Rural Missouri Magazine


Tough Talk
Ex-con Dale Messmer keeps kids off drugs
with tales of life behind bars

by Jim McCarty


Dale "Mad Dog" Messmer once smuggled cocaine into the United States. Today he makes amends for his past mistakes by telling his story at schools.

Dale Messmer remembers well the day he turned his life around.

He was in the office of the construction company where he worked, taking care of paperwork. The door opened and in walked a young man in a suit. Through the door Dale could see he drove the type of vehicle favored by FBI agents.

Dale had a secret past. He was on the run from a variety of law enforcement agencies. He was determined not to get caught.

From a desk drawer Dale quietly pulled a 9mm pistol in anticipation of the moment the agent presented his badge.

"I was sure he was FBI," recalls Dale. "I was prepared to dust him and run."

But Dale realized the man facing him was an insurance agent. Instead of a badge and handcuffs, he showed Dale photos of his wife and kids.

That night, stunned by what he almost did, Dale drank heavily. Too drunk to drive, he pulled into a parking lot and walked into the first building he could find. It turned out to be a church and the minister was still there.

Dale "Mad Dog" Messmer — drug trafficker, martial arts expert, body guard, Vietnam vet, trained sniper, a man so tough he once killed a police dog with his bare hands — found himself in tears, pouring out his sins to a man he did not know. The preacher convinced him to take his punishment which Dale did, surrendering to authorities who agreed to a plea-bargained, 25-year sentence.

The things Dale saw behind bars convinced him to help others make better choices. Today Dale crisscrosses the country delivering a sobering message to kids: "Drugs, gangs and breaking the law can do the same thing for you that it did for me."

Dale speaks with authority. At the time of his arrest he was worth $3.8 million. But the law allows police to seize the assets of anyone charged with drug crimes and Dale found himself penniless.

"It cost me everything I ever loved on this Earth and I am always going to be an ex-convict," Dale says of his choice to break the law.

Like a lot of the kids he speaks to, Dale got into trouble because he was bored.

His past was the kind of life featured in Hollywood action films. He served overseas as a Marine sniper scout. He was a body guard for the likes of Charlie Daniels and William Lee Golden of the Oak Ridge Boys. He trained S.W.A.T. teams. He chased bail jumpers and guarded gold mines.

In his 30s, Dale was a millionaire with a successful limousine and charter airplane service. But he was bored. Approached by the Colombian cocaine cartel run by Pablo Escobar, Dale was quick to jump at the chance for a little excitement.

One day Dale was flying a load of cocaine into the United States on an overcast day. When he popped out of the clouds federal agents were waiting. He tried to run but a jet caught him and forced him to land. They discovered cocaine, piles of drug money, a box of grenades and a machine gun on board.

Faced with a laundry list of charges, Dale made bail and quickly skipped town, staying on the run for 16 months until his change of heart.

He would spend nearly 11 years behind bars. Here he saw firsthand what happened to kids who made bad choices and wound up in prison.

"Once you go in, the law ceases to exist," he says. "It's jungle rules, survival of the fittest. It's not right, it's not fair and it's not legal but it's what happens."

By accident he discovered he could help.

Nearing parole, the warden at the prison asked him to speak at a school during Red Ribbon Week, a national anti-drug effort. At first reluctant, Dale gave in to the promise of a McDonald's hamburger.

That talk led to another and then more until one day he spoke at a school attended by the son of then Arkansas Lt. Gov. Mike Huckabee. The elder Huckabee, now governor, helped Dale speak in nearly all Arkansas schools.

He moved to California, starred in commercials and movies. But he continued his anti-drug talks. Threatened by gang violence and a car bomb that didn't explode, Dale moved to Cape Fair last year where he is a member of Ozark Electric Cooperative.

He averages 150 schools per year and estimates 800,000 kids have heard his message. Those who attend his program hear some tough talk.

"I don't sugar coat anything," Dale says. "I don't use foul language but it is graphic and detailed and I leave them with no doubts. I let them look at my face and see where I've been stitched together. I didn't look like this before I went into prison."

Dale gives schools his entire day. He speaks to as many groups as they want, answers questions, eats with students and stays after school to work with at-risk kids. He asks for a fee of $1,500 but is quick to point out that if a school can't afford his asking price then the price is whatever they can afford.

Dale knows he's doing some good because he often hears from students who changed their lives after hearing him speak.

"I am like the vitamin company — one a day. If I can get one kid a day to stop and think then it's worth it."

For more information call (417) 538-4321, send e-mail to or visit www.MAD-DOG.ORG.


Rural Missouri | June 2020 Issue

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