Riverfront Times' uncensored online comments have always been a troll's haven, but a recent report from The Smoking Gun has Daily RFT reading one particular comment in a new light.
On September 14, Kirkwood resident Sandra McElroy posted on one of our stories about why Ferguson's police chief and mayor hadn't spoken directly to Michael Brown's family after more than a month of outrage and unrest over his death. McElroy commented from Facebook: "But haven't you heard the news, There great great great grandpa may or may not have been owned by one of our great great great grandpas 200 yrs ago. (Sarcasm)."
McElroy's ignorant, racially biased, difficult-to-understand, unnecessary, grammatically challenged, not-actually-sarcastic eyeroll of a comment is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how this N-word-using, bipolar woman with a penchant for thrusting herself into newsworthy events influenced the grand-jury investigation into Brown's death.
That's because McElroy is also Witness 40, one of the alleged eyewitnesses whose testimony to the grand jury strongly supported Wilson's version of events. Witness identities are secret, but McElroy admitted she's Witness 40 to The Smoking Gun after the site published an article outing her.
The St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney's Office did not immediately respond to Daily RFT's inquiries about McElroy. When asked whether the FBI is looking into McElroy's claims, a spokeswoman said the bureau cannot confirm or deny investigations.
On September 11, three days before her comment on Daily RFT, McElroy told St. Louis County police that she watched Michael Brown beat then-Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson and charged at him "like a football player, head down," before Wilson fatally shot him.
The story behind why this white, divorced, 45-year-old Kirkwood woman with three daughters at home was hanging out on Canfield Drive on a Saturday in August changes, but here's what she eventually told the grand jury, via The Smoking Gun:
McElroy, again under oath, explained to grand jurors that she was something of an amateur urban anthropologist. Every couple of weeks, McElroy testified, she likes to "go into all the African-American neighborhoods." During these weekend sojourns -- apparently conducted when her ex has the kids -- McElroy said she will "go in and have coffee and I will strike up a conversation with an African-American and I will try to talk to them because I'm trying to understand more."
This account is supported by her journal entry from that day, which was submitted to the grand jury as evidence. In an entry labeled 8 a.m. August 9, she writes that she is going to "take my random drive to Florisant [sic]" to learn more about black people so she can "stop calling blacks niggers and start calling them people."
But McElroy didn't mention her journal in interviews with police or the FBI. She first mentioned it during her October 23 testimony before the grand jury and read the handwritten pages to jurors eleven days later. Her journal includes physical descriptions of people she allegedly talked to ("real nice kid in wife beater," "guy in green shirt and jeans") but includes no description of the crowd that swelled so rapidly around the crime scene that the medical transporter had to wait in the car for hours before he felt safe collecting Brown's body.
"It is so obvious that the notebook entries were not contemporaneous creations that investigators should have checked to see if the ink had dried," The Smoking Gun said in its report.
Witness 40's testimony has seemed suspect to reporters and law enforcement from the start. There is no sign of Witness 40's car in any photos or videos taken that day, and her explanation of how she drove home is physically impossible.
"A lot of statements that she made almost matched verbatim with the narrative that was pushed out there by Wilson supporters," says Anthony Gray, a lawyer for the Brown family. "It always seemed sort of suspicious to me."
Gray tells Daily RFT that the FBI was always skeptical of her story, but it didn't stop her from testifying to the grand jury -- which ultimately decided not to press charges against Wilson.
"Even though they knew it was highly improbable or impossible, they presented her to the grand jury anyway," Gray says.
During the grand-jury investigation, a prosecutor asked her, "Is it possible, do you think, that you dreamed about this after it happened, and it feels real to you that you were up there?"
Witness 40 responded that she never dreamed about the shooting.
McElroy has been in the news for lying before. Find out when on the next page. This isn't the first time McElroy has been in the news during a major story. In 2007, when news broke that Michael Devlin had abducted, sexually abused and held two boys captive, McElroy told KMOV-TV (Channel 4) that she had seen Devlin with one of his victims -- and she relayed that information to Kirkwood police. Police later said her story was a "complete fabrication." (See the police press release at the bottom of this story.)
Kirkwood police detective David Smith tells Daily RFT he can't confirm that Witness 40 is McElroy, but he did say that McElroy never contacted the department about seeing Devlin before he was arrested.
"We have not received any inquiries from the St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney's office or any other investigative branch...in regard to that Sandra McElroy that we dealt with in 2007," Smith says.
The identities of witnesses and jurors is secret, so before she publicly came clean, The Smoking Gun matched criminal, civil, matrimonial and bankruptcy court records, online postings and comments to Witness 40's testimony to conclude that McElroy is Witness 40.
"She gives up certain details when she was talking to federal agents," The Smoking Gun managing editor Andrew Goldberg tells Daily RFT. "She talks about her kids, she talks about her divorce. They ask enough questions, and she gives enough details."
Here's one example, via The Smoking Gun:
The McElroy liabilities included two dozen unpaid medical bills dating to 2002, the year the couple filed a personal injury lawsuit in connection with a February 2001 auto accident in St. Louis. "Witness 40" told grand jurors that she was seriously injured in a car crash on Valentine's Day in 2001. The witness, who said she was catapulted through the windshield, testified that she has struggled with a faulty memory since the accident.
There's a lot more in The Smoking Gun's report, but we'll leave you with one of McElroy's strangest Facebook comments.
On August 17, a Facebook commenter wrote that Johnson and others should be arrested for inciting riots and giving false statements to police in connection with their claims that Brown had his hands up when shot by Wilson. "The report and autopsy are in so YES they were false," McElroy wrote of the "hands-up" claims. This appears to be an odd comment from someone who claims to have been present during the shooting.
Here's the Kirkwood Police Department's 2007 press release about McElroy:
Jessica Lussenhop contributed to this report.