the town of Skidmore ever since McElroy’s death, but it’s a much lighter one than before.
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