The History of the Mafia in Wyoming
When you think of the mafia, Wyoming probably isn't the first state that comes to mind. However, the tradition of organized crime here in the Cowboy State dates back to our territorial days.
When the Union Pacific Railroad first reached Cheyenne in 1867, the rugged frontier outpost was flooded with cattle rustlers, gamblers, bank robbers and vagabonds seeking their fortune.
The Musgrove Gang was among the first organized crime outfits in the area. The loosely connected group of horse thieves and castle rustlers terrorized early settlers in southern Wyoming and northern Colorado through the 1860's.
Several decades later, Butch Cassidy's Wild Bunch, aka The Hole in the Wall Gang, was formed in Wyoming's southern Big Horn Mountains. The group staged train and bank robberies across several western states before disbanding in 1901.
The 20th century would mark the introduction of Italian crime families to the region. In 1927, a Philadelphia publisher named Moses Annenberg purchased the present day Ranch A National Historic Site in Beulah, Wyoming.
Although Annenberg was not of Italian heritage, he was connected to several East Coast crime families and his Wyoming ranch was often shared with his criminal associates. He even installed phone lines in the basement of the main building to manage daily racing forms and bookie sheets from the remote location.
Perhaps the most notorious hotbed for mobsters in Wyoming was the town of Rock Springs. In 1907, Italian immigrants arrived in the area to work in the nearby coal mines. Led by the Zanetti Family, they organized the mine workers into unions and allegedly ran a bookkeeping operation.
Pete Zanetti reportedly moved to Las Vegas in the 1930's, married a showgirl and became associated with reputed crime boss Benjamin "Bugsy" Seigel. After returning to Rock Springs, Pete and his brother founded a bus company. Their coaches were renowned for frequenting mafia hangouts and prisons.
Another Rock Springs family rumored to be involved in organized crime was the Anselmi's. Some believe the family may have played a role in the death of Arnie Morck, who owned and managed a local radio station that reported stories identifying suspected local mobsters. After receiving threats, Morck's private plane mysteriously crashed.
The suspicious circumstances of his death encouraged one of Morck's partners to alert the national media. CBS News reporter Dan Rather eventually came to town, exposing a criminal ring that involved many of the town's highest ranking public officials. According to some reports, as many as 50 state and country officials were eventually implicated in the scandal.
Although they were never officially connected to a specific crime outfit, one of Wyoming's largest oil companies was involved a bizarre extortion plot. In 1977, a refinery in Casper received a letter demanding $1 million. The letter provided an intricate list of instructions involving a newspaper advertisement and a suitcase of cash which would be delivered by bus to an accomplice of the extortioners. Ultimately, the plot was foiled by the F.B.I. and two culprits were sent to prison. Some believe the real masterminds of the plot may have had mafia connections.
These days, most of the organized crime in Wyoming comes from street gangs. According to a 2008 Wyoming Tribune Eagle report, Cheyenne Police had documented at least 18 different gangs suspected of operating in the area. At the time, authorities estimated the biggest criminal outfits in Wyoming were the Sureno and Norteno gangs, which have roots in the Mexican mafia and the notorious Nuestra crime family.