Gangsters. Murder. Mystery. Who would ever guess that a lovely but unassuming house, built in 1908 near downtown Reno, would be tied up with a sordid tale that remains one of Reno’s most enduring intrigues?
The year was 1934 and Roy Frisch lived here at 247 Court Street with his mother and sisters. Roy worked as a cashier at the Riverside Bank, owned by his neighbor George Wingfield. At the time, Reno was known by gangsters for vices like money laundering, bootlegging, prostitution, and illegal gambling. As bank cashier, Frisch witnessed all sorts of shady transactions, those of William J. Graham and James C. McKay among them. Their illegal activities didn’t go unnoticed for long, and early in 1934 they were indicted for mail fraud. Frisch was served a subpoena to appear as a key witness at their trial on April 2nd. His knowledge threatened some of Reno’s most powerful and corrupt men.
Frisch never got to testify. On the wintry night of March 22nd, Frisch was walking the four blocks home from the Majestic Theater after seeing “Gallant Lady” and was never seen again. Despite a nationwide manhunt, extensive publicity about the disappearance, and a $1,000 reward, Frisch never turned up. In 1941, he was declared legally dead.
Speculation ruled. Was it a coincidence that McKay and Graham’s gangster friend “Babyface” Nelson was in town? Were Nelson and his sidekick John Paul Chase involved? Did they dump the body down an abandoned mineshaft somewhere in Nevada? Did they bury the body in the sprawling backyard of Wingfield’s mansion, nearby at 219 Court Street?
For decades after his disappearance, Frisch's mother and, later, other family members, left the porch light of the home turned on, awaiting his return. The Queen Anne-style house sits as lovely as the day it was built, still owned by the Frisch family, and now a commercial property. Surrounded by mature trees and landscaping, the home seems slightly to hide, somehow withdrawing from the fame once attached to it. Look for the front porch light. You just might still see it shining, illuminating one of Reno’s great mysteries.