By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
Robert Keenan resigned from the sheriff's office two months ago, shortly after wrecking his patrol car and being cited for driving under the influence of alcohol. Keenan did not respond to Westword's request for an interview. Nor did the mother of the minor who filed the complaint against him.
Other witnesses, including Mason's seventeen-year-old ex-girlfriend, have left town or made themselves scarce. Resignations, elections and other shakeups have considerably altered the makeup of law enforcement in the county, and many officials claim to be unfamiliar with the case or legally bound not to discuss it.
Yet there may be more to Mason's claims than pure spleen. Although the investigation of Keenan did not yield sufficient evidence to file charges against him, it hardly earned him any accolades for his conduct. In fact, certain elements of the girl's complaint have been corroborated by other sources, ranging from the special prosecutor appointed to investigate the complaint to Mason himself.
In addition, the peculiar circumstances of Keenan's departure from the Las Animas Police Department (under the terms of a secret agreement officials still won't talk about) and his sudden departure from the sheriff's office a few months later raise a host of other questions. At the very least, the strange outcome of the town's fizzled kiddie-porn case suggests that the fifteen-year-old minor who triggered the investigation may have been victimized twice--not just by Mason and his predilection for nude photos of underage girls, but also by the police officer who was supposed to protect her.
Around Las Animas, Robert Keenan was known as a sharp, aggressive but amiable police officer, one who got along with all kinds of people.
"I always thought Keenan was pretty bright, for Las Animas," says Steve Jones, the former deputy district attorney for Bent County who worked with Keenan on the Mason case. "It's a different world out there. Still, I have a hard time believing he'd get himself hooked up with that girl."
Sheriff Spencer goes further. Although Keenan came to his department under the cloud of the girl's complaint and resigned after totaling a patrol car--with his wife and the sheriff's wife, both named Jean, on board--Spencer staunchly defends his former undersheriff.
"Bob is controversial, but he's a talented officer," Spencer says. "He's got a photographic memory. He can find narcotics a mile away. Some people around here just don't care for law enforcement, but I had absolutely no problems with his honesty or integrity."
Yet Spencer is under the impression that Keenan was "conducting an undercover investigation into child pornography" when he befriended Mason and began to show up at his house for parties involving adolescent girls. Mason says that's ludicrous; not only was Keenan too visible in the community for undercover work, but Mason had already had several official contacts with the police officer months before the "investigation" began.
"There was no investigation. It was blind, shithouse luck," Mason says. "And it certainly wasn't undercover. I've dealt with cops for thirty years. I've been harassed by cops, infiltrated by them--I can smell them coming and going."
Mason had arrived in Las Animas in 1992, bringing with him considerable baggage, both physical and political. He possessed a staggering array of swastikas, Hitleriana, and racist and anti-Semitic literature, mementoes of his early years in the American Nazi Party and his associations with various right-wing extremist and skinhead organizations. For several years he'd produced a newsletter, Siege, the voice of a quasi-underground white supremacist movement known as Universal Order, founded by Mason and inspired by his extensive correspondence with Charles Manson and other members of Manson's notorious Family (see "Beyond the Pale," July 28, 1993).
His new neighbors knew Mason as an oddball collector of Nazi memorabilia who seemed to support himself with occasional janitorial work and income from rental property. "He's the finest neighbor I ever had," insists Orvis Smith. "I didn't think it was anybody's business what he believed."
Until his arrest last year, few people in Las Animas knew anything about Mason's racist beliefs or his ties to Charles Manson. Fewer still knew about his hankering for nude photos of teenagers, which had landed him in trouble with the law before. In fact, it was his shutterbug habit, not his politics, that had driven Mason to Colorado.
Twice, in 1988 and 1991, sheriff's deputies raided Mason's rural home in southern Ohio and seized photos of a fifteen-year-old girl he had taken several years earlier (with, he claims, the permission of the girl's husband). Mason wound up pleading guilty to two misdemeanor counts of "illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material," received a $500 fine and a suspended sentence, and quietly left the state.
Given his notoriety in law enforcement circles--police in Ohio reportedly contacted the Colorado Bureau of Investigation about Mason shortly after he arrived in Las Animas--it's doubtful he could have kept a low profile for long. His first brush with Keenan, however, had to do with a police matter far more common in small towns than child pornography: vandalism of a lawn ornament.
Around Halloween 1993 Mason called the city police to complain that kids had tipped over and damaged the plaster deer in his front yard. Thirty-two-year-old Robert Keenan answered the call. He was, Mason recalls, "super-friendly," and he reminded Mason that they'd met months before, when Keenan was manning the grill of a family restaurant in Springfield and Mason was passing through town with his common-law wife, a native of the area, from whom he soon separated.