Pilot, jeweler Junior Sandy shares aerial adventures
Story credit: Initially written by Dr. Kenneth B. Chatlos, rewritten in the Third Person by Mike Hanrahan
Kenneth “Junior” Sandy of Kidder (MO) is a nationally known dealer in coins, precious metals, diamonds, historical documents and artifacts. His business is really a passion, and has led to many interesting (and a few dangerous) adventures.
Junior was very good at basketball and was the first freshman to make the varsity squad at Central Methodist College in Fayette. He later transferred from Central Methodist to Central Missouri State University where he majored in biology and agriculture with thoughts of becoming a veterinarian.
He was married to Nancy Gurney while still in college. She also attended CMSU for a year and a half. Junior graduated from college in May 1963 and became a father in November of that same year to a son, David. In December of 1964, they welcomed a daughter, Lori.
While at Central Missouri State, Junior saw an ad in the local newspaper saying “sell your pennies for a good price”. It occurred to Junior that this might be a way to make a few extra dollars. He approached a Warrensburg banker and offered to wrap his coins free of charge if allowed to sort through the change first. In those days coin-wrapping was labor intensive and time-consuming for banks. They shook hands and his coin collecting career was launched. In time he forged similar deals with a number of banks. He purchased a magnifying glass and the “Red Book” of coins and was in the coin business.
His coin business developed quickly and soon began to snowball. He attended his first coin show in 1962 at the Muehlbach Hotel in Kansas City. He arrived at the hotel, set up his booth, but suffered a severe kidney stone attack which landed him in the hospital. His wife Nancy and his mother filled in for Junior at the show.
Soon he was buying, selling, and trading coins all over the nation. Most shows were on weekends, between 20 and 40 shows per year, four of them in Long Beach, California. Cale Venable, a coin dealer in St. Joseph, attended the shows with him and helped out. When they returned from a trip, Junior would sometimes buy out Gale’s inventory.
Junior says he learned the coin business in the “school of hard knocks”. Some buyers would take advantage of him if he wasn’t alert. His game plan was simple. If they knew more than him, he kept quiet, but if he knew more than they, he became the expert.
On one occasion a buyer was interested in purchasing a valuable Half-dollar Junior possessed. Junior asked for $25, but the buyer only offered $20. The buyer walked away then came back and offered $25. Junior raised the price to $30. The buyer refused, but returned again and Junior told him the price was now $40. The buyer paid the $40. Not all deals went so well.
As time went by, Junior began to invest in other areas. He moved into the jewelry business in 1968. Coin shows would not allow Junior to bring jewelry to the shows, so he began to look at other markets. He started by asking a Kansas City jeweler what he would take for his entire stock. Junior was offered a price and he bought everything. That scenario happened more than once.
On another occasion, Junior, along with a surgeon friend Earl Schmidt visited Bob Jones at his Kansas City Jewelry store on Main Street. Bob had just lost his lease and was uncertain what to do with his inventory. He asked Junior, “Do you want to buy everything in the store?” Asked for a price, Jones quoted $50,000. Junior asked for 30 minutes to decide. He and Dr. Schmidt consulted privately. They decided to value the merchandise at 10 cents on the dollar and determined the inventory was worth well over $50,000. They made the deal.
They took the entire inventory, jewelry, tools, and miscellaneous items to Junior’s home in Kidder. Junior sold a good number of the items and quickly recouped his investment. The tools were donated to the Kidder Fire Department, and everything left was donated to the Clinco Workshop in Cameron.
Junior bought all sorts of things including a truckload of peanut clusters and a pickup load of ladies’ hose (which turned out to have seams down the back). Around the same time Junior began investing in silver certificates. The government had announced that beginning in 1974 they would no longer redeem the certificates with silver.
On one occasion, Junior and friend Cale Venable drove an old truck to Iowa during a heavy snowstorm to make a deal. Junior bought 5 original bags of silver dollars for $5000 a bag. Whenever opportunities came his way, he bought collections of silver and gold coins.
Junior says all of this was profitable, and exciting only to the extent that he enjoyed the thrill of the deal. It was not particularly dangerous until he became involved in a gold sale in Calexico, California. He says, “I learned too much about excitement, adventure, and danger”.
Junior’s associate Maurice Lawson played a key role in the California gold sales. In the early 1970’s an agreement was made that Maurice would become a “buyer” for Junior. Soon after they became partners. Maurice set up in three main towns (Springfield and Joplin Missouri, and Hot Springs, Arkansas). They also operated in a number of smaller towns. They would place advertisements in local newspapers, set up in local motels, and buy gold, silver, and diamonds. At times they would buy as much as $100,000 in a day. Junior paid in cash, maintained detailed records of each sale, and kept a signed receipt for the seller on each purchase. Things were going well when they were contacted by a man who wanted to sell them some gold at a good price, at a location far removed from the Midwest and quiet Caldwell County.
Maurice called long-distance and requested to meet with Junior. He said that while purchasing coins and jewelry in Hot Springs (AR) he stumbled across the “deal of a lifetime”.
He came to Kidder and explained that he met a man who wanted to sell a million dollars in gold. Skeptical, Junior asked for more information. Maurice explained that the man’s name was Rawley Bollings who lived in Oklahoma City. Bollings said that he had Mexican friends who had mined, melted and cast gold in Mexico and wanted to avoid a tariff for selling it in Mexico. They wanted to sell it in the United States. Maurice produced photos of the gold.
Still a little skeptical, Junior asked if the man (Bollings) could be trusted. Maurice said that Bollings was about 65 years old and looked “like a trustworthy grandfather”. Junior finally agreed to pursue it. A week after their conversation, Maurice, Gale, and Junior were on their way to California.
Before starting, Junior wanted to speak with authorities about the proposed “gold deal”. He hoped to speak with former KC Police Chief Clarence Kelley prior to being named Director of the FBI. However, Kelley was now at the new J. Edgar Hoover Building in Washington, D.C. Junior did speak with officials in the KC office.
The KC officials advised Junior that the deal would be legal, but cautioned him not to cross the border into Mexico.
Junior arranged a 3-way deal with his friend Gale Venable and Maurice. Junior would put up the money, Maurice and Gale would go along to help, and they would split the profits three ways. Junior contacted his bank in Cameron to send funds to a Wells Fargo Bank in San Diego. The gold would be purchased in the border town of Calexico, California. The gold would be purchased in lots of $100,000 for 4 bars at a time. They would continue that process until all 40 bars were purchased.
The three men flew out of Kansas City to Oklahoma City to meet up with Rawley Boillings. Junior packed a .38 Smith & Wesson in his luggage, just in case there was any trouble. Maurice wore a shoulder holster, but no gun. Bollings again showed the men the photos of the gold bars.
Junior explained the terms of the deal to Bollings. First, he explained that he was not carrying money with him. He then explained that if he “smelled a rat”, the deal would be over, and lastly, that he was not going into Mexico under any circumstances. What he didn’t explain was the fact he would be armed with the .38 in case of trouble. Bollings agreed so long as papers were signed allowing him to get a “cut” on the deal.
The same day the four men flew to San Diego. From there they took a short flight to El Centro (CA), about 120 miles east. They rented a car in El Centro and drove 12 miles to the tiny town of Calexico which was just north of the Mexican border. The population of Calexico was 90% Mexican. They checked in to the El Rancho Motel. Junior, Maurice, and Gale shared a room while Bollings had his own room.
The motel rooms had no phones. Bollings went to the lobby and made a call. He came to their room and suggested they go to see the gold that evening, explaining it was “just across the border in Mexico”. Junior reminded him that he was not going across the border. They were at a stalemate until Maurice and Gale agreed to go into Mexico. They were eager to make a deal. Junior instructed them to drill into each bar which they would take to San Diego to have assayed. He was afraid of being sold “fool’s gold”.
Junior remained in the room with a chair propped against the door and the .38 in his hand. He waited and worried. Things just didn’t feel right. The men returned to the motel about 9 p.m. and told the story of their trip into Mexico.
Bollings drove straight into Mexico, then began going up and down side streets claiming to be lost. The men figured he was doing that so that they would be unable to find the place with the gold by themselves.
Eventually they arrived at a house. The men saw 10-15 Mexican men standing around a campfire in the yard. It was clear that Bollings and the men knew one another. Their leader, Angel, spoke no English, and the other men seemed very standoffish. Both men were frisked to make sure they were not armed. Once it was determined they carried no weapons, the rest of the men became very friendly. It was obvious they were anxious to sell the gold.
Maurice and Gale were then led indoors to a small, dimly-lit room with a table. They removed a cover from the objects on the table revealing four gold bars. Angel assured them that this was pure gold and worth $100,000. He reminded them both that these men had mined, melted, and cast these bars themselves.
Maurice was allowed to drill three bars and collect the filings. Angel drilled the fourth bar and managed to break the drill. The drill was repaired. Angel then cleaned up the mess and collected the filings. As they were leaving, they were reminded that they had 36 more bars the same as the four presented.
Maurice and Gale were excited at the prospect of buying the gold. They were excited to take the filings to San Diego to have them tested. They were to learn later that Angel had broken the drill purposely and in the confusion had replaced those filings with others. The “gold” bars had been fakes since the beginning.
Later that evening Gale reported that “something strange” happened at the meeting. Angel had slipped a note to him with his name and phone number. The assumption was that Angel was encouraging them to go around Bollings and deal directly with him. Although that would have increased their profits, Junior insisted that they would go with the original deal.
It was agreed that the next day Junior and Gale would go to San Diego to check the filings, while Maurice would stay behind. Junior instructed Maurice to purchase a scale and a hacksaw in Calexico as he intended to cut each bar in half to assure they were pure gold throughout. He gave his .38 to Maurice and told him to stay with Bollings.
The next morning Junior felt sure he had heard people in the next room talking about “gold”. It could have not been Bollings, as he was in a room across the hall. While it made no sense, Junior dropped it and they went on to San Diego, leaving Maurice and Bollings behind.
In San Diego, Junior contacted a coin dealer friend, Harlan White to ask the name of a trustworthy assayer. Harlan only trusted two. The first contacted said they charged $50, but only did assaying on Friday’s (it was then Tuesday). However, they agreed to do it on Tuesday for $500. This seemed unreasonable.
Junior then contacted the second man who was an old mining engineer and prospector. He quoted a good price and gave them clear directions to his home. He was a grizzled old man who led them into his “laboratory” which was in the small shack where he also lived. Since Harlan had recommended him, Junior trusted him. The old man’s first question was “did you get these filings in Mexico?” Gale said “No”, and returned to the car. But Junior followed up.
The man said that plenty of “cons” took place south of the border. He described one deal gone bad across from El Paso and the American had to shoot their way out, with one man being killed. Junior called Gale back inside and had the old man explain the story. Gale was upset and wanted to go across the border and “whip” the con men. Junior said not the deal is off, not wanting to have any of them hurt, or worse.
Junior phoned Wells Fargo and instructed them to send the money back to his bank in Cameron. He then phoned Maurice back at the motel in Calexico and explained that they were being conned and needed to “get out”. He told Maurice that he and Gale were not returning to Calexico, and for him to try and retrieve their stuff from the motel, and to call Border Patrol explaining he needed protection.
He explained that he and Gale were going to the San Diego airport and for him to take any available flight out of El Centro to San Diego, or any other city as soon as possible. He ended the conversation assuring himself that Maurice still had the gun and told him “this is serious business”. Maurice was to have Junior paged at the San Diego Airport to tell him about his flight.
When Junior had received no page, he contacted a security guard, and explained what was going on. The security guard took Junior to the front desk. He learned that there were no pages, but that Maurice was booked on a flight but “had not yet shown up”.
Eventually Junior was able to contact Maurice. Maurice explained that he was going to make his flight. Junior told him that he and Gale were flying to Las Vegas and to meet them there at the Sands Hotel. He then called Buck Harris, a friend and manager at the Sands. Buck arranged for a “high security” room for the three. He advised Buck that there was a possibility they were being followed.
Maurice managed to arrive at the Sands around 9 p.m. that evening, looking like he had been through an ordeal. While the three were in the lobby at the Sands, someone broke into their room and went through their luggage, but took nothing. They never found out who it was, or what they were looking for.
Maurice explained what had occurred back in Calexico. After talking to Junior, Maurice called Border Patrol. They instructed him “not to go back to the motel, go outside and stand in the middle of the road and wait for a cab”. Maurice said he had packed the gun in the luggage and was unarmed. All he had was the empty shoulder holster. Earlier Bollings asked Maurice what he was doing. He explained that Junior “thinks things have gone bad and is calling off the deal”. Bollings replied that there was no need to worry, that the deal was solid. Nonetheless, Maurice followed the instructions of the Border Patrol and went to the middle of the street to wait for a cab. Meanwhile Angel showed up and said, “Where’s the money?” When it was explained the deal was off, Angel wanted to go back to the motel room and “negotiate”.
Then Maurice saw the cab arrive, but it was stopped by a group Mexicans who sent it away. He yelled at the hotel clerk, telling him to call another cab, saying “I’ve got to get to the airport right away”. The clerk made the call, and Bollings said, “Well, I might as well go to the airport with you”.
At this point Maurice heard police sirens, but they (the police) had gone to the wrong motel, two blocks away (later he learned that the FBI was participating in the operation, and they had purposely sent the would-be rescuers to the wrong motel).
Another cab arrived, but Maurice noticed a woman in the back seat. Nonetheless, Maurice got in the front seat of the cab, and ordered the driver to get his luggage from the motel lobby. Meanwhile Bollings got into the back seat of the cab with the woman. Suddenly the cab was surrounded by Mexican men, but they did not interfere with the driver putting the luggage into the trunk. By now the sheriff and Border Patrol was headed in their direction with their sirens on. The Mexicans quickly dispersed and headed for the border (only a block away).
The cab pulled away. But instead of heading to the airport, the cab turned toward the border. Bolling said, “We’ll drop this woman off in Mexico and then head to the airport”. Maurice reached inside his jacket for the empty holster, saying “head for the airport immediately or I’ll shoot you.” They bought his bluff.
The three men spent a second night at the Sands, then flew back to Kansas City. They had survived their adventure.
Back home, Junior contacted the FBI. He was told that they were aware of the deal from the beginning. Agents had even been on the same flight from Kansas City to San Diego. In fact, they had been the “voices” in the other motel room discussing gold. They assured Junior that the cab Maurice was in would not have been allowed to cross into Mexico, and that they had held Maurice’s flight out of El Centro to assure he would be on it. Junior explained about the old prospector/assayer in San Diego and they provided security for him. He had saved Junior and the others with his warnings.
A month later Harlan White, Junior’s friend in San Diego, told him that Angel had been killed. He never heard what, if anything, happened to Bollings. Junior says that “Calexico, with its gold, guns, and desperadoes” was exciting and dangerous enough for him.