Silver Tailings: Roy Frisch’s Last Walk Home

Roy Frisch had jus’ been to see “Gallant Lady,’ a movie about an unwed mother who gives up a baby for adoption and hopes to get it back when the adoptive mother dies. The Majestic Theater was only the four blocks from his home at 247 Court Street, but he never made it.

Frisch’s disappearance, March 22nd, 1934 remains one of Reno’s most enduring mysteries. It began with an upcoming mail fraud trial of William Graham and James McKay – often referred to as the overlords of the underworld in Reno in the 1930s.

Frisch, the head cashier of the Riverside Bank, was the key government witness against Graham and McKay, but vanished at some point on his walk home and jus’ before the first trial was set to begin. Frisch’s whereabouts have been the subject of speculation ever since.

For decades after, Frisch’s mother and, later, other family members, left the porch light of their Court Street home turned on, in case he returned.

The 30’s were known as the era of gangsters with the likes of John Dillinger, Alvin Karpis, the Barker Gang, Bonnie and Clyde and others dominating the nation’s headlines. Several were known to frequent Reno to cool off or launder money at the casinos.

The FBI believes Frisch was kidnapped by notorious gangster Baby Face Nelson and his accomplice John Paul Chase, murdered and dumped in a Nevada mine shaft. In an 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.”

And for decades after his disappearance, Frisch’s mother and, later, other family members, left the porch light of their Court Street home turned on, in case he returned.

Following Frisch’s disappearance, his assistant cashier and best friend Joe Fuetsch became the government’s key witness during the trials that spread out over four years. The first two trials ended in hung juries, with the third, in 1938, resulting in the conviction of Graham and McKay, who were each sentenced to nine years in federal prison.

After the final trial, the Fuetsches eventually moved and settled in California. Graham and McKay were eventually pardoned by President Harry S. Truman and returned to Reno.

Another theory was that Frisch’s body was buried in the backyard of George Wingfield’s mansion, which once stood at 219 Court Street — a few doors down from Frisch’s house. Wingfield was the owner of the Riverside Bank at the time.

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

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