A century of crime
Beyond their involvement in a few spectacular crime cases, Lake Tahoe lawmen are merely passing footnotes in the history books. They rate a picture here and there and a few first-person accounts.
El Dorado County Sheriff’s Deputy Euell Gray served 40 years from 1912 to 1942, under at least three different sheriffs, but his biggest mention has nothing to do with law.
According to “I remember … Stories and pictures of El Dorado County’s pioneer families,” Gray was known for running 300 to 350 head of cattle at Echo Lake in the summer, and for establishing a store, small hotel and boat concession there. It seems Gray’s long law enforcement career was too much taken for granted to be remembered. In 1850, at the time the original 27 California counties were being organized, the sheriff’s department of El Dorado was the first to be officially recognized by the new state.
The gold rush, beginning a scant two years before, immediately brought about the need for an official law force. Placerville’s population swelled to around 50,000 almost overnight.
The nickname “Hangtown” was earned from stories of the townspeople’s swift, but somewhat questionable means of justice. In 1849, a gold miner was robbed of his gold dust at his home in the middle of the night. Three men were caught, tried and hung in the middle of town after what could be called a sketchy court trial, at best.
With the majority of the population centered on the west slope of the county, Tahoe rated only occasional, or as needed, visits from law enforcement for many years.
On the Nevada side of the state line an official sheriff’s department would not arrive for another decade. Before Douglas County was created at the time the Nevada Territory was being established territorial lawmen from Utah filled the need.
According to Robert W. Ellison, author of “Territorial lawmen of Nevada, Vol. 1 1851-1861,” in November of 1851 the settler’s of Mormon station in Genoa held a citizens’ meeting to form their own government. During the meeting they elected a sheriff. He would be chased out the following year when after he emptied his pistol during a shooting exhibition in the Dayton area the audience turned their pistols on him.
In December 1861 Douglas County was established and William Wallace was appointed as the first sheriff, but he would only remain in office for two months. At the first election he was voted out of the job. Douglas County was eventually divided into two townships, East Fork and the Tahoe Township.
The office of constable was created and still exists in the Tahoe Township. Tahoe fell under the FBI’s San Francisco office until 1968 when a Sacramento office was created.
In the early to mid-1970s, a small two-person office was opened in South Lake Tahoe and closed in 1980. The office reopened in 1989 during a drug operation code named “Deep Snow.” When it was all over, many rumors had been substantiated and 19 residents were under arrest, including the mayor, Terry Trupp.
After the abduction of 11-year-old Jaycee Lee Dugard in 1991, the office was raised to three agents. It now operates with a staff of two.
There have long been rumors of mob activity at South Shore. Retired Detective Steve Kibbe, of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department, confirmed that members of the mafia frequented the lake and at least one had a business here.
Aladeno “Jimmy the Weasel” Fratianno, an admitted mob hit man who later turned government witness, owned a trucking company at the lake. “He had the dump trucks that brought the sand from Meyers to build the Tahoe Keys,” Kibbe said.
Kibbe interviewed Fratianno in a Los Angeles jail during his investigation of the murder of Dick Chartran. A Skyland resident who was killed when he triggered a bomb planted in his car.
Fratianno’s exploits and his association to South Lake Tahoe are detailed in “The Last Mafioso,” by Ovid DeMans.
On July 1, 1967, not long after the founding of the city of South Lake Tahoe, the city’s police force took to the streets.
With a staff of 28 officers, the headquarters were at D Street and Lake Tahoe Boulevard, now the site of the city yard. The first citation was issued at 12:58 a.m. when a South Lake Tahoe resident was caught running a stoplight. During the first weekend service calls ranged from a 12-cent robbery to minor accidents and stolen bicycles. The headquarters would do time in the Nel’s Hardware building, sharing a bathroom with the pool hall next door.
It moved to its present location on Johnson Boulevard in 1973. The building was enlarged in 1986.
In 1967 the police responded to 4,000 to 5,000 calls. Now the department averages 15,000 calls a year with a staff of 55.
“For a small town we’ve had a lot of major incidents,” said Sgt. Doc Munk, who is in his 28th year with the department. “I don’t know why they pick on us, and although people like to blame the tourists the majority of our problems come from locals.”
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