Kidnapping captivated Las Vegas, NM, a century ago

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LAS VEGAS, N.M. (AP) — The two Colt six-shooters are relics of a bygone era and of a sensational kidnapping case that "stirred the city to its foundation" a century ago.

The kidnapping of 2-year-old Waldo Rogers from his home near the New Mexico Highlands University campus generated relentless media attention with coverage in the New York Times and daily updates in the Optic.

"Presented to Tim O'Leary by citizens of Las Vegas, N.M. April 1911," reads the meticulous engraving on the barrel of one of the silver-plated guns. The other is inscribed to A.A. (Apolonio) Sena.

O'Leary, a Santa Fe Railroad detective at the time, and Sena, a member of the territorial mounted police, were two of the three investigators credited with solving the case.

The .45-caliber, pearl-handled pistols were briefly reunited last week, as the gun collectors who now own them journeyed to Las Vegas in search of the places where the dramatic kidnapping played out.

The kidnapped boy was the son of Las Vegas attorney Albert Rogers Jr. and grandson of Judge Henry L. Waldo, a Kansas City millionaire.

A masked intruder held the boy's uncle William Rogers at gunpoint shortly before midnight on or about March 28, 1911. He handed the boy's mother a note instructing her to dress little Waldo Rogers because he was going to take him.

The note instructed the uncle to deliver the $12,000 in exchange for the boy.

The ransom was quickly paid, and little Waldo Rogers was reunited with his "almost frantic" parents on March 31, 1911.

But the relentless search for the kidnappers was just getting started.

"Most startling crime in history of Las Vegas throws city into frenzy of wild excitement," a headline in the March 31, 1911, Optic screamed.

Investigators believed the kidnappers were still in or around the Las Vegas area. Frustration grew as days went by with no arrests.

"The people of Las Vegas are growing restless at the continued delay in capturing the kidnappers," the Optic reported in its April 5, 1911, edition. "Knowing it will be a blight upon the name of the city if the men are not caught they are demanding of the officers speedy results."

On April 11, 1911, investigators got a break. William Rogers, the boy's uncle, and ex-convict Joseph Wiggins were taken to the Castaneda Hotel and interrogated.

Wiggins admitted his role in the kidnapping to O'Leary, and said William Rogers masterminded the whole thing. William Rogers, who initially denied any involvement, admitted he had planned the kidnapping after investigators showed him Wiggins' confession.

William Rogers told authorities he gave Wiggins a key to the house a few hours before the kidnapping.

"At about 11:30 that same night, he let himself into the house and met me in my room," William Rogers' confession states. The full written confession was printed in the Optic.

"Mrs. Rogers heard the disturbance in my room and opened the door," William Rogers told investigators. "Then Wiggins covered me with his gun and pushed me into her room. He wore a mask at this time. He handed her a letter of instructions that had been previously prepared by me."

Wiggins and William Rogers were arraigned at the Castaneda. Both were taken to the territorial penitentiary because officials feared the county jail would be stormed and the men would be lynched, according to media reports.

In recognition of their work in solving the case, Las Vegas residents raised money to buy the engraved pistols for O'Leary, Sena and Fred Fornoff, who at the time was a captain in the territorial mounted police.

"In finding the solution to the Rogers kidnaping they removed from the fair names of Las Vegas and New Mexico the blot of a crime, which if allowed to go unpunished, would have made the territory a source of ridicule throughout the world," the Optic reported.

William Rogers and Wiggins were sentenced to the territorial penitentiary for their roles in the kidnapping.

Little Waldo Rogers grew up to be a federal judge in Albuquerque. He died in 1964.

Albuquerque optometrist Ed Robison III collects guns that belonged to New Mexico lawmen. He was familiar with the historical significance of the O'Leary gun when he went to a gun show in Denver in 2005 and saw it for sale. Robison had to have it.

"When I held the gun I got goose bumps," he said.

Clark Linss, a retired aerospace engineer who lives in Oregon, spotted the Sena gun at an auction in Los Angeles several years ago and snatched it up.

The location of the silver plated pistol presented to Fornoff is unknown.

Robison and Linss met by happenstance at an Old West show in Phoenix about three years ago. Linss was selling guns and Robison had a table nearby. They started talking about their collections and quickly discovered what they had in common.

"I thought, the hundred anniversary is coming up in April. ... We should reunite these guns in their hometown of Las Vegas, N.M., a hundred years later," Linss said.