One of Wyoming’s top attorneys was found dead in his car near a dry lake three miles south of Cody, Wyo., on Saturday, just six days before his 90th birthday.
Law enforcement and friends had been searching for five days for Charles George Kepler, former president of the Wyoming Bar Association and longtime Cody attorney, who practiced law for four decades with former U.S. Sen. Al Simpson.
“He was an absolute prince of a guy,” Simpson said. He said the man everyone called Kep apparently ran into a ditch near Red Lake and likely died that day or the next.
“We all knew one thing, he couldn’t get up. He fell in his garden a few months ago and had to call 911,” he said.
When Simpson suggested that Kepler start getting some help at home, carry a cellphone or install a location service in his car, he said, “Not on your life.”
Friends reported Kepler missing on July 2 and after a futile search, he was listed as an endangered person with the National Crime Information Center on July 6. The following day, someone spotted Kepler’s car and reported a body inside. The Park County Sheriff’s Department identified him that evening.
After earning a law degree from the University of Wyoming in 1948, Kepler went on for a master’s degree and graduated summa cum laude from the University of Michigan.
“That was unheard of. That was the toughest law school in America,” Simpson said.
Kepler taught business law at the University of Wyoming and law at the University of Oklahoma, served on the Cody School Board, was president of the Cody Chamber of Commerce, logged 50 years with the Lion’s Club and ran the Paul Stock Foundation, a foundation bankrolled by oil money that awards academic scholarships.
In 1960 as general counsel and secretary of Husky Oil, Kepler joined the Simpson law firm to avoid moving from Cody to Calgary, Alberta, when Husky wanted to move its corporate headquarters.
Simpson said he was shocked that Kepler wanted to join his father’s law firm because he had only earned $6,000 in 1960.
They worked as partners for more than four decades without any legal agreement, splitting everything, including a legal bill paid for with 15 trout.
“I told Kep, you get seven and I get seven and we’ll flip for the eighth,” Simpson said.
Kep took eight aspirin a day for a shoulder wound he never talked about, except for serving under Gen. George S. Patton. One day he and some other soldiers stumbled across a wine cellar in an old French chateau that the U.S. Army had captured from the Germans.
“Kep said they radioed to this commanding officer that this position might take longer to secure, maybe several days,” Simpson said.
Kepler had a strict moral sense and a brilliant legal mind coupled with the rare ability to explain what he meant, Simpson said.
“We tackled murder, divorce, incest rape, cowboys tagging each other,” Simpson said. “There wasn’t anything we wouldn’t do because we thought a lawyer’s job was to represent human beings and not just a corporate balance sheet.”
Kepler’s childhood during the Great Depression left a mark, said Colin Simpson, one of Al Simpson’s sons and a partner in Simpson, Kepler and Edwards, a division of Burg Simpson in Englewood, Colo.
“He had an economy of words and he was very economical with his money, but he was really one of the great lawyers in Wyoming,” he said.
A few years ago, Al Simpson said he was surprised to hear that Kepler, the senior member of the Wyoming Bar, had resigned saying he didn’t feel competent anymore.
Memorial services are scheduled for July 25, Simpson said.
Kepler always attended the Catholic church where his wife, Ursula (Manewal) Kepler, played organ, Simpson said, but he wanted to be buried a Methodist.