A tiny town in south-central Missouri was once a refuge for bank robbers and outlaws. 92-year-old Dick Deupree remembers when Dora had its fair share of bandits.
Dick Deupree recalls how, when he was a child, his father worked in the general store in Dora as the assistant postmaster. While life may have seemed normal in the shop front, there was a lot of drama in the background as his father dealt with notorious bank robbers.
Deupree remembers one night he was leaving the store with his father when a car drove up and two men got out, brandishing pistols. His father grabbed the only thing he could find for protection.
“When we went out the store door, he had a crate there, a banana crate, with wooden wagon wheel spokes. So he reached down and got one of those.”
However, the two were lucky that night. One of the bank robbers in town at the time was Lando Gunter, a fugitive who took refuge in Dora with the Deupree's after he robbed a bank in Richland. The Deupree's were friends with the Gunters, and Lando Gunter offered to protect them.
Deupree continued telling the story of that suspenseful night by his father’s shop. A man approached them out of the gloom, and it turned out to be Gunter. He joked with his father, saying that wagon spoke wouldn’t do him much good in a gun fight, but that he didn’t need to worry.
“And he kind of patted my dad on the shoulder, and he said ‘I told you, that nobody will ever hurt you as long as you live here.’”
Rick Gunter, a descendent of Lando Gunter, is working to learn more about his family’s history. He has his own theories on why Lando became an outlaw, which involves old outlaw movies, but he doesn’t know for sure.
However, there are certain things he admires about his ancestor.
“He tried to be an outlaw and a good guy at the same time. I think he’s one of these sorts who was just always very friendly to people he wanted to be friendly to and acted like he was protective towards friends and family. But I’ve heard that he had a mean streak too.”
The Deupree and Gunter families continued to help each other out while Lando Gunter was in hiding. As postmaster assistant, Dick Deupree’s father never put up the wanted signs the police gave him.
Other members of Deupree’s family were key people in law enforcement in the Ozarks, and they used that to their advantage to protect Gunter. His uncle was the first sergeant in Springfield, and his mother would call the sergeant up and tell him to leave Gunter alone.
Sometimes though, there was no avoiding the law. When FBI agents went to Dora to track Gunter down, they had Deupree’s uncle take them to Gunter’s house.
“They were driving along down after they turned off the main road, and somebody just stepped right out in front of them. My uncle stopped you know and this guy walked up to them. He said ‘What are you doing Webb?’ And before anybody could talk, my uncle Webb said ‘Oh, this a FBI man, and we’re going down here and looking for Lando.’ And Lando said, ‘Oh you know he left yesterday!’ It was Lando they were talking to.”
The FBI agent believed Gunter, and they turned the car around.
Lando Gunter was eventually arrested in 1935, but the story doesn’t end there. As with any good crime drama nowadays, Gunter had his own redemption story.
“After he got out, he went to Chicago and worked for the police department teaching about how to catch outlaws, you know.”