In Broad Daylight (1991): Is the Movie Inspired by True Crimes?

Epitomizing the scale of vigilante justice and the redressal for peace and safety, ‘In Broad Daylight’ follows the story of Len Rowan, a town bully whose unchecked crimes haunt the people of Skidmore, Missouri. The made-for-television thriller drama film is helmed by James Steven Sadwith and depicts a town and its people rallying for justice. The movie showcases how a menial confrontation between a local grocery store owner, Wes Westerman, and Len Rowan, a hardened criminal culminates in the blackmailing and murder of the local grocery store owner.

Filled to the brim with the horror caused by Len Rowan, ‘In Broad Daylight’ follows the story of a town rising up against the terror caused by a bullying criminal. The 1991 film features performances by Brian Dennehy, Cloris Leachman, Marcia Gay Harden, Chris Cooper, John Anderson, and Ken Jenkins. ‘In Broad Daylight’ is packed with violence, arson and other criminal activities. It showcases a town’s fight for justice and freedom from the horror cast by the town bully. Is the townsfolk’s ordeal based on real events?

In Broad Daylight: Inspired by Ken McElroy’s Crimes

Yes, ‘In Broad Daylight’ is a true story. The screenplay is penned by William Hanley, who bases Len Rowan’s character on the true crimes of Ken McElroy. Harry N. MacLean’s New York bestseller novel became the primary source for the movie’s premise and helped in showcasing the horror experienced by the people of Skidmore, Missouri, till Ken McElroy’s death in 1981. In reality, Ken McElroy was a troubled individual. The 15th of 16 children, he had dropped out of school at the age of 15 and embarked upon a life of crime.

While Ken McElroy had accumulated a chargesheet of assault, child molestation, animal cruelty, burglary, and other misdemeanors, he had hardly spent any real time in jail. Ken McElroy had surpassed law and order several times. The criminal’s proficiency in escaping the judicial system by coercing witnesses led him to stay away from jail for most of his crimes. The movie is based on Ken McElroy’s life and showcases Len Rowan’s sordid relationship with the people of the town and even his wife, Adina Rowan, a young girl whom he had raped and married to avoid conviction.

As depicted in the movie, the real-life criminal had also raped a 12-year-old girl named Trena and had forcefully married her when she was pregnant with their baby to avoid charges of statutory rape. Not just this, Ken McElroy had even burned down the girl’s house and killed her family dog after she went into hiding with their baby. While his flaying reign of terror had cast the town in gloom, the people of the town still tried to look past the horror he had been responsible for. However, the last straw broke when Ken McElroy killed a local grocery store owner Ernest ‘Bo’ Bowenkamp, after stalking him for weeks.

Even though the murder of the local store owner had gained momentum and the possibility for Ken McElroy’s conviction arose, the reality turned out to be much more different. Out on bail because of a delayed trial, Ken McElroy’s reappearance in the town propelled people to take matters into their own hands. After realizing that his trial would just get delayed again and again, the community decided to conduct a meeting where they addressed what needed to be done to the bully.

While the proceedings of the meeting are unknown to most till today, the fight for justice led a mob of more than 30 residents to gather around McElroy’s truck in broad daylight on a major street in Skidmore. The morning of July 10, 1981, Ken McElroy had stepped out of the D&G Tavern with his wife, Trena. In a swift moment, several members of the mob gathered around his car and fired bullets at the vehicle as McElroy tried to light a cigarette. What followed Ken McElroy’s death was a judicial trial, a suit filed by Trena McElroy against the authorities, and years of unsolved mystery.

Similarly, James Steven Sadwith’s oeuvre depicts the harrowing ordeal the people had to go through and shows that unchecked terror will always culminate into something unbelievable. The realistic portrayal showcased in the movie encapsulates the unchecked authority of the criminal and the plight of the people who had the misfortune of crossing paths with him.

Ultimately, Len Rowan had always expected the people of the town to crouch in fear, but the unexpected came to pass. As such, even though the film’s powerful performances add a layer of depth to the narrative, the story remains invigorating largely due to the inspiration it seeks from real life. However, even though ‘In Broad Daylight’ is based on a true story, creators have still taken liberties to embellish the story and accentuate the storyline for creative purposes.

Read More: Ken McElroy Murder: How Did He Die? Who Killed Him?