Lamb was very controversial as Clark County Sheriff and is credited with converting the department from a rural force to a sophisticated agency.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal stated in their article the day following his death, “He was famous twice – once in the 1960s when his word was law in a county colonized by organized crime, and again in 2012-2013 when his earlier exploits were fictionalized on a network TV program.”
Many may not know that Lamb was at first a Lincoln County resident. Born in Alamo on April 10, 1927, one of 11 children. His father was killed in a rodeo accident in 1938.
To make ends meet, Ralph along with his brothers and sisters, helped their mother raise produce to sell and work as a janitor at the local school.
Lamb graduated from Pahranagat Valley High in 1945 and joined the Army as an MP, serving in the Pacific Theater. He was first cousin to Sally Walch of Alamo.
After World War II, Lamb went to Las Vegas and became a deputy sheriff. He later became chief of detectives and in 1954 formed his own private detective agency.
In 1961, Lamb was named as Clark County Sheriff to replace Butch Leypodlt who had been appointed to the Nevada Gaming Control Board.
One of his most accomplished pieces of local legislation was to help the county commission to pass the “work card law,” that required all persons working in the gaming industry to be fingerprinted, photographed, and to inform the Sheriff’s department if they moved to another job.
Earlier this year, Lamb said he still considered the “work card law” one of his best achievements.
Organized crime was making big inroads in Las Vegas in the early 1960’s, and Lamb had to deal with that. But at 6-2, about 210, he might better have been referred to as Big Bad John, referring to the 1961 Jimmy Dean hit song.
There were probably many confrontations and tensions between the Sheriff’s Department and the organized crime operators. The most famous, as reported in the Review-Journal article, tells of an incident in 1966 when Johnny Roselli, a high ranking mobster with Chicago and Los Angeles connections ignored Lamb’s orders to obey laws about informing local officials of their presence and the nature of their business.
Roselli did not do this. Lamb confronted Roselli one day in a casino coffee shop, dragged him across a pool table, roughed him up a bit, threw him into a police car and took him to the county jail. Roselli considered such treatment intolerable and his stay in Las Vegas was quite short.
Lamb’s administration helped modernize Las Vegas’ law enforcement with a modern crime lab, a mobile crime lab, (forerunners of CSI Las Vegas) and the city’s first SWAT team.
In 1977, Lamb was indicted on tax evasion allegations, but U.S. District Judge Roger Foley later dismissed the charges.
Lamb was voted out of office in 1978, replaced by one of his former vice commanders, John McCarthy. Lamb ran again for Sheriff in 1994, but lost to Jerry Keller.
In 2012, a CBS TV series about Lamb, starring Dennis Quaid, was loosely based on some of his exploits in battling organized crime figures in the 60s trying to take over the town. Although it got good reviews, it was admittedly historically inaccurate and only lasted one season.
Lamb’s funeral was this past Wednesday at Bunkers Mortuary in Las Vegas.