The Great Railroad Pass Caper

Metro: Our History, Our Story

Because Metro has so many decades of history that have reached the national or international level, I felt it was important to speak about and write about those stories. Our history is who we are. So much of what we do or have done is historical that we forget much of it until, somewhere over coffee, someone reminds us of an event. That is exactly what happened to me recently when a friend brought up an event from my SWAT days. So, in this sixth edition of this series of historical articles, I have decided to reach back a mere 33 years to a story from post-consolidation days.

On February 8, 1983, two brothers, William and Robert Stickle, were at Ben Stepman’s Dodge dealership at 460 North Boulder Highway in Henderson. The two were speaking to salesman John Lowry, who was about to take them on the worst test drive of his career. The men were in a 1978 silver Chevy Malibu as they headed from the dealership east on Lake Mead Drive (also known today as St. Rose Highway). Once they reached a deserted area, near today’s Lake Las Vegas, one of the brothers pulled a gun on Lowry and forced him into the trunk. With Lowry in the trunk, the Stickle brothers drove to a nearby shopping center, and at about 11 a.m., entered the First Interstate Bank where they brandished guns and demanded money from all the bank tellers.

The brothers had been staying with their mother, Katherine, who lived near Basic High School on the far east side of Henderson. They abandoned the Malibu, with Lowry still in the trunk, next to Basic High and called their mother, who picked them up in her brown 1974 Chevy Nova. She was apparently unaware of her sons’ actions. A school security officer saw what he felt was suspicious behavior and wrote down the license plate. HPD officers, having the description of the stolen Malibu, spotted the abandoned vehicle within 15 minutes and rescued the kidnapped salesman from the trunk, and the school officer gave them the description of Katherine’s Nova. Within 15 minutes, officers located the Nova in the parking lot of the Railroad Pass Casino. Less than an hour after leaving the Dodge dealership, several dozen patrol units from multiple agencies surrounded the casino, ensuring the suspects could not leave. To prevent a large hostage situation, HPD allowed customers to come and go. Those leaving were stopped and cleared by officers. After about 30 minutes, it was decided officers would have to enter the casino.

What pay phones looked like

As Henderson had no SWAT team in those days, they requested assistance from Metro SWAT. In those days, there were no cellphones. We used pagers that beeped. When they beeped, that indicated you needed to call in to dispatch to get the call-out. We carried lots of coins for pay phones in those days. For you young guys, pay phones were telephone boxes attached to walls of gas stations, drugstores and 7-11 stores throughout the valley.

The group that responded was Blue Team under the supervision of Sergeant Clint Bassett, with Officers John Nicholson, Jim Neal, Craig Williamson, Tom Lozich, Jim Vaccaro and me.

When we arrived, Officer Nicholson was deployed to the casino “eye in the sky” via the back employee entrance. During this surveillance, Nicholson identified seven people matching the description of the suspects. He then coordinated the teams’ movement inside to take each into custody. The rest of the team infiltrated the property as employees or customers. We dressed as cooks, busboys and porters. Each of us had a concealed handgun while I, dressed as a porter, pushed a trashcan on wheels with several CAR-15s hidden under towels. With Nicholson raising locations, we systematically began taking “suspects” into custody. This was not unnoticed by one of the suspects, William Stickle, who began moving through the casino away from where his brother had just been taken. Nicholson radioed Stickle’s direction, who, as he rounded a set of slots, came face-to-face with me and a CAR-15. Officer Vaccaro immediately cuffed him. With both suspects in custody, the money from the robbery, a 9 mm pistol and a .44 Magnum revolver were recovered.