Swift Justice in old west Vegas
stranger danger - then and now
Those of us that grew up in the 1980’s and early-90’s remember the ever-present (often media hyped) threat of “Stranger Danger” and Las Vegas was no different. But sensationalism does not mean that the threat does not exist, and from the earliest days in Las Vegas, child abduction was a threat.
A story from shortly after the founding of Las Vegas offers a glimpse into the long-term threat posed by abduction, but also to how swift “justice” could be carried out in a frontier town.
A missing girl
The Romero family lived in Old Town on the north side of downtown Las Vegas. The Romero child walked along the poorly maintained dirt roads in Old Town on her way to school. On January __, 1909, the Romero girl failed to return home from school. Her mother began frantically searching for the child. Soon Sheriff Gay and his deputy joined the search along with other local residents.
A Suspect Caught in Time
Sheriff Gay’s deputy located the child walking along the Las Vegas Creek with one Walter Smith. Smith only arrived to Vegas a week before the incident and took a job at the Las Vegas Bakery. There is virtually no information that could be found about Smith and he likely was among the frequent transient travelers that hopped the rails searching throughout the west for work.
Sheriff Gay immediately brought Smith to the temporary courthouse where Judge Lillis presided over a short hearing. Lillis questioned Smith about his intentions, and while the consensus was that Smith intended to harm the Romero girl, the consensus was equally clear that there was insufficient evidence to convict Smith of any crime.
Normally when there is insufficient evidence to convict a criminal suspect, the suspect is released.
the practical limits of due process
vegas - a transient town for over a century