Looking back, after 40 years practicing law in Camden County, it was a fateful decision for the young man who over the course of his career would see a little bit of everything come through his door.

Where we end up does not always reflect where we began. In 1971, Gary Drover was fresh out of college and went to work for a steel company. They had him moving around the country for the business and before long, Drover decided it was time to make a change. It was time to go to law school. 

Looking back, after 40 years practicing law in Camden County, it was a fateful decision for the young man who over the course of his career would see a little bit of everything come through his door. 

Drover decided to attend University of Missouri-Kansas City for his legal education. He says that this choice was made because they promised actual, practical education instead of basic book learning. Drover says he caught a lot of breaks in his college days. During his junior year, he was able to shadow a number of high-profile murder cases. He was also able to try “junk-cases” legally under the wing of a barred lawyer. All of this led him to a great level of education that he would be able to take with him into the next phase of his career. 

“My first case was the burglary of a junkyard, I mean they were giving me anything,” Drover said. “It was all a wonderful experience.” 

In 1976, Drover says he asked his now wife to marry him and the couple moved down to Camdenton. Janny Foster was from a Camden County family well-known around the Lake of the Ozarks. He was 27-years-old and, at times, felt he had walked into the wild west.

Drover worked for a number of law offices around the area before being asked to become the Assistant Prosecuting Attorney of Camden County under Jim Franklin, which he accepted. After working the position for two years, Drover would take over as Prosecuting Attorney in 1979.

Though the position was a high honor to hold, Drover says that the job of Prosecuting Attorney was taxing on his mental health. 

“You see nothing but negative,” Drover said. “It really does affect your view of humanity. You see bad, then you see bad, then you see bad. You become cynical and see the dark side of everything. I’m not saying it’s universal, but it’s prevalent.” 

Drover continued as Prosecuting Attorney until 1980 and then continued onward working for his own attorney law firm working on civil suits. Now, in 2018, Drover has decided to finally retire after more than 35 years in the field. However, he says retiring has been difficult to come to terms with. 

“At first, I tried to limit my workload and found out that wasn’t really possible for me,” Drove said. “I finally just decided I had to close my doors.”

Looking back on his first days in Camden County, Drover says it was a shock when he first arrived. He recalls what he terms a “well-earned disrespect” for law officers. He says many of the deputies had little training, didn’t have official uniforms and generally, the way things were run was corrupt. 

According to Drover, there was a problem surrounding court cases and retaining evidence from crime scenes. In one instance, Drover says a local clothing store was robbed of a number of leather jackets. The crook was captured because a sleeve of a jacket was flopping out of the trunk door of their getaway vehicle. By the time the jackets made their way back to evidence, he says he was shocked to find the deputies taking their pick and keeping them for themselves. 

“The evidence locker seemed like a closet in the hallway,” Drover said. “By the time we got to trial, there were no coats left in evidence. You can’t make this stuff up.” 

One of the games he remembered deputies playing on calls was whoever made an arrest of an armed criminal got to keep the gun. He says it would get to the point where on-duty officers would get into fights over who would get to keep it. 

He also recalled the big differences in the courthouse and jail as a whole that have advanced over time. FEvery courtroom was thick with smoke, as everyone, including those on trial, smoked during trials. At the jail, Drover says he could watch inmates lowering strings out of their barred windows down to someone outside in order to smuggle goods into their cells. 

“This is the type of stuff you see in movies, but it was actually happening,” Drover said.

With all of that being said, Drover says the current state of the courthouse and all entities residing has improved drastically. With the advent of new computer technology, much of the disorganization and filing issues that would go on have all but ceased. The modifications and upgrades to the courthouse have made a world of difference to the quality of work they are able to perform, he says. Overall, he sees the state of the Camden County courthouse as one that has come a long way. 

“We don’t live in a perfect world, but my goodness, thing are much better now than they were in 1976,” Drover says. 

One of the most memorable cases Drover tried throughout his career was what he referred to as the ‘Crispy Critter’ case. Around 1980, there was a house in Camdenton that suddenly exploded. Out of the fireball, there were two people running from the house. He says it turned out that the two men in the house were there to destroy and burn the house down. The two took tubs of gasoline and poured it into the attic. However, before they could get out, a spark from an appliance in the house lit the fumes and set the blaze in action. 

At their trial, Drover says the men were in great discomfort as they had both sustained third degree burns. While being questioned, he says the men openly ratted out the person who sent them to destroy the house because they were told they weren’t going to be paid the second half of their agreement for doing the deed. This led to a fairly quick trial. 

Looking back on his career, Drover says there are a multitude of stories he could tell about Camden County and they might fill a book. He considers his time in Camden County well spent and says he has enjoyed being able to raise a family in the area. 

If he were to give any advice, Drover says that there was one key principle that he tried to follow in his time serving the law. It came while working alongside a doctor in the area and discussing the best way to maintain a career. 

“He told me ‘Gary, you just take care of your people and the money will take care of itself,’” Drover said. “That was some of the best advice I was ever given. We all have to decide what we want out of life. Working law in a small town won’t make you rich, but it will earn you a good living and give you a good life. I think that’s what’s important.”