The Police Chiefs of Las Vegas

The Las Vegas Police Department was established in 1911 and over the 62 years of its existence, it was lead by 23 police chiefs. These chiefs included an Englishman, a former Commissioner of Prohibition, an aide to General Douglas MacArthur, a Hollywood stuntman, a Golden Gloves Champion, a Montibello, California Police Chief, and many war veterans. The last chief, John T Moran, became the Undersheriff of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department on July 1, 1973, when the PD merged with the Clark County Sheriff's Department. This is the story of these amazing men who forged their places in history with courage and commitment. We hope you enjoy your tour.

"Big Sam Gay" was born on March 1, 1860 and moved to Las Vegas in 1905. Chief Gay was a huge, muscular man, weighing 260 pounds. He established a reputation as one of the toughtest lawmen in town who wore no gun while keeping the peace. His first position in Las Vegas was that of night watchman, but he developed rapidly until he became Chief Deputy for Sheriff Charles Corkhill. In 1910, he ran against and defeated Corkhill for the Sheriff's position. In 1911, while still Sheriff, he was appointed as the Police Chief of Las Vegas. He held both the Las Vegas Chief of Police position and that of Sheriff of Clark County until 1913, but continued as Police Chief until 1914. He was reported to regularly tie "rowdies" to a hitching post and "hose" them down through the night. The Las Vegas Review Journal in 1926 described Gay as "big and genial, with muscles of steel and courage that never waivers." He passed away at age 72 on August 24, 1932.

One of the best known of the early Nevada pioneers, Frank Wait was born on July 19, 1880, in South Dakota and moved to Las Vegas in 1906. He started his career as a carpenter but turned his attention to prospecting when the Gold Rush era boomed. He was appointed as the City's first City Marshal, patrolling the town on an old black mare as shown in this picture. His public service included the City Marshal position, Chief of Police from 1914 to 1927 and again in 1936, Undersheriff of Clark County, Captain of the Guards at the Nevada State Prison in Carson City, and in his later years, County Game Warden. Wait passed away at age 69.

Born on June 1, 1889, Robert Lake was nicknamed "Spud" for his fondness for eating raw potatoes as a youth, and the name stuck. Spud Lake moved to Las Vegas as a boy when his father packed the family and moved them from "Spud's" birthplace in Ontario, California. He served in World War I, receiving his discharge in 1917. He returned to Las Vegas and became a deputy sheriff, but moved to the Las Vegas Police Department in 1920. The Department was a three-man organization at that time and paid him the lofty salary of $5.00 per day. He became the Chief of Police in 1927 and served until 1929. Following his retirement, he became a security guard at the Boulder Club and passed away on November 28, 1980, at the age of 91.

Percy Nash was born in London, England on January 30, 1874. He immigrated to this country with his parents when he was three years old, and the family settled on the Oregon coast. The Alaska Gold Rush lured him to the Northern Frontier in 1897 where he spent several years. In 1907, he moved to Nevada and worked in the gold mines of the Goldfield and Tonopah areas. His family moved to Reno in 1918, where Nash was involved in sugar conservation work, and later joined the Nevada State Police. He was brought to Las Vegas by the city leadership and appointed as the Chief of Police on January 28, 1929, where he served until July 1, 1931. Following his police service, Nash became associated with the State Pure Food and Drugs Department and Bureau of Weights and Measures as an inspector. He also served for many years as the City's Milk Inspector. Nash passed away on August 23, 1937, at the age of 63.
Clay Williams was born on July 15, 1890, in the small town of Elizabeth, West Virginia. He served for six years as the Deputy Commissioner of Prohibition in West Virginia and later worked as a deputy sheriff in Wayne County, West Virginia. Prior to his arrival in Las Vegas, he worked for four years as a detective in Miami Beach, Florida, and as a railroad officer for the Union Pacific Railroad. Williams was appointed "Special Officer" with the Las Vegas Police Department in November of 1930. On July 1, 1931, he was appointed Acting Chief by Commissioner W. C. German, replacing Percy Nash during a period of disruption and turmoil when the entire police department was purged. All but two officers were fired while the total authorized strength was increased from seven to nine officers. Williams was suspended by Mayor Ernie Cragin just one year later in August of 1932 for general dissatisfaction, internal dissension and failure to carry out instructions and policies. The suspension was lifted later that year, and Williams was allowed to resign. He passed away in 1945.

Lewis L. Hord (no picture) was born on March 18, 1884. He worked as a Los Angeles Police Officer from 1924 to 1926, and moved to Las Vegas in 1931. He was hired by the Las Vegas Police Department in October of that same year after having been trained to operate the Department's new identification equipment. In early August of 1932, he was appointed "Acting Chief" by Mayor E. W. Cragin following the removal of Chief Clay Williams. Although he lobbied to become the permanent Chief, he was replaced by O. C. Boggs and reduced to Assistant Chief in October of 1932. In September of 1933, Hord was named local Director of Public Relations for the Los Angeles Bureau of Power and Light Power Line, which was being constructed in Clark County at the time.
Orren Clinton (O. C.) Boggs, a pioneer business man in early Las Vegas, was born in Henry County, Ohio, on February 4, 1876. Part of his early life was spent in Denver, Colorado, but he came to Southern Nevada when the mines and agriculture of this area began to attract attention. He was involved in mining, and later he and his brother, B. F. Boggs, established the firm of Boggs Brothers Goceries. The Boggs brothers also built the Boggs Building at 319 Fremont Street which was occupied by the J. C. Penney Company. Boggs was appointed Chief of Police on October 5, 1932, by the City Commission replacing Clay Williams. Boggs was replaced by Chief Dave Mackey in June of 1935 following a shake up in the city government. He passed away in June of 1947 at age 71.

Dave Mackey was born in Cold Hill, Nevada in 1896, and received his early education in Terre Haute, Indiana. He joined the police department there and served several years before moving to Las Vegas in 1923. He joined the Las Vegas Police Department in 1928 after working for the local Buick dealership as a salesman. He served two different terms as the Police Chief. He replaced O. C. Boggs in June of 1935, but resigned in 1937 to return to the rank of captain. He was later reinstated to Chief replacing Frank Wait and served until August of 1942. Mackey passed away on January 6, 1944.
Don Borax was born in Boston, Massacheusetts, on January 14, 1896. Following his service in the first World War, he landed in Hollywood and became a stuntman, working with Francis Ford and many others, doubling frequently for western stars of the era. Borax served for six years on the Los Angeles Police Department before hiring with the Clark County Sheriff's Department. While with the SD, he worked at Railroad Pass during the construction of Boulder Dam. He was appointed as the Las Vegas Police Department's Chief in 1942. After he left the Department in 1943, he was hired as a Deputy United States Marshal. He left that position to open and operate a variety store at 500 South Main Street. He also worked as the Chief of Security at the Desert Inn Hotel and Casino, and later as a host at the same casino until his death. A dining room was named in his honor at the Desert Inn -- "The Borax Room."

Born in 1888, in Bakersfield, California, Harry Miller moved to Las Vegas in 1928. He worked in public service for 30 years and became known as one of Southern Nevada's most recognized and active citizens. In the early years, Miller had been a prominent realtor and operater of several hotels. In 1935, he joined the Las Vegas Police Department as a desk clerk when the force had a total of nine officers. He later served for several years as the Assistant Chief of Police before being appointed to the top post in 1943. He was the Chief until 1945. In 1948, he joined the Sheriff's Department as a Civil Deputy. In subsequent years, he worked for the Las Vegas Valley Water District where he became the company's first president. Miller passed away in January of 1958 at the age of 69.
George Thompson was born on July 28, 1907, in San Bernardino, California. He was hired by the Las Vegas Police Department in March of 1936, and during his tenure on the Department, he served as Police Chief for two months in 1937 following the resignation of Chief Mackey. At the end of the two months, he returned to his former rank of sergeant. In September of 1942, he was promoted to the rank of captain where he served until being re-appointed Chief of Police on September 7, 1945, at a salary of $300 per month. He continued as Chief until 1947, when he replaced by Luther Horner. George Thompson retired in August of 1962 at the rank of Inspector of Police.

Born in Dial, Texas, on March 26, 1906, Luther Horner arrived in Las Vegas in 1931. He owned and operated a grocery store until 1940, when he joined the Las Vegas Police Department. He was employed as a police officer for only one year before he resigned and went to work for Basic Magnesium Incorporated in the plant protection force. He re-joined the police department in 1945 and was appointed Superintendent of Identification. Horner was appointed as Acting Police Chief on December 5, 1947. He committed suicide six days later on December 11. Physicians at the time said that Horner had become mentally unbalanced due to a series of events that had occurred in the short period he had taken over as Police Chief.
Robert Malburg was born in San Fransisco, California, on November 30, 1901. At age 19, he moved to Los Angeles where he worked as an embalmer in a funeral home for a few years. In 1922, he joined the Los Angeles Police Department as a uniformed officer. He worked for the LAPD until 1943, when he joined the U. S. Navy. He was discharged in September of 1945; however, approximately one year later, while in civilian status, he was requested to serve as General Douglas MacArthur's aide to serve in the G2 section of the War Department. In that capacity, he was sent to Japan with General MacArthur as a police investigator for the reorganization of the Japanese Police system throughout Japan. Malburg was selected as Police Chief for the Las Vegas Police Department on December 15, 1947, and served through 1949. The first official female police officer, Annabelle Plunkett, was sworn in during his administration.

Archie Wells was born on December 2, 1913, in Sherman, Texas. He attended college in Louisiana, and moved to Las Vegas in 1942. He served in the Army during World War II. Wells joined the Las Vegas Police Department in 1945 when it had twenty officers serving a population of 15,000 residents. He worked first as a jailer and later as a patrolman. He was promoted to sergeant in 1947 and Acting Chief in 1949. He was confirmed as Police Chief in 1950 but did not serve beyond that year. Archie Wells passed away in 1986 at the age of 73.
Jack Maxwell was born on June 6, 1881, in Alpine, Arizona. He grew up in the White Mountains area of Northern Arizona where he worked in a variety of jobs, including forest ranger. In his late twenties, he moved to Detroit, Michigan where he worked for the Ford Motor Company as a plant security chief. In the mid 1920's, he moved his family to Montebello, California, and became a patrolman for that police department. Maxwell was selected as the Montebello Police Department's Chief in 1927 and served in that capacity for 21 years until 1948. He is pictured here in his Montebello PD Chief's uniform. Maxwell moved to Las Vegas in 1949 to help reorganize the Las Vegas Police Department, serving as the Police Chief from 1950 to 1952. He returned to Montebello during his retirement years and passed away on December 11, 1955, at the age of 74.

Alexander "A. H." Kennedy was born on July 11, 1914, in Waukegan, Illinois and first came to Las Vegas as a member of the Armed Forces in 1941. He left but returned in 1945 to take up permanent residence. Kennedy began his local law enforcement career when he was hired by the Clark County Sheriff's Office as a Deputy. He was later hired by the Las Vegas Police Department where he served as Chief of Detectives. On January 18, 1952, he was appointed as Police Chief following the resignation of Jack Maxwell. A year later, the resignation of the Las Vegas City Manager lead to Kennedy's appointment as Acting City Manager. He subsequently returned to his police chief's position, but in 1955, he was permanently appointed as City Manager where he served until 1960. Kennedy passed away in July of 1961 at the age of 47.
George Allen was born in Media, Pennsylvania on October 10, 1915. He was a World War II veteran with the U S Air Force and was transferred to Las Vegas in 1943. Allen was hired by the Las Vegas Police Department on April 23, 1946 as a $190-per-month rookie, but quickly rose through the ranks. He was promoted to Sergeant in the Detective Bureau in 1948 and moved to the rank of Lieutenant in the same year. He served three times as Police Chief in 1953, 1955 and 1956. He served as Assistant Chief in 1960, and was appointed as the Assistant Sheriff of Staff Operations when the Las Vegas PD merged with the Clark County Sheriff's Office on July 1, 1973. Allen retired from the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department on July 1, 1976, culminating 30 years of distinguished police service. He died on June 18, 2001, at the Mountain View Hospital in Las Vegas. He was 85.

Ray Sheffer was born in Clarksville, Arkansas on November 15, 1924. He served in the Navy in the South Pacific during World War II and moved to Las Vegas upon his discharge. He joined the Las Vegas Police Department in August of 1948, and quickly rose through the ranks until being selected as Police Chief on May 2, 1956. At 31 years of age, he was recognized as one of the youngest police chiefs in the country at the time. He is credited with spearheading the development of the Las Vegas Police Department's Rehabilitation Farm for sentenced misdemeanants which began operations in 1957, and the agency's first police academy in 1959. Although a very popular chief, Sheffer resigned under pressure in August of 1960 as a result of a scandal involving a burglary ring that had been uncovered involving officers of the Department.
Leo Kuykendall was appointed as the Las Vegas Police Department's Chief in November of 1960. He replaced George Allen who had been Acting Chief, since the post was vacated by Ray Sheffer three months earlier. Kuykendall had been an FBI agent for twenty-one years with his last six being in the Las Vegas Office. He was serving as the Assistant Special Agent in charge when he was appointed as the Police Chief. He became at the time of his appointment, the highest paid police chief in Las Vegas' history at $13,500 per year. During his tenure as chief, Kuykendall also served on the Board of Directors for the local Salvation Army and the United Fund (now called United Way). In November of 1964, Mayor Oran Gragson asked for Kuykendall's resignation, but the official reason was never made public. Kuykendall subsequently took a management position with the Horseshoe Hotel, but eventually returned to his birth place, Oklahoma, where he had served as a police officer for six years prior to joining the FBI. He died on April 29, 1999, in Oklahoma City.

Lorin Bunker was born on February 4, 1910, in Nevada. He began his law enforcement career with the Las Vegas Police Department in 1940, but worked for many agencies and in many capacities in the following years. He served as the City Marshal in the once booming town of Caliente, Nevada, and as the Undersheriff of Lincoln County, Nevada from 1951-1954. In 1956, he was named as the Police Chief of the North Las Vegas Police Department. In November of 1964, while working as the Undersheriff for the Clark County Sheriff's Office, he was appointed as the Police Chief of Las Vegas where he served for four years before retiring in June of 1968. Lorin Bunker died on October 9, 2002, in Logandale, Nevada, at the age of 93.
N. D. "Pete" Witcher was born in Quitaque, Texas on June 12, 1917. At the age of 17, his family moved to California where he joined the Monterey County Sheriff's Department at the age of 23. He served there for 10 years, achieving the rank of Captain and supervisor of the Homicide Detail. He moved to Las Vegas in 1954, and joined the Clark County Sheriff's Office as a sergeant. In 1955, he resigned to accept the position of Chief of Security at the Dunes Hotel and Casino. He later served as the Chief of Security of both the New Frontier and the Flamingo. In 1967, he was recruited to become one of two Deputy Chiefs with the Las Vegas Police Department and was appointed Police Chief in 1968. At 6' 4" and 240 pounds, he was an imposing figure in the Las Vegas community. He served as Chief until May of 1972. The first police helicopter in Las Vegas was put into service during Chief Witcher's tenure. He resigned to take a position as Vice President of corporate security for Caesar's Palace. Witcher died on Friday, February 4, 2000, of natural causes at his residence in Las Vegas. He was 82 years old. His wife Irene still lives in Las Vegas.

John Moran was born on September 22, 1922, in San Fernando, California. Moran attended the University of Arizona on a track and field scholarship and became one of the nation's top javelin throwers. A Marine Corp veteran, he moved to Las Vegas in 1947, and joined the Las Vegas Police Department one year later. He rose through the ranks of the Department before being appointed as Police Chief in 1972. He and Clark County Sheriff Ralph Lamb worked with the Legislature to create the merger of the two agencies into the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) on July 1, 1973. The Sheriff, as an elected official, became the head of the new agency, and John Moran became the Undersheriff. He was elected Sheriff in 1982, and re-elected in 1986 and 1990 by overwhelming margins. During Sheriff Moran's twelve years in office, the LVMPD became the first police department in the state of Nevada and the 112th in the nation to become accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA). Sheriff Moran added hundreds of police officers to the agency, brought 9-1-1 to the Valley and computerized many police operations. He was recognized as one of the most powerful and influencial men in the State. John Moran retired after 43 years of local police service in December of 1994, and passed away at the age of 75 on June 22, 1998. His wife, Goldie, still lives in Las Vegas.

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