‘Robin Hood’ of Telluride lived quietly in GJ

This is an interior view of the old Bank of Telluride. Charles “Buck” Waggoner, left, and Mr. Skanland advertise their bank’s stability by displaying stacks of silver dollars — protected by handguns — on the counter.



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IMAGES OF VIOLENCE AND VICE
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This is fifth and final in a series about a web of violence and vice in Grand Junction, or as some called it, “Little Chicago,” that came to a head in the late 1930s with the formation of a grand jury investigation.

From the last few months of 1937 through December 1938, Grand Junction was home to Charles Delos Waggoner, the former president of the Bank of Telluride, who had been tagged all across America in 1929 as “Robin Hood.”

He quietly had moved to Grand Junction with his family, and it was said they lived an unobtrusive life in Grand Junction — until the night of Sunday, Dec. 18, 1938.

That was when three silk stocking-masked men — L.L. Sadler, Otis D. Slane and John Homutoff — brandishing guns, forced their way into the Biltmore Club, on the top floor of the Reed Building at Fourth and Main streets.

The three men had gone to the Biltmore, a gambling club, apparently to recover money lost in a card game. As the outcome of the attempted robbery, they ended up shooting Walter “Big Kid” Eames, the club operator, in the face with a sawed-off shotgun. He died soon after at the hospital.

The surprising discovery that Waggoner was living in Grand Junction and working at the Biltmore was incidental to the robbery.

Waggoner’s life of crime had started on Aug. 20, 1929.  Waggoner, who knew the bankers’ code, had sent six New York banks telegrams from Denver, directing the deposit of a combined sum of $500,000 to the credit of the Bank of Telluride into the Wall Street branch of the Chase National Bank.

Credit orders were drawn on the Chemical National Bank, First National of New York, the Guaranty Trust Company, the National City Bank, the Harriman National Bank and the Chase National Bank.

A nationwide alert went out for Waggoner, and on Sept. 11 the news that he had been arrested in New Castle, Wyo., was flashed throughout the nation.

The scam had been carried out in such a way that officials at first thought there were several people involved. But Waggoner later told how he had arranged and pulled off the scam alone because he didn’t want Telluride depositors to lose their life savings. He said he would rather see the New York banks lose the money.

A New York psychiatrist reported that apparently Waggoner had a “supernormal” intelligence to have been able to pull this off by himself.

Late in 1929, Waggoner was sentenced to serve 17 years in the Atlanta federal prison for the swindle. When he was paroled in May 1935, he had accepted a $15-a-week bookkeeping job, but it never materialized. He apparently had difficulty getting a job over the next two years.

In the summer of 1937, Waggoner wrote to Eames in Grand Junction asking for a job. The two men had been good friends when both lived in Telluride, and there was some speculation that Eames was returning a favor to Waggoner.

There were reports that Eames was once stranded and needed money when he lived in Telluride. Waggoner, according to that story, immediately helped out, giving Eames $300 in gold.

One report after the murder placed Waggoner in the club office, and another claimed he was operating a gambling table. According to a Daily Sentinel report, Waggoner was “an office worker at the Biltmore Gambling Club and was among 15 men indicted by a special grand jury for keeping a gaming table.” Whatever the real story was, Waggoner was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Waggoner and his wife apparently slipped quietly out of Grand Junction and moved to Reno, Nev. According to a July 21, 1960, story in the San Miguel Forum, a weekly western Colorado newspaper, Waggoner, a 20-year resident of Reno, had died there earlier that month. His wife had died in 1957.

But, because he had kept such a low profile, only a few people were aware that Waggoner, the “Robin Hood” of Telluride, had lived in Grand Junction for more than a year.

Kathy Jordan is retired from The Daily Sentinel and involved in many preservation efforts, including the railroad depot and the North Seventh Street Historic Residential District.

 

Curious about another colorful era in Grand Junction’s history? E-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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