Tahoe Mystery Casino Safe

Ken Dunckel
Owner, Safecracker
Serving the San Francisco Bay Area and Northern California

Last Friday (August 26) a lady named Annette Lassen called and introduced herself as a Segment Producer for LMNO, a television production company. She dropped the Oprah Winfrey Network name during the first sentence or two, saying her company wanted to hire me to open the "mystery safe" found during demolition work at a former casino at Lake Tahoe, and that her company wanted to do some video of the work.

She sketched the circumstances: Former casino owner killed by a car bomb in 1968, murder not solved, suspected organized crime involvement (ya think?), locked safe found behind a wall in the old casino building owned by the victim.

Supposedly there had been several unsuccessful tries at opening the safe before Annette called me, but my thinking is that it only proved they hadn't been willing to hire a real safe tech.

The thinking was that there might be something in the safe, whether valuables or evidence related to the unsolved case.

"Somehow," the story leaked all over the place. Annette's company wanted to be in charge of live streaming the event on the internet, then a TV feature on the "Found" show, on the Oprah Winfrey Network. Local police also want to look at the safe contents, if any, to see if it holds anything related to the unsolved car bomb murder.

That was why Annette called me. I said I could do it, so she said she would email photos, and we would talk more on Saturday, after I looked at them.

The photos showed a burglary resistive safe with a mechanical dial that looked intact, and a bolt control handle that was at the wrong angle, which told me somebody had probably tried to force it to turn and it had broken (just like it was designed to break when wannabee safe burglars go to work).

The safe was/is familiar to me. That make and model was used extensively by McDonald's restaurants. I've worked on lots of them. What they (producers and investigators) don't know (or are choosing to ignore) is that the safe was made after the supposed owner got killed by the car bomb. Hey, why contaminate a perfectly good "news" story with facts?

Annette called me on Saturday, asked if I could do it on Tuesday, August 30. I told her sure, I could do the job, and gave her my price. She said she'd submit it for approval, and called back soon after to tell me it was okayed, but now they wanted to do it on Wednesday August 31. I said sure, and we agreed to talk on Monday so I could get more details.

While certainly a decent piece of work, an opening job for the safe in this story is fairly routine, but not a career pinnacle. The hardest part of it would be the long drive to and from.

After Annette and talked, I checked on line. This story seemed to have gone viral on the web. I belong to a safe technicians' on line group, and there was a discussion thread devoted to the topic, with a fair number of participants. Lots of TV news programs and newspapers were following along, with all the attendant speculation and inevitable Geraldo Rivera jokes.

Partway through Monday Annette called. She was calling to say she was sorry, but the opening job had been reassigned to a safe technician from a city on the East Coast, and they wouldn't be needing me. I asked her if it was XXX XXXXX, and she said, "How did you know? Do you know him?" I told her that in my industry we get to know each other around the country and the world. She said they had received calls about this job from quite a few interested safe technicians, but that she thought the guy they were bringing in knew somebody in her company. According to her, he'd lobbied hard for the job. I said okay,wished her luck in her production. and said goodby

I wasn't super upset about the cancellation. I was hoping that the guy who got the work hadn't offered to do it for free or nearly free just for a chance to be in front a of a TV camera, but the clues weren't encouraging:

For my part, I'd guessed the job would eat two days, what with driving up the day before, working, then driving back the next day. My fee factored all that. It wasn't cheap, but I wasn't gouging, nor was I desperate to get in front of a camera. The Oprah Winfrey Network isn't a charity.

The guy they hired instead of me will have to fly from the East Coast to South Lake Tahoe. That will eat a day. He'll probably get a chance to look at the safe before the day the video gets made. The opening festivities will probably consume a good deal of a day. One can't just fly out of Tahoe as if hailing a cab, so figure another night in town. Then most of the next day flying home. Any way you slice it, figure on about three days devoted to this job.

My travel costs were driving time and gasoline, not round-trip cross country airfares. So unless this guy is working for free or at a break even rate, it's still not 100% clear why they cancelled.

All in all, typical TV stuff.


Note to readers: Please feel free to comment and post your thoughts about this and any of my posts. Don't worry, I'm pretty thick-skinned. Thanks.


The Safecracker said…
I got a call from the same lady about the same safe in the same place. After reading about your experience, I'm glad I passed on the job.

These gigs can be trouble if you don't get the business part cleared up at the beginning of the conversation and stick to business until the end.

I'll be looking forward to hearing about Mr. XXX's experience, not to mention his profit on the job.

Ken Doyle
Advanced Safe & Vault Engineering
San Francisco Bay Area
fish said…
You're not all named "Ken" are you? Safecrackers I mean.


Anyway...glad to see the occasional post again!
The Safecracker said…
I know at least half a dozen safcrackers and locksmiths that are named "Ken".

Ken Doyle

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