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Richards recounts murder, corruption and Las Vegas

Bill Martin Shot

Brothel owner Bill Martin was murdered in April 1982.

Joe Richards’ account of what happened was that two men wanted to buy Martin’s entire operation at Lathrop Wells, including the brothel and gas station. They put up earnest money of somewhere around $10,000 or $20,000. Soon after the payment was made Martin backed out of the deal but refused to return the earnest money.

Richards in November 2011 described what happened.

“A person he referred to as ‘the kid’ used to come down to the bar (Crystal) and he used to tell me, ‘Hey, that son-of-a-bitch ain’t giving me my money. I’ll kill him.’ You know, people talked like that. So then I guess he went up there one day and knocked on the door and Martin answered the door and he asked for his money and Martin shut the door. And then he asked him again. When he (Martin) answered the door again he shot him and he fell down and he started getting up and he shot him again… It was because he wouldn’t give him his money back … . Martin backed out of the deal.”

Of Martin, Richards said, “Yeah, he was an all right guy. He just got greedy after a while. The hub of the whole thing was, he didn’t want anybody else involved in any other business around him. He just didn’t want that happening.”

The County Power Structure

Richards told this reporter in November 2011 that he believed Nye County Sheriff’s Deputy Glen Henderson ran the sheriff’s office in Amargosa Valley. The sheriff’s office in Pahrump at that time was too small to exercise any degree of control. Richards did not have much that was kind to say about Henderson. He was “horrible.”

“He was a tough guy,” Richards said. “He used to come down to the Place (brothel) down there (at Crystal). He’d be walking through their (the girls’) rooms, that son-of-a-bitch.”

Richards said he never received harassment or any form of mistreatment from the other departments in Nye County government, just the sheriff’s office in Amargosa Valley under Henderson.

“It was the sheriff’s department. They were rough.”

Richards said, “(Bill) Martin was (Henderson’s) buddy. I don’t know if he was paying him off or not, but they were very, very close. You know, they were out here and Martin was going over to his house, that type of stuff.”

After the discovery of Martin’s involvement in the firebombing of the Chicken Ranch, Richards said Martin was “so afraid of going to prison” and became friendly with others, including Richards.

I asked Richards if he thought Bill Beko had been against prostitution and what he thought was behind Beko’s initial dismissal of Richards’ desire to open a brothel. He replied, “No, Beko wasn’t against prostitution. I always liked Beko. He was against me because I was a newcomer, naturally, but I always thought he was fair.”

Richards said, however, “Martin was so locked to this area out here with political people and the sheriff’s department.”

When asked what the challenges were in running a brothel, Richards replied: “It’s always political. You’ve always got somebody that wants to go against you for some reason. Whether it’s religion or political or whatever, they’re always trying.” He said, “If you’re doing well and you’re treating people well … you’re getting things done, you’re getting a license … people think you have to be political, keep your hand in your pocket.”

It’s really not like that at all, he said. “If you’re working hard and run a clean business, operating clean, you’re okay. I try to … stay out of politics completely because it ain’t worth the trouble.”

Lathrop Wells Purchase

I asked Richards why he purchased the Lathrop Wells brothel. His reply was, “This area here was always a good area. I figured Highway 95, you’ve got to go by it any time you’re going north—or going to Vegas … you’ve got to go by here. The brothel was already here.”

Later, Richards sold the two brothels he operated at Crystal, the Cherry Patch and Mable’s Whorehouse, and his Amargosa Valley (Lathrop Wells) brothel to what the Las Vegas Review-Journal described as “Nevada’s best-known brothel owner, Dennis Hof, owner of several brothels in the Reno area.”

Hof declined to be interviewed for this research, as did the corporate owners of the Chicken Ranch and Sheri’s Ranch in Pahrump.

Bobbie Duncan

Joe Richards indicated that he knew Bobbie Duncan rather well. He said he considered her a good friend and went to see her in the hospital in Tonopah before she died. Richards and her husband, Bill Hines, used to go fishing together. He recalled when he told Bobbie he was going to open a brothel in Crystal, she replied, “You’re crazy.” She came to visit him there a couple of times.

Prostitution in Las Vegas

Joe Richards owned the Pahrump Valley newspaper called The Mirror until October 2014 where he would write a weekly column under the heading “On Target: From the Kingdom of Nye.”

In October 2005, he took a closer look at prostitution in Las Vegas.

“On any given weekend there may well be more than 5,000 (prostitutes) willing to trade sex for money all right in the heart of our famous ‘Sin City,’” he wrote. “In Las Vegas on the world famous Strip, up and down Fremont Boulevard as well as throughout every other nook and cranny of tourist-laden Clark County, sex workers are like flies”

Pointing to the then mayor, Richards wrote, “The well-meaning Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman wasn’t off base when he suggested a year or so back that laws against prostitution within Las Vegas and Clark County were not working.” Goodman suggested legalization and regulation of prostitution might make more sense. Goodman’s suggestion, Richards says, “created an outcry of opposition from the naive and other self-serving special interests.”

Mayor Goodman’s suggestion, of course, depends on what one means by “working.”

One could argue that the system of prostitution in Las Vegas is working quite well. In effect, Clark County is having its cake and eating it too. On the one hand the county can claim that it is against prostitution, thereby mollifying those who oppose the practice. On the other hand, tourists’ sexual needs are being adequately satisfied by the many attractive women plying their trade “illegally.” A few arrests and an occasional bust and the beating of a few prostitutes are mostly just for show.

Sex for hire in Las Vegas is not unlike that practiced in frontier Kansas in the 1860s and ’70s. Technically, prostitution was illegal there, too. Prostitutes were fined on a regular basis for breaking the law. The fines were an important source of revenue for the community and the cowboys were happy to spend their money in the town where sex was readily available.

Thus, at this point in Nevada history it might be said the system of “illegalized” prostitution in Las Vegas works rather well for business interests and tourists alike.

The problem is, it doesn’t always work that well for the women. With an unregulated system, women and their customers are not well protected from disease, unlike the prostitutes working legally in Nye and other rural Nevada counties and their clients.

And unlike women working legally in rural Nevada, Las Vegas prostitutes continually live under the shadow of fear of arrest and the ever-present possibility of abuse from clients, pimps, and law enforcement.

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