An Excerpt from
Breaks, Brains and Balls: the Story of Joe Conforte and Nevada's famous Mustang Ranch

Book III: 1955 - 1958

Sometimes It's Funny
How Things Are In Real Life


After borrowing every cent he could get his hands on, Joe leased a little farmhouse near Wadsworth which he christened the Triangle River Ranch because it was near the Truckee River and within sight of the spot where the Washoe, Lyon and Storey county lines intersect. Nevada at the time offered a fairly complicated combination of frontier tolerance but strict law enforcement when deemed necessary.

I couldn't get the $500. That's like trying to borrow about $3,000 today [1986]. Have you ever been broke and trying to borrow $3,000 from somebody? It ain't easy, right?

So I almost give up. As a last resort I went to Chris, my boss at the Taxi company. He liked me because I always used to give him a good book. Each day whatever money you book, they give you half. So I always used to bring him a good book, even if sometimes I had to take money out of my pocket to do it. I used to make it selling whiskey, and on commissions from the girls, so I used to artificially make a big book, if I had to. That way he'd let me take the cab out and bring it back whenever I want.

"Chris," I said, "Look. I need $500 to open up a night club I'm setting up in Reno." I said, "You can't lose. There's no way you can lose."

Linda had a real pretty watch that was worth at least $500. Diamonds and everything. If I'd gone to a hock shop the most I could have got for it was $100 or $150. I said, "I'll leave the watch as collateral. I'll leave the watch as collateral. I know I'm asking for a lot of money, but look at it this way, you can't lose anything. If I make it there, I'm coming back and give you $600. Within 30 days. If I don't make it, what else am I going to do? I'll have to come back here and drive a cab again. And then you can get it back so much a week.

"You can't possibly lose. I'll either make it and be back in 30 days with $600 for your $500, or I'll be back driving a cab for you again."

Giving that kind of money to somebody is not easy. After all, I'm leaving. He doesn't know whether I'm coming back or not if I fail. And 99 times out of 100, people asking to borrow money to go to Reno would use it to gamble anyway. But he gave it to me. Aah, God, what a relief. I got the $500. Somehow I scrounged another $50 for gas money to go back to Reno. I picked up this girl Linda, and she knew another girl, a working girl. I talked her pimp — or her boyfriend, I don't think he was a pimp, I think he was just her boyfriend — into letting her go to Nevada, and not to worry about her.

So on June second, 1955, we leave San Francisco. Me and these two girls. Now, you know that is a violation of the Mann Act, taking girls across a state line. But I don't know anything about the Mann Act. Who the hell ever heard of such a thing? I found out about the Mann Act later though.

We drive to Reno in my light green 1953 Kaiser. I remember the trip like it was today. We arrived in Reno that night, and I gave Fred the $500.

And the next morning June 3, 1955, I opened the Triangle River Ranch. Two girls, two bedrooms. Three or four weeks later, when it got busier, I put a third girl to work. I had to put her in a kind of closet, and hang a blanket in the doorway.

On that first morning there was a fresh fall of snow on the ground. Snow! We couldn't believe it. "Hey, this is June. Why all the snow?" It didn't last long, an hour later it was gone.

Now. Man, what a struggle I had.

The first day we don't have enough money to buy food. So I got Linda's television set and I went to Reno, to a pawnshop on Commercial Row. He give me $50 for her television set and we went to a grocery store and bought some food. Because we had nothing to eat. And naturally a couple of weeks later I went and got the television back.

First of all I went to all the cab drivers, telling them about the new place. I went all over Fernley, all over Fallon, all over Yerington, telling them about the new house that opened up.

I had to! The first day we opened up, we only had two customers. I remember our first customer was a guy by the name of Johnson, he paid $5. You could hear the noise from the parlor. This guy was a little kookie, you know. He was from Fernley. You could hear: boom-boom-boom-boom, that was the way he was doing it. And you could hear, because the acoustics in the house weren't good.

And a Navy petty officer came around and spent $15. That's the only two customers we had the first day. So naturally I had to drum up business, I had to go all around and tell everybody about the new place. I told everybody, "Hey, a new legal place opened up."

It wasn't really legal, but it was not illegal either. It was tolerated. But I was telling them it was legal. In fact, I thought myself it was legal.

Two weeks passed, and getting customers turned out to be easier than getting girls. It was the toughest thing to get girls to work out there. It's a new place, nobody knows if it's open one day and closed the next day. That was one of my biggest problems.

At this time there was a house in Reno, a regular whorehouse, at the dump at the end of Sutro Street. It was run by a black lady by the name of Gertha.

I went to see her, and told her I was going to open up. The nicest lady in the world, a real friend. She would never, never do anything bad to anyone. She was willing to leave well enough alone.

In fact, I kind of more or less got jealous of her taking my business. But she couldn't go wide open like I could. I could brag about it, that there's a house of prostitution open, where she had to do it quietly.

Things are starting to pick up, I finally find another girl, this and that. Now I figure it's a perfect time to bring Judy here to run the place. I had some kind of a beef with Linda and I was getting disgusted with her. I was getting ready to send her back. But whether she stayed or not, I wanted to bring Judy.

I make a call to the house on Joost Street. There's no answer. "Well," I said, "I'll call tomorrow or the next day."

The next morning was Saturday morning, and I'll never forget this as long as I live. I'm gambling, playing 21 at Harolds Club and there's a guy keeps looking at me. He was the owner of the mom and pop grocery store right across from the house on Joost Street. And I see him. "Hey, hi, how are you?"

He looks at me real strange. "Joe, don't you know what happened to Judy?"

I say "No, what happened?"

"She's dead."