Robbery in Delamar

Old Delamar, about 1900, the town where the robbery took place.

The mining town of Delamar in Lincoln County was still riding the gold boom in 1906, although it was to run out soon. Something that never goes out of style in a mining town is the concept of robbery.

Into town one day strolled lovely 23-year-old Nell Munroe and her 26-year-old husband Hugh. Nell dressed well and nearly everyone in town took notice of her, said to be “a real looker.” She wanted it that way. She wore gabardine pants and high-topped lace boots. Nell found work as a waitress at one of the local restaurants. Hugh was said to be an electrician.

Their friendly, gracious manner soon had them being invited to attend all the major social events and the young couple quickly made friends everywhere. Nell became known as “Cowboy Nell.”

One young man they met, Frank Sanford, worked in the assayer’s office at the Bamberger De Lamar mill.

After a time, Hugh approached Sanford with an idea of how he could make a lot more money, and quicker, too, than working in the assay office. Maybe it was an offer Sanford thought he couldn’t refuse.

Delamar was a town with a lot of money, not just mining company monies and payroll, but money kept in safes of various businesses along the main street. All were protected by heavy iron shutters over the windows at night. And if a thief did manage to get into a store and rob it, he couldn’t leave town, because being the only one missing so suddenly, the focus of suspicion would immediately be on him.

However, Hugh proposed the idea of a fourth person who would be the one to show up missing, then waited for Nell, Hugh and Sanford to meet them at a pre-arranged location.

In addition, Munroe thought he knew just how to remove those iron shutters without making any noise.

Sanford was intrigued. Although the plan did involve town night watchman, Frank Pace, as the fall guy. Sanford balked at that idea, he was a friend of Frank Pace. But Pace did have the combination to each of the store safes.

Munroe countered, “Well, what’s more important, friendship or money?” Sanford said, OK, he was in.

Munroe suggested the thieves break into the back room of one of the stores, all lined up side-by-side, and work their way down the line, robbing one after the other, first Nesbitt’s, then Wirtheimer’s, Samuelson, and finally get to Miles’ store where Pace had his night watchman’s office.

The master plan Munroe explained involved having Pace let them into the store, open the safe, “and at the end, then we’ll kill him.”

The grave had already been prepared he said, bit by bit, under the floor boards in one of the rooms they were renting at the Foster house, just the right size to hold a body.

Pace would be gone and since his disappearance was so sudden, he would be the main suspect.

A bit more help was needed though. There were any number of men in Delamar who might also be enticed by the plan. And they found one, William Hanks. What the Munroe’s did not realize was that Hanks was a Pinkerton detective who had been on their trail since they left Montana, where Hugh was wanted for murder.

He recognized Munroe after arriving in Delamar and went undercover to fall in with their plan. Hanks also secretly notified Sheriff Henry Leach of what he knew of the impending crime.

The idea was to let the robbery unfold and have armed deputies waiting at the right place and time to catch Sanford and the Munroes red-handed.

The night of May 14, 1906, payday at the Bamberger Da Lamar Company, about $25,000 had been distributed and the businesses along the main street would have money on hand to cash the checks.

The sky was black, no moon, as the group broke into the rear of Nesbitt’s store. The idea of how to remove the iron shutters from the back windows without noise worked perfectly and inside they went about 2:15 a.m.

Just as they reached the safe of the store, one of the deputies waiting in the dark got nervous and surprised the group, yelling “Hands up!”

Shots were fired. Hugh Munroe was wounded in the hand. Sanford jumped out a window into the alley, thinking he had escaped.

Nell whirled around and tried to shoot Hanks but he threw a big bear hug around her and all she could do was fire her gun into the ground.

The Munroe’s tried to escape also, but were captured outside by Sheriff Leach, arrested and locked up.

Leach had to transfer three other prisoners to Caliente to make room in the Delamar jail, but that was done easily.

At trial (in the now Million Dollar Courthouse) in Pioche, on May 26, Sanford turned state’s evidence against the Munroe’s and was released. Nell and Hugh were convicted of burglary and sent to prison. Hugh received five years and Nell four years.

A line from a program in the Golden Age of Radio asks, “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows.” Or what thoughts the Munroe’s had in their prison cells of what they might have done things differently in the mining town of Delamar.

However, both were pardoned early from prison, Nell in 1908 and Hugh in 1909. After that, they fade from history.

Adapted from a story by Walter Averett

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