‘No One Saw a Thing’ Is an Intriguing True Crime Story About a Town That Buried Its Bully
Citizens of Skidmore, Missouri sometimes compare their town to the Wild West. In the early ’80s, a vindictive bully was gunned down in public, but nobody who witnessed it claims to have seen a thing. The man killed may have been a criminal, but was justice really served? The number of mysterious deaths in Skidmore increased after the shooting; the town’s lifeblood appears to have been poisoned.
“No One Saw A Thing,” a new mini-series on Sundance about the unsolved murder of Ken McElroy, is an intense, Errol Morris-esque documentary viewing experience that is sure to satisfy true crime fans. The show wastes no time in taking off. Approximately 60 residents of the town of Skidmore saw who killed Ken McElroy, but the murder was never solved due to a lack of evidence; more importantly none of the witnesses would ever attest to having saw what happened.
Why would 60 people refuse to report a murder? Perhaps you could say they all had a motive for wanting him dead. America is a country built on secrets and violence after all. You could say Ken McElroy was killed because he, himself, was a killer who always got away with murder. Several of Skidmore citizens also knew he was guilty of child molestation, abuse, theft, and assault with homicidal intent. McElroy shot a man in the middle of the road with his shotgun once all because of a misunderstanding. He was more than just a criminal and if you asked a majority of the town’s folk, his murder was best for the community.
After the death of McElroy, a murder task force started to investigate. The story quickly grew much bigger and media attention expanded. The investigation discovers a meeting that occurred between town residents where McElroy’s murder was allegedly discussed. On the record, it is still not even known how many gunmen there were. Most of Skidmore’s residents imply there were three. One man admits to knowing the identity of two of shooters. But without a witness willing to testify, and the ballistics evidence not being substantial enough to establish what type of firearm they came from, the case hit a dead end.
If this horrible man committed all of these heinous acts, however, why was he never convicted? While the first episode does not dive into all the details, we learn that Ken McElroy hired a lawyer named Richard McFadin. Alibi’s would exist to bail him out of an accusation, all of a sudden. No one in the town ever seemed to fight back against the injustice that hard because, as one resident says, “People know that if they push us in the wrong direction it’s gonna come back in lead.”
Part of what makes “No One Saw a Thing,” so interesting is the fact that McElroy is not the sole main subject, the town remains just as central to the series. While the real life-story itself is inherently intriguing, the narrative is heightened by the communities fragmented perspective. This also lets the show examine its dark themes through the prism of more than just the town bully. We learn how these people came to loathe the man and they also share the disturbing thoughts on things they believe he deserves. This country was built on secrets and violence after all.
The mini-series is a little one-note though – dramatic and ominous to a fault at times. Clearly, the subject matter is solemn, intense and stone-faced, but the tone is a bit draining. The brief re-enactment devices are effective as a visual enhancer, but it feels like a bit more could have been done with them. As it stands, the atmospheric shots are dour and stirring, but one extra component feels like it’s missing. Talking heads can only carry an uber-serious documentary for so long.
“No One Saw a Thing” is a fascinating true crime tale told in a gripping manner. Tonally, it’s a barren landscape of guilt and consequences, and that may be a tad much for some viewers. It’s a disarranging account on the death of a dangerous real-world outlaw and the ways in which America continues to cheat its own justice system. It will be interesting to see where “No One Saw a Thing” goes from here. The first episode is tightly knit and fully loaded. The tantalizing series hooks you right away and keeps you interested throughout. Hopefully the series can keep the vigorous momentum of its draw going.
“No One Saw A Thing” premieres Aug. 1 and airs Thursdays at 11 p.m. ET on Sundance.