Jonah M. Kessel

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August 12, 2008
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Crimes of the times: A look back at 50 years of covering lawbreakers in the Tribune

Upon first glance, the small communities at the South Shore of Lake Tahoe may seem quaint, quiet and innocent. However, ask any local, and they will tell you there is more than meets the eye to this mountain area.

While the Tribune celebrates its 50th year of operation, readers have been privy to some high-profile crimes. For such a small community, it's amazing how often news makes it beyond the basin.

From a drug-smuggling mayor to a kidnapped entertainer, crime at the South Shore has been both unusual and heart-wrenching. Today, the Tribune looks back at 50 years of crime coverage at the South Shore.

Five years after the Tribune began publishing, Frank Sinatra Jr. was kidnapped from Harrah's South Lodge before a gig. Two days later, Frank Sr. paid a ransom of $240,000 to the kidnappers for the release of his son. Upon his son's release, Frank Sr., whose birthday was the next day, said, "It's the best present I could get."

The bizarre kidnapping was solved shortly after when the kidnappers were caught.

South Lake Tahoe Detective Paul Habelt was shot in the line of duty while responding to a disturbance call at the Kelmont Arms Apartments on Ski Run Boulevard. The shooting began an 18-hour standoff that led to the death of hostage.

The Tribune reported: "A lone and apparently very lonely gunman was captured in a tear-gas barrage early today after holding dozens of South Shore law-enforcement officers at bay for nearly 18 hours. James Locklear, 24, was taken into custody unharmed about 8 a.m. from an apartment battle scene that saw one man die and a police detective severely wounded."

Although Habelt survived the 1975 shooting, he was shot and killed in the line of duty 32 years later in Payne Springs, Texas, where he worked for the Henderson County Sheriff's Department. Habelt was responding to a domestic disturbance when he was killed on May 17, 2007.

Richard Swanson, 16, was found gagged and tied up at the "Y" Shell station. The teen's death from suffocation led to the creation of the Secret Witness Program at the South Shore. The program allows people to give information anonymously to help solve crimes.

South Shore businesses and citizens raised nearly $10,000 to be given as a reward for information leading to an arrest of Swanson's killer, although the case never was solved.

However, nearly three decades later, the case has new life. After a plea from Swanson's parents to the South Lake Tahoe City Council in 2007, veteran police detective Chuck Owens has picked the case back up. "We're going to follow every clue there is," Owens told the Tribune in May 2007.

A 1,000-pound bomb exploded two days after it was found in Harveys Resort Casino - the largest domestic bomb ever detonated in the United States at that time. The bomb caused millions of dollars in damage to the South Shore casino.

See next Thursday's Tribune for a full report on the anniversary of the Harveys bombing.

Posing as a photographer, Herbert Coddington convinced two young models, ages 12 and 14, to travel from Reno to his trailer in Tahoe Verde Mobile Home Park on Julie Lane. South Lake Tahoe police, along with FBI agents, stormed the mobile home park where the models were being held hostage. Their chaperones were found dead. Coddington was tried, convicted and sentenced to death. Coddington still is awaiting execution at San Quentin State Prison.

More than 20 people were charged with conspiracy and money-laundering in connection with a cocaine sales and smuggling operation - including 46-year-old South Lake Tahoe Mayor Terry Trupp. The 20-month-long, multiagency operation known as Deep Snow would send Krupp from an office to a prison.

While many South Shore residents were shocked by the mayor's action, other locals didn't even blink. "I've lived here 34 years," Bill Anderberg told the Tribune on June 16,1989. "It's typical of the area - basic wrongdoing."

While walking to the bus stop on Washoan Boulevard, 11-year-old Jaycee Lee Dugard was abducted. The kidnapping drew national attention but never was solved. "That was a very long, very taxing investigation," former El Dorado County Sheriff's Sgt. Jim Watson said in an interview with the Tribune in June 2005. Watson, the initial lead investigator in the case, retired in 2005.

Joe Thiemann, president of Lake Tahoe Cruises and operator of the Tahoe Queen, was shot and killed while trying to kill his former business partner, Mike Phillips, who was owner of the Ski Run Marina at the time.

Armed with a gun and more weapons at hand, Thiemann confronted Phillips at his home, hours after the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency rejected an application to relocate the Tahoe Queen from the Ski Run Marina to Timber Cove. After bludgeoning Phillips, Thiemann was shot dead.

Before the TRPA's action regarding the tour boat, Thiemann's attorney had characterized the board's vote as "do or die for us."

The South Shore was stunned by the death of 9-year-old Krystal Dawn Steadman, whose body was found down an embankment on Highway 50 between Spooner Summit and Carson City. The South Shore girl disappeared a day earlier from the Lake Park Apartments on Kahle Drive in Stateline where she was last seen in the parking lot.

Thomas Robert Soria Sr., 40, and his son Thomas Soria Jr., 21, were charged with the third-grader's killing and rape. An account of the murder later turned into a book, "Like Father Like Son" by Robert Scott.

Soria Jr. was sentenced to life in prison.

Soria Sr. was found dead in his Douglas County Jail cell from an apparent drug overdose the day after his death-penalty trial began.

"I've never lost so much sleep on a case," Judge Jerald Lasarow said in 2003 about a case which ended in a life sentence for Lisa Ann Platz.

Two years earlier, Platz was involved in a standoff at Campground by the Lake that ended with the death of her daughter, 9-year-old Rebbeca Aramburo, whose throat had been slit. Platz's companion, James Csucsai, hung himself in jail before the case was tried.

In July of this year, Platz's request for a new trial was denied by an El Dorado County Superior Court judge.

- Information from this article was compiled from past Tribune articles.


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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Aug 21, 2008 02:06AM Published Aug 12, 2008 03:00AM Copyright 2008 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.