Vol. VI, No. 3, Winter 1993


On Being a Highway Patrolman

An Interview with Clyde Brill



Clyde Brill lives in West Plains, Howell County, Missouri. Now retired, he joined the Missouri State Highway Patrol in 1937, only six years after the Patrol was organized.

He was interviewed for OzarksWatch by his grandson, Joel Brill, who is also Circulation Manager for OzarksWatch.

OZW: When did you become a Highway Patrolman and why?

CB: I became a Highway Patrolman on July 1, 1937 for two reasons: one, I needed the employment, and, two, I was very much interested in law enforcement. Any case that occurred in the area of Mountain Grove where I was living at that time, I was usually in the background somewhere trying to find out what was going on. The Patrol was primarily created to patrol traffic in the State of Missouri. But we developed into a criminal investigating organization, more so as people began to depend on us for the work that we could do and were trained to do. Other law enforcement agencies like the sheriff's offices and the city marshals were not trained. They'd take anybody off the street and elect them to City Marshall and they started performing their duties without any training whatsoever. So that kind of sums up the reason why I pursued the job.

OZW: Did politics play a role in the Highway Patrol and one's selection for the Patrol?

CB: There was a lot more political activity than anybody wanted to admit. At that time, under the law fifty percent of the Patrol personnel had to be Republican and fifty percent Democrat. I don't think they pay too much attention now to what party you' re involved with or have been involved with. At the time that I made application for the Patrol in 1937, I was very much involved in politics in Wright County. I was the first president of the Young Republicans that the county had ever elected.

OZW: In making application to the Patrol, did you need to make contact with a local political figure in order to gain the appointment?

CB: At the time I went in it was kind of a period of recession. You have to remember that this was shortly after the Patrol was created in 1931. This was 1937 so the Patrol hadn't been in existence that long. On the application we were supposed to give some references of people for recommendation, so I got two pretty strong well-known Democrats to endorse me along with one Republican, and I went to Jefferson City with three other people that had been called in. There were something like five thousand applications made for thirty-eight positions that were open. They called in 100, so I happened to be among the 100 people that was called in for both the physical and mental examination. They selected from the examination the thirty-eight members to go into training. I guess I was lucky to be one of those people that was selected.

OZW: As a Republican, how did you get strong recommendations from two prominent Democrats?

CB: Well, they were just very close friends, but they were high up in the process.

OZW: Had you known them before they gained office?

CB: Yes I had. Mountain Grove is a small town, you know everybody. Even though they were very strong in the Democratic Party or affiliated with the Democratic Party, being a friend they didn't make any...well, they just seemed to want to make the recommendations.

OZW: Was there anything unique or novel about Mountain Grove at that time that might have bred a future Highway Patrol officer?

CB: No, it was just a coincidence I guess. One of the people that recommended me very strongly was Marie's uncle by marriage, Tom Short, and he was very active in the Democratic Party at that time. That recommendation wasn't difficult to get. Besides that he loaned me a little money to live on while I was in the school.

OZW: Tell me something about the application process.

CB: They first gave us the mental examination and that included -- well, memory was a big item. They would create situations and then go through them and we would write what we saw and the way we observed everything. We found out that you could put twenty people in a room and come in and let a crime be enacted and we'd get twenty different summaries. There was no two that was alike; nobody saw it the same way. That's in any situation .... But the mental examination was pretty thorough and it all zeroed in on the type of work I was supposed to do after I got in the organization. The physical was nothing but just a straight West Point physical examination from start to finish. It was a rough one. I don't know how I made it, but I came out as one of the thirty-eight people and that's what I went up there for.

Clyde and Marie Brill

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Trooper Clyde Brill, right, on the cover of 1939 "Dynamic Detective" Magazine.

OZW: What had your prior experience in law enforcement been before your application to the Highway Patrol?

CB: Not any. Just observation of activities of the law enforcement of the county. A Patrol car would come through Mountain Grove and I'd follow it to see where it would end up. I don't know really. I was just interested in that kind of activity. I don't think you want to get in an organization like law enforcement or military or anything else unless you have an interest in it; a special interest in it. I remember one occasion where Marie's father and mother ran a restaurant in Mountain Grove and we were in there one night and a person came in and made a purchase --a meal or a package of cigarettes or whatever. When he threw the money on the counter you could tell it wasn't real money. So I, just as soon as he went out the door, I went over to the cash register and looked at it. You could really tell by looking at it that it was a counterfeit dollar. So I got a hold of the city officers that night and apprehended that person and he had quite bit of the counterfeit money he was distributing around. It was just little things like that kind of got me interested in it.

OZW: After you were accepted into the Patrol, where did you get your first training?

CB: We were assigned to a school at Camp Clark, Nevada, Missouri. It was a military installation that had been used during the World War and we were assigned to barracks like a regular military operation. We went through the training and all the subjects that were involved -- traffic and criminal investigations, and firearms. We had rather extensive training in the use of firearms. This Camp Clark was a perfect place for this school because they had the facilities for firearms training and also the barracks. It was just like the military. At that time, a lot of the commanding personnel were former military people and some were active in the National Guard. Most of them had been involved in World War I and they operated very much like a military camp. We went through something like a two month's extensive training course in the camp and then we came out on probation for six months riding with another officer.

OZW: Did you have on-going Patrol training after your probation period?

CB: Because of the very few people that we had working at that time, like maybe 125 Patrolmen for the entire state, we went back on a annual basis to a retraining academy that was held to bring everybody up to date on anything that was new. Retraining schools were rather demanding on you for one week. We had retraining schools at the fairgrounds in Sedalia and we finally came down to some kind of a school in Rolla I think; a building out toward 1-44 West was where we held most of our retraining schools. Now, the facilities have been expanded in Jefferson City to the extent that the retraining and all the training of new recruits is all held in one area at the General Headquarters in Jefferson City. We didn't during my time have the facilities. We just picked from different spots around the state.

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OZW: Did you notice a change in the training techniques as time passed?

CB: Well, law enforcement training and techniques have changed over the years. Of course one of the demands of law enforcement is for more training. Local police officers and sheriffs right now are required to have so much training. Before that they were elected and the next day they went out and they were a sheriff or a city marshall. This training is usually conducted by the Highway Patrol personnel at General Headquarters at Jefferson City. There is an opportunity, and we had that opportunity while we were working, to go to special training school at the Federal Bureau of Investigation. That brought us up to date on a lot of things that we needed to know. As everybody knows, the FBI is the law enforcement organization of our country, so anything we could gain from them was a plus.

OZW: What were some of your early assignments?

CB: Well our assignment was just about anything that happened. We did everything in those days around the city from picking up drunks on the street to bank robbery cases. I had an interesting experience to start off with-- the first week I worked I was stationed at Willow Springs. We were using 1935 vehicles and they had taken them into Jefferson City to update them to 1937 models. Well, while everybody was gone and I was in Willow Springs without even a car to drive, the bank in Mountain Grove was robbed and I was the only Highway Patrolmen stationed there. I didn't even have an automobile but I did get a deputy sheriff to take me up there and he and I started the investigation on this holdup. So that started things with kind of a bang as far as I was concerned. A bank robbing the first week!

OZW: What were some of the other early experiences that you had?

CB: Well, we had about any kind of a crime you'd like to think about. One of the crimes in this area at that time was the theft of livestock -- hogs, cattle-- that was a big thing here then. And there was a lot of burglaries you know, breaking into residences and places of business. That was enough almost to keep one person busy in that area. There wasn't too much traffic. The roads at that time were rather inadequate. We had two or three what we called paved or blacktopped roads in the area and Highway 63 was one, the road from here [West Plains] to Gainesville was Highway 80 at that time and it was gravel. The road from Gainesville to Ava was gravel, that was part of my area, and the road from Ava to West Plains, Highway 14, was gravel too. So we had some pretty rough roads at that time, along with everything else.

OZW: During this time with the Patrol, what would be your relationship, and the Patrol' s relationship in general, with local sheriffs, constables, and police forces?

CB: Well we had good relationships with the local officers. The situation was this: if there was any crime committed or any kind of an investigation that needed to be conducted, people called the Highway Patrol. They didn't call the sheriff's office, they didn't call the police department. As a result of that, the sheriff and the police officers at that time depended on us. People just didn't depend on them. Usually we picked one of them up and got them involved in it. The city marshall was supposed to keep the streets free from intoxicated people, and the sheriff served civil actions, and that's about what they did. And they were satisfied with that because they weren't trained to do much else. There was a little jealously that developed from time to time between the sheriff's department and the Highway Patrol if they thought we got too much publicity on cases; they kind of liked to get in on the action a little.

OZW: It sounds like the jurisdiction of some of the other law enforcement officials was very limited at the time.

CB: Actually their jurisdiction wasn't limited, it was the fact that their training did limit them to certain situations. People wanted to call somebody that could get the job done and we could usually handle that, you know. I'm bragging a little.

OZW: You were stationed at Willow Springs at first?

CB: When I first started there was three of us in the Willow Springs area, now there's fifty-some Patrol officers there. The people around West Plains, the prosecuting attorney's office, and some others, decided that West Plains, being the largest town in the area, needed a Highway Patrol officer stationed there. At that time our headquarters was in Poplar Bluff. When we first started our headquarters was at Sikeston. We had to get up at 4:00 in the morning to drive to Sikeston for a troop meeting. The commanding officer of the Troop E area, that we were working in that time, came in here and made an investigation as to who they would like to have out of the three of us that was stationed at Willow Springs. So in the latter part of 1939 and early part of 1940, I moved down here [West Plains].

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OZW: What was the relationship of the Highway Patrol with judges in the area?

CB: During those days they had what was known as a Justice of the Peace. I know in West Plains we had two, there being a little more activity and more cases. Well, they handled all the traffic cases and if anyone contested a traffic violation, they'd call in a jury of six people and try the case. Otherwise the circuit judge situation was about like it is now; about the same territory and everything. We worked under several different judges during that time. The judges that I worked with in the area were very easy to get along with.

OZW: What sort of trial experience did you have? Were you ever in situations where you needed to provide testimony or appear in court?

CB: Actually it seemed to me like I spent half my time in court testifying in cases. Back during those days, they tried a lot more cases than they do now. At least there were more cases that went to trial. Now the plea-bargaining situation has eliminated a lot of it. People looked forward to going to the courthouse and listening to a big trial, a murder case or something like that -- the courthouse would be packed. When the Justice of the Peace era was over, they elected a Magistrate Judge for each county and they conducted all the court cases from misdemeanor traffic violations to some of the more serious cases -- preliminary hearings and so forth. The situation just changed. Now, because of the population, we have two associate judges in Howell County and they handle a lot of cases. I noticed a very recent murder case we had here a couple nights ago, one of our local associate judges is handling that case through the preliminary stages. I assume that later on the case will finally get into the circuit court and a certain judge will preside over it. It's been a gradual change, and I think it's been all for the good. In the Justice of the Peace system the judges were, well, fairly untrained; kind of like hiring an officer or a city marshall to office without any training. They had very little knowledge of the law; they could handle a traffic violation, but usually they'd ask us what our recommendation was.

OZW: So court cases were a form of local entertainment?

CB: Oh yeah. Now they've cut the size of the court rooms down to where they can't accommodate too many people. They divided up the courthouse here and I assume the same situation exists in other counties. The court rooms are rather small and there isn't anybody that seems to have that much interest. But they used to pack the court rooms on cases of any magnitude -- a murder case, or an armed robbery case, bank robbery -- everybody went to the court room that didn't have to work.

OZW: During the time of World War II, I believe the Patrol was given special broader FBI-like jurisdiction. What was the rationale for that?

CB: Well, during World War II the load tor the Federal Bureau of Investigation grew. They investigated every person that they were suspicious of. For instance, a family moves in here and they came here from Germany. Well, we were at war with Germany, so the FBI had to have a monthly report on those people as to their activities. They didn't have the manpower to do it and they gave the Patrol officers certain jurisdiction over an area where we made the monthly check on these people as to their activities. The investigation had to be conducted according to their rules and regulations. They gave several of us an opportunity to go into the organization because they were really short on personnel. You see, this World War II came on rather suddenly, and we weren't prepared for it. We weren't prepared for it militarily or any other way. So the FBI was as unprepared to cope with the situation as anybody else, even though they had a rather large organization. They had to depend on people like the Highway Patrol officers to help.

OZW: Did this improve the way the Patrol worked with the FBI?

CB: Well, we had a better relationship with them. They had been prone to operate rather independently. For instance, let's say a bank was robbed in Eminence, Missouri; they would come in and completely take over and kind of keep us on the outside. We didn't know too much what was going on and they tried to operate it that way. But if we got in the case before they did, we did the same thing --we kept them on the outside. So, it worked both ways. But I think the relationship with the FBI was improved considerably by the cooperation we gave in conducting some of their investigations.

OZW: What changes did you see during the 23 years you were in the Patrol?

CB: We became a better organization in every way that I can think of. Like any other group that starts we had to learn by doing. The Patrol were really eager for the improvement. They went to other Patrol organizations, like Michigan, New York, and Pennsylvania and some of the other states, mostly back East. They rated the Patrol organizations back at that time and as I remember those three were rated very high. The Michigan Highway Patrol was rated high because they had the barracks system and that was getting back to the military angle of it. The Missouri Highway Patrol incidentally, after a few years in existence, was rated right up to the top.

[Interview by Joel Brill. Transcription by Mary Ellen Suits]

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