By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
The letters arrived in the third week of May. They came in the mail, dozens of them, addressed to city council members, county commissioners, ministers, teachers, parents--anybody who was anybody in Las Animas, a town of 2,500 on the eastern plains, where everybody seems to know everybody else's business.
First time I met officer Bob Keenan was at the Street Light Cafe...I was sitting in the middle of the room, reading a book.
The letters carried no return address and were postmarked Birmingham, Alabama. Inside each envelope was a photocopy of a seven-page, handwritten statement from a local fifteen-year-old girl, a statement she had given the previous summer to the Bent County Sheriff's Department.
A couple of weeks later we've become friends...Bob asked if I would like a ride home. I said, "Yes." So I got in the car [and] we went for a ride down toward the power plant. Bob said he wanted to get to know me better.
The girl was well-known to local law enforcement. Nude photographs of her and another teenaged girl had surfaced in the course of an investigation of James Nolan Mason--a 44-year-old white supremacist with ties to several American Nazi organizations, a longtime pen pal of Charles Manson, and quite possibly the town's most bizarre resident.
Before I got out we both kissed each other. While we were kissing I put his hand up my shirt. I wanted to see how Bob would react.
Las Animas police had arrested Mason in the spring of 1994 and charged him with two counts of sexual exploitation of a child and two counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor for supplying his underage models with alcohol.
The case raised hackles all over town, particularly after the local newspaper, the Bent County Democrat, reported that investigators had seized hundreds of videotapes, photos, and magazines--"all with a child pornography theme"--from Mason's sprawling two-story house and were planning to file additional charges.
"Everybody thought they ought to hang him," recalls Orvis Smith, Mason's next-door neighbor.
It seemed as if I could trust him with anything. Was it because I fell for him the first time I met. I don't know how to explain it. Any ways when he would work grave-yard I would [go] to the P.D. and visit him. We would talk and kiss.
But in the months following Mason's arrest, something went seriously wrong with the state's case. For one thing, Mason's hoard of kiddie porn turned out to be far less spectacular than reported. For another, the principal victim of Mason's photo sessions filed a sexual-assault complaint against the lead investigator in the case: Las Animas police officer Robert Keenan. The complaint--the same seven-page statement that was sent anonymously all over town this past May--claimed that Keenan had carried on a physical relationship with the victim throughout the course of the investigation.
After I got Bob's trust I came to him...[and] told him I had taken nude pictures. Bob said he really wanted the case. So I gave him the pictures.
By the time the letters arrived in May, the sexual-exploitation and delinquency charges against Mason had been dropped as part of a plea-bargain arrangement that sent him to prison on a weapons charge. The sexual-assault complaint against Keenan had resulted in no charges at all, and Keenan had moved on from the city police department to a job as undersheriff of Bent County.
Bob and I went out in his bronco to the old baseball field. We went there to make out. But we didn't have sex we had what you call oral sex. He told me we would not have sex until the nude case was over.
Although no one could say for sure who sent the letters, many locals were convinced that Mason was responsible for distributing the girl's statement and making it public. He was, after all, an accomplished propagandist, a writer of racist pamphlets, and he had been shipped off to prison only days before the letters arrived. Las Animas mayor Keith Varner quickly denounced the letters as a smear campaign, a "vendetta" against the officer who helped to put Mason away.
Bent County Sheriff Brian Spencer says that even though the allegations against Keenan were investigated by an outside prosecutor, the girl's complaint and other attacks on him continue to circulate in the area.
"This is something that's gone on for a long time," Spencer says. "I wish it would stop. There was more than one internal investigation done, plus the outside investigation. There was nothing they could substantiate. There was no coverup involved in this. This is a dead issue."
Mason disagrees. Interviewed recently at the Arrowhead minimum-security prison outside of Canon City, he declined to comment on the source of the anonymous letters--"Am I gonna admit to that?"--but conceded he had a pretty good idea why they were sent.
"I would say the person who did that mailing was probably disgusted with the way the real criminals stay in power, how one of them could just whitewash himself and end up as the number-two lawman in the county," he says. "If you want to talk about a child molester, they had a child molester as their undersheriff."