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Springfield defense attorney Dee Wampler dies at 81

Published: Oct. 8, 2021 at 10:03 AM CDT|Updated: Oct. 8, 2021 at 8:05 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - One of the most prominent attorneys in the Ozarks has died at the age of 81.

Dee Wampler was in St. Louis for a trial when he died overnight Thursday in his sleep at a hotel.

Wampler, an attorney with more than 50 years of courtroom experience, was an assistant Greene County Prosecutor from 1967 to 1970. From 1971-72 he was the head Greene County Prosecutor. In 1973, he opened his own law firm.

Wampler took part in some of the biggest trials in the Ozarks history and even represented mob boss John Gotti when he was brought to the federal medical center in Springfield in 2001-2002.

But Dee was more than a lawyer. The Christian conservative was a mover-and-shaker in the community known by just about everyone and actively involved in civic causes, lecturing and writing books.

“Certainly our community is mourning the loss of Dee Wampler,” said Springfield Mayor Ken McClure. “He had such a great impact over a long period of time.”

McClure recalls he was in high school the first time he met Dee when Wampler was an assistant prosecuting attorney.

“My mother taught business law at Parkview for 27 years. Each year in the late ‘60′s and early ‘70′s she would have Dee come over and talk to her class about the law,” he recalled.

“I learned a lot from Dee,” added Darrell Moore, a former Greene County Prosecutor and Executive Director of the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys. “I first met Dee when I was an assistant prosecuting attorney in the early ‘80′s and in the courtroom I learned a lot from him. He was always kind and gracious to me. He had a knowledge of the law but was always a gentleman. Always courteous. I think many younger attorneys could take a lesson from him that you can be adversaries in the courtroom but still be friends.”

Wampler’s death comes less than nine months after his wife of 55 years, Anne, died after a long bout with cancer.

“It was a tragic situation,” McClure said. “She’d been sick for some time. I visited with Dee when his wife passed away and he remembered that I lost my spouse 10 years ago. So we immediately started talking about that unfortunate common bond which we had. But we talked about the good memories and that’s what we both carried. I remember him telling me at the time that he was just glad she wasn’t suffering anymore.”

Just off Battlefield Road the offices of Dee Wampler’s law firm were a solemn place on Friday. A stray cat that Dee had started feeding several months ago rested beneath a bush just outside the front door with the cat food Dee used placed just inside the office entrance. Dee had named the stray “Stop and Frisky” as a law enforcement metaphor, but now it will simply be remembered as “Dee’s cat”, serving as sentimental reminder of Wampler’s caring nature that also extended to the troubled clients he tried to help as a defense attorney.

“It wasn’t like he just wanted to take the case and get it resolved,” Moore said. “It was what he could do in resolving the case that would help you become a better person and not come back to the criminal justice system. He really cared about people.”

“He always wanted to help our community,” McClure added. “I was with him two weeks ago at a community round table talking about issues we have. The question was, ‘What was the primary concern in our city?’ and Dee spoke up first and said, ‘Drugs!’ right off the bat. That led to a discussion of how all encompassing that is in terms of other problems. So the legacy I hope Dee has is that he was a community activist trying to make sure we were doing the right thing. Many people don’t realize that he was such a behind-the-scenes activist pushing causes that were important to him.”

On Friday, flowers and phone calls came pouring in to the front desk of Wampler’s law offices. But down the hallway that contained all kinds of honors and photos of his impressive career hanging on the wall, Dee’s office was eerily silent. His belongings were all in their place, frozen in time waiting for a leader who will not be returning after dying in his sleep while in St. Louis for a trial.

“He’ll be missed,” Moore said. “I’m sad that he did not get to retire, but I’m not sure he really ever wanted to retire. He enjoyed practicing law. So what a better way to go than in your sleep.”

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