Monday, March 31, 2008

The Mystery of Roy Frisch

Roy Frisch probably shouldn't have gone to the movies.

On the evening of March 22, 1934, the Reno banker walked to the theater, watched a film, and then started back home. At some point during the four-block walk to the home at 247 Court Street that he shared with his mother and two sisters, someone intercepted him.

He was never seen again.

The mystery of what ever happened to him has fascinated folks ever since.
Nevada historian Phillip I. Earl, who has researched Frisch's case, has written that March 22 was a Friday evening and Frisch’s mother was having a Bridge party.

At about 7:45 p.m., Frisch began to walk to the Majestic Theater, located a few blocks from his house, to see the film “Gallant Lady.”

Earl speculates that Frisch probably walked two blocks east on Court to Virginia Street, then turned north at the Washoe County Courthouse. Most likely, he crossed the Virginia Street Bridge, spanning the Truckee River, then turned east on First Street and walked two blocks to the theater.

Frisch watched the movie and departed the theater at between 9:45 p.m. and 10:15 p.m. A friend recalled encountering Frisch at the corner of Sierra and Court streets and having a brief conversation. From there, Frisch walked up Court Street toward his house. And disappeared.

The next morning, Frisch’s mother discovered he had not slept in his bed. Puzzled, she called his office and his friends before deciding to contact the Reno Police. Despite a nationwide manhunt, extensive publicity about the disappearance and a $1,000 reward, Frisch never turned up.

Finally, in 1941, he was declared legally dead. Part of what makes the mystery so intriguing is the fact that Frisch was the cashier at the Riverside Bank and an advisor to George Wingfield, a Nevada financier and political boss, who was considered the most powerful man in the state.

Wingfield, who owned the Riverside Bank, the Riverside Hotel and a half dozen other banks and hotels, was being investigated for his associations with two Reno gamblers, William J. Graham and James C. McKay.

Law enforcement authorities believed that Graham and McKay were involved in a national sports wire-fraud as well as an insider stock trading scam. They believed that money from the schemes was being laundered through Wingfield’s Riverside Bank.

In 1933, Frisch had testified before a grand jury, which indicted Graham and McKay. An arraignment was scheduled for April 2, 1934, with Frisch to be the government’s main witness.

Additionally, Frisch had been asked to appear before a federal committee that was investigating the failure of several Wingfield banks. All of that, of course, meant that Frisch was a threat to a number of Reno’s most powerful and corrupt figures.

Over the years, many theories have been advanced as to what might have happened to Fritsch. One of the more credible is that McKay and Graham asked an old friend, gangster “Babyface” Nelson to snatch Frisch and dispose of his body.

According to the FBI’s files, Nelson and his associate, John Paul Chase, were in Reno in March 1934. In a later interview, Chase told the FBI, “Nelson killed a man during an altercation while they were in Reno. The victim was a material witness in a United States Mail Fraud case.”

Chase reportedly said that Nelson dumped the body down an abandoned mineshaft somewhere in Nevada.

Another intriguing theory is that Frisch was killed and his body was buried in the spacious backyard of Wingfield’s splendid classical revival mansion, which once stood at 219 Court Street about two doors east of Frisch’s mother’s house.

In the late 1990s, the owner of the home gave authorities permission to search the backyard but nothing was uncovered.

Interestingly, Wingfield’s historic home, built in 1907, was itself destroyed in 2001 by an arsonist, who has never been caught. In 2006, the city approved a 499-unit condominium project for the site.

Maybe they'll name it after Roy Frisch.

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