CABOOL, Mo. — The only sounds inside Vikings bar are the clacking of billiard balls and the drone of a TV set to whatever-is-on. At 8:30 on a Friday night, the sound of a car door shutting on deserted Main Street in front of the town’s only tavern is enough to make you jump. Inside, the near silence makes the closing of the front door go off like a gunshot.
Boom! Heads turn.
Cabool, an Ozarks outpost of 2,700 souls is the nearest town of note for tiny Tyrone, where on Thursday night Joseph Jesse Aldridge went on a killing spree that left seven dead, and ended with the 36-year-old blowing his brains out behind the wheel of his pickup. The three people inside Vikings Friday night didn’t know Aldridge but they knew some of his victims. So did Aldridge.
As the 10 o’clock news approached, the three Cabool residents and one new face in town added up the bodies.
“Let’s see, there’s Garold and Harold. Brothers,” says Carol, who along with her husband Leon Loman owns Vikings.
“I knew Garold,” Leon chimes in.
“Now, they were cousins of the Aldridge boy,” Carol goes on, looking up from her phone’s screen and above the cheaters on the end of her nose. “Then there’s their wives. And I guess there’s three more after that.”
They would be the Shrivers. In addition to Garold and Harold Aldridge and their wives, Julie and Janell, there is Darrell Shriver, 68, his son Carey, 46, and Carey’s wife, Valirea. All dead. An eighth would-be victim — Darrell’s wife, Martha — is “currently recovering” after apparently being shot by Aldridge, the Texas County Sheriff’s Office said in a press release Saturday afternoon. Another survivor, a 15-year-old girl who hasn’t been identified, escaped a violent death by running to a neighbor’s through a briar patch in the middle of the night. If not for her bravery, police might not have been called until more had been murdered.
At 10, the news goes top volume in Vikings. The chyron reads “Rural Rampage,” and two reporters are stationed in front of the sheriff’s office in Houston, 20 miles away from Cabool and a bit farther than that from Tyrone. A new angle follows the rehashing of Aldridge’s deeds: Apparently there’s been a glut of suicides and murder-suicides in Texas County in recent years, one of the reporters has found. He shares with the viewers some troubling statistics, then adds, “Maybe there’s some way to find some good out of a situation even as bad as this one.”
Perhaps. And today that will be the job of the preachers, of which there are many around here.
“We got more churches than we know what to do with,” Leon says.
Cabool, like Tyrone and the county seat Houston, is God’s country.
“Baptists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, lot of Pentecostals. We even got a few Catholics,” says Steve, the only paying customer at Vikings on a Friday night besides me.
While Texas County may be blessed with a glut of houses of worship, what it lacks is the one thing that makes for rowdier Saturday nights and sleepy Sunday mornings.
“No jobs,” says Leon. “Used to be a shoe factory here but that left 20 years ago. You got the dairy plant, some logging, cattle farming. And that’s about it.”
Work may have been what Aldridge was looking for. The Shrivers owned a cabinet-making company, among other other businesses, and ran it from a group of buildings not far from where Aldridge went door-to-door with a handgun, killing whomever he found.
“I heard he was looking for work and they wouldn’t hire him,” Steve says.
The cops haven’t said where Aldridge worked, or even if he did. He apparently lived at home with his mother, who police say died of natural causes at some indeterminate time before the rest of the deaths. There’s been some speculation that Aldridge discovering her body may have set him off. But the only way to know went out the window when Aldridge splattered his brains all over the windows of his truck.
Whatever his motive, it doesn’t appear that the Shrivers were caught in the crossfire. The homes in which they lived aren’t as close as the “cluster” of houses that some media reports have described. Aldridge clocked a few miles in his truck Thursday night, driving up and down County Highway HH stopping at one house after another and firing away.
In news stories about the killings, Tyrone is described as a “close, tight-knit community.” It’s a hackneyed phrase that appears any time something terrible happens outside a city larger than, say, Toledo.
While it may be true in Tyrone, and in neighboring Cabool, not every town with more churches than bars is a modern-day Mayberry. There are some things in Texas County that aren’t very godly.
“It’s probably the meth capital of Missouri,” Steve jokes.
After a few hours, Leon explains that it’s not just a lack of jobs that’s keeping his bar empty at night. The churches around here frown upon drinking so much that “they bought up all the liquor licenses,” making it impossible to start up a tap, according to Leon. Then there’s the stigma of being seen walking into or out of a bar, in the first place. That leads to having some explaining to do on Sunday morning in church, Steve says.
“But I tell ‘em all the time. There’s nothing in scripture that says anything about drinking alcohol,” he tells me.
The scripture provides Steve with his rules for living, he says. It’s filled with stories that offer advice, soothe the troubled, and sometimes entertain. Steve knows many of these stories, and he knows quite a few from around Cabool, as well. As the 10 o’clock news fades into the background, he tells us one of these more local tales, a story about an old friend of his named Danny Ray Roberts. Danny was a fuck-up, Steve says, but he wouldn’t hurt a fly. He was kind of slow, maybe mentally challenged, but definitely not evil.
“One time he asked me to borrow $40, and I gave it to him. Next thing I know he’s in the bathroom with two guys, and he comes out with $60! I don’t know if it was sex or drugs but I’d rather not know,” Steve laughs.
One day, Danny went missing. You won’t find a news story about it, and there was no press release from the Texas County Sheriff’s Office for carpetbagging reporters. But just like the speculation surrounding Aldridge’s motive, there’s a lot of guessing about what happened to Danny — stories told and twisted by the years.
“He must’ve screwed over the wrong people, maybe on some drugs,” Steve says of Danny, claiming to know the truth. “So they killed him. Chopped up his body and fed him to the hogs.”
Steve doesn’t laugh after this line. Just stares into his beer for a second as the room grows quiet.
The portrait that some would like to paint of Texas County as an unassuming Bible-belt town may not be entirely accurate. There are some ugly things that go on in these hills, Steve’s story served to remind his small audience. And there is plenty of judgment to go around. Many people don’t even want to bother with the consequences of being seen walking into or out of Leon’s bar, Steve says. But he doesn’t worry about it — not everyone has grown as thick of skin as Steve has.
“I’m a registered sex offender.”