Historic jail stolen, cut up for metal sale, police say

       For about 40 years, a pioneer-era jail cell helped advertise a surplus store in Old Colorado City, and for the last six years it was part of the Gold Hill Mesa development east of 21st Street.

In a photo taken shortly before it was stolen, the historic jail is seen next to the old gold mill smokestack at Gold Hill Mesa.
John Olson photo; courtesy of Gold Hill Mesa

       For the average passerby, the unit was an interactive slice of history. But a different vision appears to have been in the minds of four people arrested last week on felony warrants by Colorado Springs Police.

Posing joshingly with a cell phone, Dave Lippincott stood in front of the historic jail cell outside Surplus City in 2005. He had just repainted the unit and had it placed in front of the store next to his tank. A year later, after closing the business, he sold the jail to Bob Willard.
Westside Pioneer file photo

       Charles McNew, Jessica Ramsey, Joshua Vaughan and Kenneth Hanowell are accused of stealing the cell and cutting it into pieces to sell to metal dealers. Formal charges were not yet filed by mid-week, but all four suspects were scheduled for court appearances by May 3.
       A Westside Pioneer article in 2005 described the cell as a “Pauly Jail” from St. Louis, Mo. It was believed to have been made around 1890 and used at the old county jail on Cascade Avenue (about where the Pikes Peak Center is now). It had a working door, with two metal beds, one above the other, and cut- outs in the walls where a sink and toilet used to be.
       Less than half of the unit now remains, according to Bob Willard, lead developer of Gold Hill Mesa. “I'm really disappointed,” he said. “It was a wonderful piece. It was going to be part of a museum area around the smokestack. We'd already done a bunch of work, painting it to protect it from rust.”
       The theft occurred sometime between March 21, when Willard left town on a business trip, and April 1, when he returned and saw the empty spot next to the smokestack.
       The Police Blotter alleges that the arrestees “cut the local historic treasure into scrap, and sold it to area recyclers.” It also states that McNew was on eight years probation for theft of Colorado Springs streetlight wire in 2011 and Vaughan on two years of probation “for a 2011 burglary at the former Express Inn where a significant amount of copper electrical components were stolen.”
       Otherwise, police detectives have revealed scant details about the incident, but Willard believes it occurred in broad daylight, over the course of several hours, with the thieves having misrepresented themselves to Gold Hill workers that they were authorized to be there. Willard said he could imagine that, considering that crews have moved the jail to different locations at Gold Hill in the past.
       It's Willard's understanding that the thieves were apprehended after police sent out an alert about the jail theft and a metal dealer reported people driving in with what was left of it.
       The cell had a long history on the Westside, dating back to about 1970, when it belonged to original Surplus City owner Clarion Chambon, who displayed it with a World War II tank outside the store on Cucharras Street. Dave Lippincott bought the business (along with the tank and jail) from Chambon in 1985, and in 1989 moved his business and both heavy artifacts to its new location in the 2700 block of West Colorado Avenue. Now and then, he said he loaned the jail to Territory Days or Fort Carson for promotional activities.
       Lippincott sold the jail to Willard in 2006, after he closed Surplus City. He had not heard about the jail theft before the Pioneer called him up to ask about it this week. “That's awful,” he said. “They [whoever did it] should have their heads cut off.”
       Tim Tafoya, who worked for Chambon starting in 1970 and then Lippincott through the 2006 closure, started Old Colorado City Surplus that same year in part of the previous Surplus City site. He recalled that when Chambon bought the jail, “it had all kinds of inscriptions in it from people who'd stayed there,” he said. Those were later removed as part of an effort to clean it up and preserve it.
       The jail wasn't easy to move, Willard as well as Tafoya reported. Lippincott had once estimated the weight at four to five tons, but Willard said it was actually three. In any case, Tafoya said a regular forklift was not powerful enough to pick it up and a larger unit would have to be rented.
       The jail is the second historic relic to be stolen on the Westside this year. In January a bronze plaque identifying an early settlers' fort on West Pikes Peak Avenue disappeared, with metal thieves also suspected. Police still have no leads in that case, according to Sgt. Jeff Strossner, who is part of the unit that investigated it.

Westside Pioneer article