The late Roscoe Wilkes, former Lincoln County District Attorney, tells a story of the day he arrested a group of car thieves, traveling through the area from New York state.
In his book High Desert Tales, Wilkes writes on April 19, 1955, a man from Twin Falls, Idaho, Homer Skaggs, was traveling south on U.S. 93 in his 1950 Chevy Sedan.
“At a point a few miles south of Pony Springs, in the area commonly referred to as “The Cedars,” he came across a stalled car of the same make and approximate vintage as his Chevrolet.”
A group of young people, later identified as James Morin, his wife, Geraldine; Norman Morisette, his wife Betty; and Allen Bennett, had suffered car trouble. The water pump on Morin’s car had failed, the antifreeze had run out, and the engine had overheated.
Skagg’s stopped to asked if he could help. After assessing the situation and the opportunity that had fallen into his lap, Morin quickly put a plan into action. The water pump from Skagg’s car would work just fine in his car, the group would just steal it.
Morin pulled a gun on Skagg’s and marched him through the trees for about 75 yards and proceeded to sit him down with his back to a tree. “His arms were forced backward around the back of the tree, and his wrists were bound together with a length of wire.”
Back on the highway, the men removed the water pump from Skagg’s Chevy, saved the antifreeze and hooked it up in their own car. They also took $25 from Skagg’s wallet.
Wilkes relates as the group was preparing to leave, Bennett said he would go check on Skaggs. When he found him, he loosened the wire around his wrists and told him to stay put until they had left the area.
After a sufficient time, Skaggs freed himself, got back to his car, locked it up, and was able to catch a ride with a passing car into town where he reported the robbery to the Sheriff.
Wilkes notes the investigation the Sheriff initiated was nothing short of chaos. “Cops in cars going in all directions as the spirit moved each, without the slightest plan or instruction from their leader…it was complete disorganization and bad.”
Wilkes was not in Pioche when notified by radio of the robbery, and his offer of help was even turned down.
A little later he decided to go back to his office in the courthouse in Pioche. As he reached the turnoff to Cathedral Gorge, “here came the New York robbers, traveling slowly, going south.” He immediately turned his car around and raced passed the Chevy and pulled in at the Y Station.
The Findlay’s owned the station at the time, and Wilkes asked if they had a gun? “No,” he was told, “except an old relic, a souvenir.”
Any port in the storm, he thought. The old souvenir would work. He just wouldn’t tell anybody it was not loaded.
As the Chevy with the five car thieves got to the store, Wilkes waived them in and when they stopped he faced them with the gun and ordered them all out of the car, announcing they were under arrest, including a charge of attempted murder. The timely arrival of State Highway Patrolman Duke Hill greatly improved the situation.
The thieves were taken to the Courthouse and booked into the County jail for overnight. The next day Wilkes advised all of them of their legal rights and arranged for a preliminary hearing before the Justice of the Peace, then bound over to stand trial in District Court.
James Morin opted for a deal offered by Wilkes: Plead guilty to robbery and he would drop the attempted murder charge. All agreed, except for Geraldine Morin. The group said she never took part in any of the robbery, and had protested vigorously against it. She was later released and returned to her two children in New York.
The trial of the other four revealed that both Morin and Bennett had dishonorable discharges from the U.S. Military. Morin had served time for car theft, Morisette was a deserter from the U.S. Army at Fort Drum in upstate New York, and the same group had an outstanding warrant for robbing a café in Wyoming. They were tried, convicted and sentenced to not less than 5 years, but no more than 10 years at the state prison in Carson City.
Wilkes adds a side note to his story, not long after the Morin case was closed, the Nevada State Auditor came to county to audit the books of all officials who handled money. The auditor’s investigation found the Sheriff’s office to be “short.” Seems the Sheriff had been misappropriating the money he collected as fees for licenses and using the funds for personal things.
Wilkes later decided it would do the County no good to have the Sheriff, a former farmer, sent to prison, so he was told to simply pay back all the money taken and resign his office. He did and went back to his farm. Arshall Lee, a cousin to Kenneth Lee, father of current Sheriff Kerry Lee, was appointed in his place.