Tarnish and Regrets
CL: What did you think about the investigation of the shooting of McElroy?
JOYCE: Fingers were pointed at certain people in Skidmore the day it happened, and the courts failed twice to come up with an indictment. As far as I'm concerned the courts got two bites of the apple and enough is enough. Whoever killed Ken McElroy that day stopped a chain of events that I still believe would have someday included the murder of my stepfather, possibly my mother, possibly my sister and God knows how many other people. McElroy was going out of control. He wasn't listening to his lawyer, to the judge, or to anyone at that point. I think he would have tried to kill anyone who could have testified against him. And chances are that if he had done so, he'd have gotten away with it just like he had in the past. No witnesses, no case. Well, what worked so well for McElroy also worked for Skidmore...No witnesses, no case. Saved the taxpayers a few dollars, if nothing else.
CL: Did your stepfather mention McElroy much in his later years?
CHERYL: Very little. I think he just wanted to forget about it and go on.
JOYCE: I don't think he liked to talk about him, and I don't think he liked to think about him much, either. I think he was tremendously relieved when McElroy was killed...It's said one of the marks of a person in the eyes of his fellows is how many people turn out for their funeral. Dad's was standing-room-only at the Methodist Church in March 1991...To me that meant a lot. Most of the town couldn't or didn't try to support my parents during the 1980 and 1981 problems with McElroy. Back then I wondered why, but now I understand a lot better than I used to. Now I know that anyone who made a public effort of support for us would have been just as marked for harassment and possibly death just like my parents were.
CL: Do you have regrets?
CHERYL: Who doesn't? The biggest regret is that it created such a blemish on a wonderful little town. Danny Estes was the sheriff at the time. A quote was attributed to him: "Ken McElroy got the last grin on Skidmore." I have thought of that often over the years, and I believe it is true. We have had to deal with him and the shooting for 25 years.
JOYCE: I regret not stomping up to the NOMIS (a regional police agency) squad investigators when they came to town July 10th and asking them where all their concern was when McElroy shot my dad and left him to die. Ditto to the FBI and MBI when they showed up and tried to find out if poor Mr. McElroy's civil rights had been violated by the townspeople—boo hoo. But what I really regret is that the entire messy episode had to happen to my parents and family at all. If the law and courts had done what needed to be done to stop that man years before 1980 and 1981 came around, none of any of it would have happened.
CL: How is your mother, 25 years later?
CHERYL: My mom is still a strong woman. As far as I know, the only thing she is bitter about is what the rest of us are bitter about: the failure of the criminal justice system to protect the victims.
JOYCE: Her health is pretty good, but she doesn't go out much except in good weather. Is she bitter? Yes. But most of her bitterness, I think, is directed at the failure of the law courts, judges and law enforcement at that time. She also doesn't have much use for most of the media from that time, either. For a while she was bitter with the people of Skidmore, too, for not coming forward when all of the problems with McElroy started. But that anger passed as she began to understand that anyone who supported her and my dad at that time was going to be marked. Why bring more grief to anyone else? She's watched the circus with the OJ Simpson trial, the Michael Jackson trial, and other high-profile trials over the years and sees the same problem with them as she had with the McElroy trial: the laws of this land are written to protect criminals, not their victims.
CL: Did McElroy change your parents?
JOYCE: My parents were never believers in guns in the house before 1980. That changed when the harassment started...After he was dead, the only people my parents were wary of were reporters.
CHERYL: It didn't make my parents more fearful or more wary. If anything, it probably made them mad. One of the reasons, I think, that McElroy got by with what he did for so long was that this was a town of law-abiding citizens who believed that the law was going to protect the innocent and the victims. It was a horrible shock to find out that everything you had believed in your whole life was not there.
CL: What is Skidmore like today?
CHERYL: Skidmore is still a wonderful place to raise a family...It is peaceful and quiet, for the most part.
JOYCE: Skidmore is a little town on the decline, I'm afraid. I don't get back as often as I'd like to. But I noticed in the last few years when I do get back that Skidmore is sliding into a kind of squalor so many people associate with small rural towns. Most of the older residents that lived there when I was growing up and a few years after have passed away. The people my age have fled to Maryville or other cities to work and live. Skidmore has attracted lower-income people and become a bedroom community for Maryville workers. Properties aren't kept up in a lot of neighborhoods like they used to be. Most of the businesses, including the bank, have closed down. To me Skidmore feels small, old and tired. It reminds me of an elderly person who naps through the day, wakes up in the evening when everyone comes home for dinner and to watch TV, then goes off to bed for the night.