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The Dark Side of the Palomino

The famed North Las Vegas gentlemen’s club is tainted by murder, twice over

Joshua Longobardy

A cold-blooded execution, said the DA

They headed out, and Deangelo Carroll drove, as the van had been entrusted to him by Mr. H. himself, a white Chevy Astro used for promoting the club around the Valley, distributing fliers to the taxis and taxi stations, just as they had been doing all night, and even though Carroll had told them that Mr. H. wanted someone to take care of this white boy and that he would pay whomever killed him, and that Mr. H.’s son also wanted him dead, so bring baseball bats and trash bags, perhaps none of them, not Rontae Zone nor his good friend and fellow teen Jayson Taoipu, whom Carroll had given a gun, a .22, nor even Carroll himself, damn it, could’ve understood the underlying reason that compelled them to go out there and kill that man. That is, maybe it was something much larger than any one of them, and still yet untold.

So they took off, Carroll, Taoipu and Zone, and Zone thought they were going to do more promoting, even after they stopped on E Street and picked up Kenneth Counts, a certified gang member from California who came out in all black, 5-foot-11 and 220 pounds, and who got in the back of the van next to Zone, sitting behind Taoipu, who was riding shotgun. But then Carroll got on the cell phone, which police would later discover was registered to Anabel Espindola, or, as they called her, Ms. Anabel, and he talked to the white boy and said that he had weed and would meet him at the stop sign on North Shore Road. They drove up East Lake Mead Boulevard, out of North Las Vegas, over the saddle and past the park ranger booth toward the lake, until they came to a T in the road. They made a left. They saw headlights, and so Carroll got back on the phone; it was 11:27 p.m., and then they pulled over on the dirt shoulder of North Shore Road, and the other car turned around, pulled ahead of them and also parked on the dirt shoulder, a silver Kia Sportage—not the white boy’s, it turned out, but his girlfriend’s, which she lent him because they had been camping out at Lake Mead, the reason they were all out there in the middle of nowhere, just two cars in the solitude of the desert. Then he emerged: a Caucasian man, 44 years old, with a bouncer’s build and the tan of a restless outdoorsman, in light blue swimming trunks and brown sandals. His name was Timothy Hadland, and his many friends and four children called him TJ.

“If he’s alone,” Ms. Anabel had called and said, “go through with the plan.” Days later, wearing a wire, Carroll would meet with her and Mr. H.’s son, Luis Hidalgo III, whom they call Little Lou, who police say commissioned the hit, and Carroll would say that the plan was, “If he’s by himself, we do him in.”

Hadland left his car’s engine running and its windows down and approached the van, the driver’s side window, and faced Carroll, his friend and former co-worker at the club while Hadland had still worked there. With a .357 revolver, police say, Counts slipped out the rear passenger-side door into the darkness of the night, far away from the shrill and luminosity of Las Vegas Boulevard and slid around the front of the van and so snuck up on Hadland, who stood facing Carroll in the driver-side window, unaware.

It was a warm and rainless Friday night, and Southern Nevada stood on the precipice of yet another infernal summer, and in the distance the Kia Sportage remained parked with its engine running and no one in it.

May 19, 2005, it was. Four and a half years since Jack Perry had shot and killed a Palomino employee inside the club, bringing an end to his family’s long and unforgettable reign over the place, and now the exact point in time marking the downfall of the Hidalgo regime, because less than a year later, the family, under white-hot criminal and civil heat, would have to transfer ownership of the Palomino to their attorney, Dominic Gentile, as recompense for his services.

They took the long route back to the club, through Henderson, and when they got there, Carroll and Counts went to see Little Lou. Counts reemerged first, and he headed straight for a taxi, and then Carroll came back to the van and told Taoipu and Zone that Counts got paid his $6,000. It would take explosives from the S.W.A.T. team to purge the 29-year-old Counts from his hiding place in the attic of his neighbor’s house the next day, and he, like Carroll, is now facing a capital murder case, his set to commence on January 17, 2008. Carroll’s began this past week, November 27.

•••••

They say Hadland, an outspoken man, had been badmouthing the club and Mr. H. to the Valley’s taxis after he ceased working at the Palomino two weeks before, and that it had cost the Palomino thousands, which seemed believable, even to the police, because everyone knows that taxis have always been vital to the skin business in the same way rain is to farming.

His body was discovered later in the night, and when police arrived on the scene it was lying perpendicular to the road, in a lake of blood, which was determined to have come from two bullet holes, one in the victim’s left cheek, reported Dr. Gary Telgenhoff, medical examiner from the Clark County Coroner’s office, and the other in the victim’s left ear, both bullets having fragmented and lodged in the victim’s brain. Inside the Sportage police found Deangelo’s name in Hadland’s cell phone as its last received call, and scattered around Hadland’s body were fliers for the World Famous Palomino Club.

More of a gentlemen’s club than a strip club and more a showroom than either when Paul Perry had owned and operated and saw that it became a business of not just unmatched entertainment but also of local and international repute, the Palomino brought him more money than he could have ever hoped or even feared to have before moving to Las Vegas from hick-town Illinois in the ’40s, and even 35 years after he opened the joint, in 1969, people from as far as China and Hong Kong would come with nostalgia in their hearts and recollections on their lips and would ask to shake the hand of the new owner, Luis Hidalgo Jr., who took over the club in 2003 and whose only connection to Perry was to be a tragic one—that his only begotten son, too, would be inculpated in the murder of a Palomino employee that would mark the end of the family’s reign over the historic club.

Prior to that night that Hadland died, it had been an uneventful tenure atop the club’s saddle for Hidalgo Jr., 55 years old. It was in fact he who introduced the Palomino Stallions in the upstairs region of the two-story structure, but not even patronizing ladies could dig the club out from the hole into which its competitors in Las Vegas buried it. The club grossed about $1 million a year when Hidalgo Jr. turned it over to his attorney, Gentile, in 2006, Gentile would say upon receipt, a mere fraction of the $13 million it brought in during the old days, and alone not worth the trouble of the club, prompting Gentile to state that he’d rather have been paid with money. (He’s since leased it to his son, Adam.)

The police tried without success to pin the murder of Hadland on Hidalgo Jr., Mr. H., whom the state was convinced had masterminded it all. Carroll broke down before the police first, the day after the murder, and then he brought in the two teens to do the same, Zone and Taoipu, all three of them confessing that Counts had been the sole shooter. Zone would be let free, Taoipu would be cut a plea deal, but Carroll would be charged as a murderer who lacked the gumption to pull the trigger. But it was Carroll who, the week following the murder, wore a wire in meetings with Ms. Anabel and Little Lou, during which Hidalgo III threatened his life with a sword and then attempted to conspire with him to have Taoipu, Zone and Counts killed, the recordings of which solidified the police’s case against the pair, to be sent to the district attorney, to be tried as a capital murder case. So that now Hidalgo Jr.’s only son, Hidalgo III, who at 24 was beginning to resemble his father in appearance, and his long-standing mistress, Espindola, face trial for the murder of Hadland come January 17.

But it should not have turned out like this for Luis Hidalgo Jr., who had come out to Las Vegas to retire, after conferring 27 years of sweat and sacrifice on his father’s business, fixing cars, and before that he had actually been a reserve night-shift police officer—how in the hell did it all turn out like this? No one can say for sure. Veteran Judge Joseph Bonaventure had told Jack Perry during the latter’s sentencing that his case was incomprehensible to the judge, its motive lost on him, “that the only thing I make out of this case is that the Palomino is a long-standing club in North Las Vegas and that this is a family tragedy.” Perhaps it was same enigmatic force at work with the Hidalgos, the accused crime of the son bringing down the father’s empire, because, as Taoipu’s lawyer, Bret Whipple, puts it:

“Nothing has changed about this story except for time.”

•••••

The facts, details and circumstances surrounding this fatal episode (collected here from the employees, family members, policemen, attorneys and others) will be aired before a jury in court starting this week, while Carroll faces trial, and then again next year, when Counts, Espindola and Hidalgo III face their day in court. And it will no doubt be told and retold again after that, since, in May, Hadland’s sons filed a lawsuit against Luis Hidalgo Jr. and, in essence, against the entire club as well, stating in line 64 of the fifth cause of action that “the Palomino is liable for the murder of Timothy Hadland.”

And, given its history to date, perhaps in some way it is.

The old days

Paul Perry arrived here when North Las Vegas was still called Old Town, before Steve Wynn introduced the megaresort in 1989 and changed the way things were. Back then—the ’70s and ’60s and ’50s, and perhaps even the ’40s, too—Southern Nevada was still a spacious yet familial but above all frontier land.

Perry, an ol’ Midwest hick and the veteran of a second-grade education, came with little more than wife and child at his side and $45 in his back pocket, prepared only with his rudimentary knowledge of the gambling trade, which he picked up in back-roads Indiana. But he had a smoothness, potent and invincible, with which he climbed ranks in the town and made invaluable connections to the point where he didn’t even need a bank to help him convert the first doctor’s office in Old Town into the Palomino—not just a club that he would make world-famous, but soon enough a cornerstone of the early Las Vegas experience that would make him rich.

The Palomino had opened its doors in 1969 on Las Vegas Boulevard, between Tonopah Avenue and Lake Mead Boulevard, the heart of Old Town’s commercial district, as a cowboy bar. And that’s because, as the old-timers tell it, there was nothing but cowboys and Mormons in Old Town back then, a 70-30 split, and so all the Palomino offered was a bar and a stage with a live band, a place for the old pioneers averse to taxes and unopposed to good, old-fashioned fights every now and then, and for the servicemen from Nellis, too. That is, until Perry, intolerant of challenges or competition from the beginning, listened to his wife, Gail, when she suggested that he offer a bikini contest, to distinguish themselves from the many other cowboy bars in town. That bikini contest soon shed itself into a topless contest, three nights a week, which by the summer of 1970 became a full-on amateur nude contest, causing a stir within City Hall and the sheriff’s office alike. But it violated no known laws because no one had ever done that before in this region, and so it was permitted, one of two clubs west of the Rockies to have both full nudity and alcohol, a special privilege grandfathered in for the next 50 years. That’s because Perry was smooth and had a way with police and politicians, his son never to see a day of jail despite his delinquency and his club never to encounter a single competitor in town while Perry was alive. The contest became such an instantaneous and wild success that Perry began to hold it seven days a week, year-round, supplemented with go-go dancers, burlesque performers and comedians, a night of sheer entertainment, the lights and the ladies and the libations, and if there was never trouble or violence that anyone can recall it’s because no one dared disturb the rhythm of that world, where, old-timers say, girls were not touched but simply admired, guys were treated like gentlemen and acted accordingly, husbands brought their wives, and vice versa. It was unlike anything else in town, the country, or even the world; it was Las Vegas, baby, at its best—carnal, resplendent and classy—right there on the fringe of North Las Vegas.

This was in ’70, ’71, ’72, back when Perry initiated the practice of paying cabbies to bring customers to his club, a dollar per head, and thereafter the club had more taxis lined up outside of it than any hotel on the Strip, the old-timers say. Back when the movers and shakers came, sharing state secrets with unattainable women and consecrating business deals over drinks, when Playboy magazine came and did a spread with Palomino girls, when the celebrities came, Liberace, Hank Williams Jr., Vincent Price, Sylvester Stallone, and when, on their respective television shows, Johnny Carson and Merv Griffin plugged the Palomino. By the mid-’70s so many people came that Perry made a fortune, some $4 million a year, which is like $20 million today.

Perry was never the smartest nor the strongest man at the table, but certainly the smoothest, the old-timers say. Not only did he smother all challenges before they even arose, including his own son, but he invested in various shows, clubs and businesses in town, compounding his riches, heightening his power, and all the while maintaining at the Palomino a familial atmosphere, the way Vegas used to be, before the corporations came in during the decade of Paul’s death, the ’90s, and brought an end to the old days. Before Jack Perry killed his father’s old maintenance man in 2000 and brought an end to the family dynasty, for reasons unknown or at least unconfessable.

December 27, 2000

North Las Vegas Police Officer Wilson Crespo arrived on the scene at 3:40 a.m., just minutes after they placed the man with the gaping hole in his side aboard the ambulance, where he would breathe his last en route to UMC. There were several people standing outside, dancers, patrons, employees and passersby, all upset but reticent, save for one scream that pierced the early morning hour, the hysteria of the dead man’s daughter, Christine Anderson.

“What happened here?” Crespo asked.

Nobody answered.

Paramedic John Hawkins says he had encountered sheer chaos when he responded to a call about an injured man at 1848 North Las Vegas Boulevard, and according to him it did not abate as he tried to make his way through the club’s front double doors, through the cashier’s cage immediately to the left, through two more of the 100 or so doors in that labyrinthine building, older in age and richer in history than any other club in town, let alone any other gentlemen’s club, until he saw the blood and the gaping hole from which it rushed, at which point he called the police and said that this man might have been shot or stabbed, please dispatch an officer.

“What happened?” Crespo continued to ask, but no one answered until he noticed Bryce Demaree, who not only had been the one to make the call to 911 but was also the fallen man’s son-in-law. “What happened?” Crespo asked him. According to Crespo’s memory, Demaree’s response was curt but foretelling:

“Talk to Jack.”

Crespo followed the same path Hawkins had into the club’s inner offices, cavernous now that nearly everyone had been evacuated, cautious not to step in any of the numerous blood pools, calling out “Jack?!” Crespo already knew him, because everyone in North Las Vegas knew the son of the tycoon who had molded the Palomino into a world-famous club that made him so much money in the ’70s that he paid more taxes to the city of North Las Vegas than anybody save for two. By then Jack had already had numerous run-ins with the law on account of his incorrigible drug use and choleric temperament. And so as Crespo searched the cavernous offices with gun drawn he called out his full name:

“Jack Perry?!”

Outside, Anderson continued to scream, and no one could blame her because it was her father, Ken Rowan, who had the gaping hole in his side, and she had seen it, too, walking into the inner offices and seeing him as he lay dying in the arms of his only son, Ken Rowan II, her brother, cradling their father’s head. “It was like all his blood leaked out of him,” the younger Rowan was to say. She’d seen Jack Perry there also, leaning against a nearby desk, with blood on his person, and so she yelled out into the early morning, saying, “Where is Jack Perry?!” Officer Michael Holly says he tried to assuage her, but it was of no use; she kept yelling over and over, demanding someone bring her Jack Perry, and now that there were even more lights and sounds converging at the Palomino Club, with police cars arriving by the minute and fire truck No. 51 waiting in the wings, her voice grew louder to rise above it all: “Find Jack Perry!”

The problem, of course, was that Jack Perry had been lost long before that night and, truth be told, was too far lost to ever be retrieved. For Perry had once been jovial, lively, a hell of a host, part and parcel of the interminable party at the Palomino Club that was like Saturday night extended not just over the entire week but across two entire decades, the ’70s and ’80s, before his father Paul died, but like so many others during those whirlwind times he got into the drugs, coke and booze, and Perry couldn’t renounce them, coke and booze every night, until that ball of life that had been inside of him and that had once held a gravitational pull on those around him, above all the ladies, diminished as the years went by. By the time his father passed away in 1993 Perry was a phlegmatic man, no longer all that much fun to hang around and at any rate a recluse, subservient to the coke and booze, going days at a time without food, his cheeks by then sunken, his face pallid and his eyes cold and ineffable, a mere shadow of the man he used to be. By the time Officer Crespo searched the Palomino’s inner offices on December 27, 2000, looking for him with gun drawn, Perry was gone, extinguished, as if he were the living dead. Crespo came across a closed door with a nameplate that read JACK PERRY.

“Jack?”—Crespo knocked—“Jack?”

Perry opened the door: Now a gaunt man at 6-feet-2 and no more than 130 pounds, with convex cheeks, gray hair; he was 53 years old, all of them save for his tenure in the service spent in Las Vegas, which has never been a place for the weak. He stood before Officer Crespo in gray pants and a white dress shirt, its right sleeve and chest region smeared with blood and dotted with blood spatter. Crespo said:

“Come out into the hallway, Jack. Don’t move, and don’t say anything.”

“God knows why you did this,” Judge Joseph T. Bonaventure said on October 8, 2002, at Jack’s sentencing, 14 years to life. “I’ve been on the bench for 25 years, and every murder case I’ve ever had, and I’ve had hundreds in my career, I’ve always known the motive why. I just don’t know why this one occurred.”

That unconfessable motive, say employees at the Palomino, had something to do with the overt animosity that had been brewing between Perry and Rowan ever since Perry’s mother, Gail, who had assumed ownership of the club after her husband died, appointed Rowan as the club’s general manager in 2000. Rowan had started at the Palomino as Paul Perry’s maintenance man, and when Paul died it wasn’t long until Rowan, four months Jack’s junior, won Gail’s good graces and moved into the apartment inside the club that used to be occupied by Paul, that insatiable and obsessive tycoon who built the Palomino into an empire even at the cost of his home and family, the old-timers say.

Ken Rowan II would tell police his father had told him that Jack had threatened his life when Gail made this appointment earlier in 2000. Furthermore, Rowan II said, everyone knew Jack was pissed off that Ken Rowan was in the process of buying the club outright, because it was common knowledge that Jack would no longer have a job at the Palomino once his father took official reign. (“Jack wasn’t living up to everyone’s expectations,” as Rowan II was to say.) That would eradicate in whole the Perry name from the Palomino, with Paul dead, Gail bought out, Jack cut off, and Jack’s own son never wanting any part of it.

This could have very well been the reason; Jack would never tell, not even after he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and attempted robbery, the second of which was a fictitious charge so that the minimum on his sentence could be reduced to the years punishable by that lesser crime, standing in front of Judge Bonaventure to hear his sentence, nothing to be won or lost by then, but nonetheless still cold and ineffable, saying nothing when the judge or Rowan’s seven children implored him to give them some sense of peace by at least telling them why he had killed Rowan on the night of December 27, 2000.

Detective Michael Rodrigues says he arrived on the scene at 4:45 a.m., and he noticed that Gail Perry was present, sitting at the bar. She had been the Palomino’s bookkeeper since Day 1, always arriving at 5 o’clock in the morning, when the last of the coals from the previous night’s party were smoldering out; but with the death of her husband, Gail inherited the high position of owner, which she herself says was a relief to pass along when she was to sell the club to an unlikely buyer, a heart doctor from Stanford University, in 2001.

Detective Rodrigues approached her about permission to search the club when he arrived at the scene. She had been called in from home, Gail told him, and she did not know what had happened, only that her office was deluged with blood. Detective Rodrigues asked how long she had been there, and she said, “Oh, I don’t know,” and that’s because Gail, 78 years old then, had lived so long in Las Vegas and seen so much at the Palomino that a minute now was like an hour, and vice versa, and so she could not tell Detective Rodrigues for sure. The detective said he understood and asked again if his team could search the premises, for there was reason to believe a crime had been committed there, and Gail consented.

Clark County Medical Examiner Gary Telgenhoff had told detectives he suspected the sole, fatal shot came from a shotgun, shot from a distance no greater than three to four feet, and the police found a 12-gauge sawed-off shotgun inside the club’s inner offices, along with three live rounds, one of which was still in the weapon and another one of which lay under Jack’s chair as Detective Rodrigues questioned him, and one spent shell, too.

“Jack,” Detective Rodrigues said, “Would you mind coming down to the station with us? There are more questions we’d like to ask you.” Jack obliged. It was 9 a.m., and everyone else had gone home.

Inside the interrogation room Detective Rodrigues offered Perry something to eat; it had been a long morning, and it was to be even longer, but Perry, just a slight man now, declined, saying just water would be fine. Detective Rodrigues was very professional, very genial and very straightforward, and he asked Perry if he could once again, from the beginning, tell him what had happened.

Jack Perry had been born on March 20, 1947, in Las Vegas, and from early on he showed great wit and signs of mental and physical acuity that his father never possessed and that led to nothing more than a lot of girly action and a reputation as a first-rate bartender. But there was no denying that he was bright, the old-timers say, and no one knew it better than his father, Paul, whom the old-timers say kept strict surveillance over his son, employing people to watch over him, to spy on him, to sabotage him. Paul even once stole his son’s girlfriend, a woman half his age, just to keep Jack down. Jack could never overcome it, and so suppressed his rage, they say, and in turn became an intemperate man, susceptible to the drugs and alcohol rampant in the ’70s and ’80s and prone to paroxysms. But, the old-timers say, Jack was capable of running the Palomino prior to 1982, before he followed coke and booze over the edge, after which neither his father nor his mother would entrust anything, let alone the club, to him. They merely kept him on the payroll, a titular manager, and so, as the vicious cycle goes, Jack gave up, there was nothing left for him to do but to continue his daily diet of coke and booze. “Nobody trusted you, and, apparently, we see why,” Ken Rowan’s daughter would say to Jack almost two years after he blasted Ken Rowan with a shotgun and watched him lie dying in his son’s arms.

Bryce Demaree was the first one to happen upon the bloody scene. A security guard at the Palomino, Demaree had gone to talk about his paycheck with Rowan, his father-in-law since marrying Anderson, but noticed that the door was closed, and so wandered off to kill time, only to return to see Jack Perry protruding from the office with blood all over his shirt. “What’s interesting,” North Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Stephen Dahl was to later say, “is that nobody heard the blast.” Demaree went in, saw Rowan prostrate on the floor covered in blood, and then turned around and ran upstairs to retrieve Rowan II, who had taken over his dad’s old job as maintenance man at the Palomino but was tonight just hanging out at the Red Garter Bar upstairs, waiting to chat with his father, when his brother-in-law beckoned him with so much urgency to come downstairs that there was no time to question him, only to follow, down the club’s stairs, through the cashier’s cage and into the inner offices, inside one of which, Gail’s, the master office, cluttered with furniture and memorabilia dating as far back as the club itself, 31 years to be exact, his father lay in a lake of blood, over which stood Jack.

“What happened?!” Rowan II remembers asking. “What happened?!”

“He fell,” Jack said.

“What did he hit, there are no sharp edges around?” Rowan II said.

What he meant was that the hole in his father’s side was huge. Clark County Medical Examiner Gary Telgenhoff would report that it was some 2 and a half inches in diameter, and it was rushing blood, such as could not be caused by the edge of a desk, but Jack did not answer him, only stood there, bloody, lightless, cold and ineffable, Rowan II would later recall, and leaning against the desk when Rowan, his limp body being cradled by his son, uttered his dying declaration, stating:

“Jack’s in on it.”

Jack’s confession concluded at 11 a.m., after recapitulating without pity or anger or any other sense of emotion the series of events that had transpired, just more or less capitulating to the fact that, yes sir, I shot him with the shotgun that used to be my father’s, and, yes sir, I shot him in the side, and, yes sir, I shot him from about 4 feet away, but in no way offering even a hint as to his frame of mind, as to a motive behind the shooting, as to the reason he killed Ken Rowan, not then nor ever, taking that secret with him to prison two years later and keeping it even to this day.

“The Perry family, in this town, were very well-respected,” Judge Bonaventure would say, presiding over Perry’s case. “Now your life is ruined, and your family’s life is ruined, and why? I don’t have the answer why.”

“Can you tell my son why you did it?” Anderson would say when given a chance to speak to Perry before he went to the Southern Desert state prison, where he presently bides his term. “You not only left all of us kids without a father, you’ve left my son without a grandfather.”

All Perry would ever say, however, as far as the police, the courts, the Rowan family or even the old-timers know, is that “I’m just very sorry what happened had to happen,” and as he was to say on the day he went to prison, “I’m remorseful for both families.”

At 12:50 p.m. Detective Rodrigues booked Perry into jail, and while the fatal incident at the Palomino Club from earlier that morning would make little news, especially in comparison to the worldwide headlines Dr. Simon Stertzer, a professor at Stanford, would create by merely purchasing the club from Gail Perry in September 2001, it was no doubt a monumental event in North Las Vegas, for one month later, in order to bail out her son, Gail posted a property bond, not just on the estates left behind by that old tycoon with whom she had come from Illinois to Las Vegas a half century earlier with no more than $45 to their name, but also his World Famous Palomino Club.

Joshua Longobardy is a Weekly staff writer.

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