Ozark Orgy

The naked truth about Missouri's backwater Sodom and Gomorrah

"You don't want to pay attention to those parts," she says. "You look past them."

Within minutes of pulling out of Newell's marina, she and Humphrey are waved over by a boat, on which sits a woman in her 50s wearing nothing but a cowboy hat and cutoff jeans. Jacobson doesn't so much as bat an eye at the scene, even when she's tying up to the boat and a wave nearly sends her flying face-first into the woman's weathered bosom.

The couple on the boat, George and Marj Long of central Illinois, want to know why Humphrey and Jacobson didn't pull over a cruiser that recently sent waves crashing through a no-wake zone.

Greg Newell has seen and heard it all. Ask him about 
the gay houseboat.
Jennifer Silverberg
Greg Newell has seen and heard it all. Ask him about the gay houseboat.
Greg Newell has seen and heard it all. Ask him about 
the gay houseboat.
Jennifer Silverberg
Greg Newell has seen and heard it all. Ask him about the gay houseboat.

Humphrey explains that he did not see the cruiser, then offers the woeful story he tells everyone who complains of Water Patrol's inability to police the lake.

"We have over 1,100 miles of shoreline to patrol," he says. "That's more shoreline than the entire coast of California."

When Union Electric (now Ameren UE) dammed the Osage River in 1931 to create the Lake of the Ozarks, the thought was that the reservoir -- once the world's largest man-made lake -- would serve as a rustic sportsmen's paradise catering to hunters and fishermen. Seventy years later, the outdoorsmen who first flocked to the lake have been replaced by fun-loving hedonists.

As many as 30,000 leisure craft now take to the lake on summer weekends, making the job of policing the area nearly impossible for the chronically understaffed Water Patrol. With just thirteen officers -- and rarely more than half of them on the water at any given time -- vast regions of the lake are left with little or no police service.

As if on cue, Humphrey receives a radio call for a boat that's broken down on the Little Niangua branch of the lake, some 27 miles away from Party Cove. He and Jacobson were to spend the late afternoon patrolling the cove; now, as the closest Water Patrol unit to the distressed boat, they have no choice but to respond to the emergency call. With Jacobson at the wheel, the two water cops take off across the lake's choppy surface, leaving Party Cove without its sober chaperones.


Back inside the cove, the sun hangs low in the western sky, and the heathen hijinks are slowly winding down.

After six hours of drinking in the hot sun, the University of Illinois students lie about their boat, woozy and sunburned. On an adjacent boat, a bachelor party props up one of its passed-out participants and decorates the fallen warrior with sunglasses, a pen-drawn mustache and an empty beer can, à la Weekend at Bernie's.

A woman named Malinda from Kansas City swims about the last remaining boats, asking for cigarettes. Drunk on Jell-O shots and rum runners (a Party Cove favorite consisting of white and dark rum, pineapple juice and bitters), she throws a temper tantrum when she fails to find her minty cancer-stick of choice.

"Goddamn it, I want me some Camel Men-thawl Lights!" she barks. "Why don't you have some Camel Men-thawl Lights!?"

Across the cove a crowd investigates an accident in which a rented ski boat collided with a cruiser. In Missouri, boaters born before 1984 are not required to have a license -- or, for that matter, any experience piloting a boat. When coupled with the excessive drinking and boat traffic in Party Cove, the unskilled boaters make this a particularly treacherous place.

In 2003 the Columbia Daily Tribune named the Lake of the Ozarks one of the most dangerous bodies of water in the nation. The article cited statistics that placed the lake behind only the Atlantic Ocean and the Colorado River in the number of boating accidents, with 725 wrecks occurring between 1997 and 2001. Of the 293 boating accidents reported last year in Missouri, nearly half came in the Lake of the Ozarks.

But for now the few remaining partygoers need not concern themselves with boating safety. As the revelers depart Party Cove on this Saturday evening, Sergeant Humphrey has yet to return from the call that ferried him to the opposite end of the lake. Typically he'd be stationed at the mouth of the cove right now, trying his best to determine the slightly buzzed from the egregious drunks.

"The challenge is knowing that nearly everyone out there has been drinking," Humphrey says. "More often than not, when we pull someone over for suspicion of drunk driving, they're more than double the legal limit."

At ten o'clock Monday morning, diver Tim McNitt and his protégé, Wes Coursey, pilot their pontoon boat to the east shore of Party Cove, which is now remarkably peaceful. Fishermen cast their lines in the middle of the bay. A great blue heron, with its tremendous six-foot wingspan, skims across the surface of the lake.

The only visible reminders that a party ever occurred here is the litter hugging the shoreline, and two rented houseboats on which a dozen college students are slowly waking from their hangovers.

McNitt was out diving in the cove the night before, but having found nothing more valuable than a pink strap-on, he's at it again. After a half-hour submerged on the bottom, he climbs aboard the boat and empties a mesh bag onto the table.

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