Who stole Gilpin County’s money?

Another mystery from the Gilpin Historical Society

By David Forsyth, PhD

On the morning of January 20, 1967, Gilpin County Treasurer and Glory Hole Tavern owner Bill Axton was found bound and gagged inside the vault of the Treasurer’s Office in the Gilpin County Courthouse and it was soon discovered that $27,001.25 was missing from the office.

Also missing from the office was his beloved German Shephard, Bosch. By the time the investigation was over, Axton would survive a suicide attempt and plead no contest to embezzlement charges.

Bill Axton had been a fixture in Central City for many years before being appointed County Treasurer in March 1966 after the previous treasurer resigned (he was elected to the post the

following November). After graduating from the Lamont School of Music at the University of Denver, he had sung with the chorus of the Central City Opera and worked in both the Glory Hole and Gold Nugget bars. He became particularly close to Glory Hole owner Emmy Wilson, and when doctors told her in 1958 that she needed to give up the bar in order to save her health, she sold it to Axton. He created the Glory Hole’s famous Victorian dining rooms on the second floor, and hired a chef who he later discovered had been on a German ship that had torpedoed the ship that Axton was on during World War II.

The morning Axton was found in the vault, County Clerk Morgan Gray found money scattered around the treasurer’s office and Axton’s glasses on the floor. He called for Sheriff Pete Redmond, and by the time Redmond arrived, deputy treasurer Sid Squibb was also in the office. When they opened the vault door, they found Axton unconscious, his hands and feet tied with an extension cord and gagged with his own handkerchief, which was tied around his head.

Axton later said he had been at this desk counting money at about 7:30 that morning when two men entered. One was holding an automatic pistol and said, “You’d better put your hands up, buddy.” Axton stood with his hands up, and the man with the gun punched him in the stomach and then hit him on the head with the gun as he doubled over. They tied him up, carried him into the vault, and shut both the interior and exterior doors of the vault. The county commissioners later told the Denver Post that both doors, which were impossible to lock from the inside, were locked when Axton was found. Sheriff Redmond told both the Denver

Post and the Rocky Mountain News that Axton was unable to give detailed descriptions of the intruders other than they were both about thirty and wearing blue jeans. As part of the investigation, an outside accounting firm was hired to audit the treasurer’s books and Axton (among others) was given a lie detector test, the results of which were never released. Some

questioned why there was so much cash kept in the treasurer’s office, but officials explained that as there were no banks in the county, the treasurer’s office would often cash checks for residents.

Four days after the robbery, Axton’s friend and former employee Bessie Margerum noticed Bosch acting strangely outside the front door of the Glory Hole. She called Sheriff Redmond,

and the two of them found Axton laying on the floor near the kitchen in his apartment above the Glory Hole. Despondent over the robbery and investigation, Axton had attempted suicide

by shooting himself in the chest. The bullet barely missed his heart, and he was rushed

to Lutheran Hospital in Denver in severe pain.

Axton survived the bullet wound, but investigators quickly focused on him as the main suspect in the robbery. According to an article in the Rocky Mountain News on May 5, 1967, while in the hospital, Axton had told investigators that he was being blackmailed. He said he handed over $3,000 of his own money in August of 1966, followed by $15,000 of the county’s money

between October and December. He then informed the blackmailers that a regularly scheduled audit would soon be taking place, prompting them to steal $12,000 at gunpoint on the morning of January 20, 1967. An investigator for the district attorney’s office said Axton could provide only first names for the blackmailers and that investigators were unable to locate them. Axton was charged with embezzlement on January 31. On May 4, 1967, Axton pled no contest to embezzlement charges and agreed to reimburse the county for the missing money (which had already been covered by insurance) and sell the Glory Hole. Axton’s lawyer pointed to his client’s clear police record (without even a speeding ticket), musical training, employment at

banks and the U.S. Mint, and exemplary war record (including earning a Purple Heart) when

asking for probation instead of a jail sentence. The judge and district attorney agreed,

sentencing Axton to five years’ probation.

Bill Axton died in Denver on July 24, 2004, at the age of 81, but he insisted to the end that he

had not stolen the money and pointed out a scar on his forehead that he said was caused by the blow with the gun that had knocked him out. He also firmly believed that if he had taken his dog, Bosch, to the office with him that morning, as he usually did, the two men would never have gotten him. Axton was convinced he was framed to get him out of the way after he had uncovered corruption in the treasurer’s office.

Was Bill Axton framed for the robbery? No one may ever know for sure, but whether the theft of $27,000 from the treasurer’s office involved blackmailers or people who did not want corruption brought to light, one intriguing question remains unanswered and might suggest he was telling the truth – who locked the vault doors after he was inside it?

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