The pool at the El Rancho Diable in the 40s.
Oro Valley History:
The Russians are coming
By Barbara Marriott
Blazing lights made daytime out of a small spot in the Arizona desert night.
The music was jazzy, filling the air with its happy beat. Below the musical notes,
the murmurs and shouts of people having fun could be heard.
It was a night for the devils to dance and what better place than El Rancho Diablo, an exclusive dude ranch in the 1940s. The place was favored by America’s gangsters and some famous movie stars, including Frank Sinatra.
The owners, Mr. and Mrs. Baker saw to it that the resort offered the very best in luxurious accommodations. Floors in the guest casitas featured geometric patterned tiles. Colorful tiles adorned the inside of the rooms. The large dining room faced the outdoor its windowed wall provided a full view of the artistically shaped pool, which was the largest in the state. Locals could come swim during the day for a fee of fifty to seventy-five cents. The resort was adjacent to Ryan Field and during the war many a solider on day liberty took advantage of its upscale atmosphere.
Time passes, and things change, but it seems rumors last forever. The once popular resort, get-a-way for gangsters, was suppose to house the loot of the visiting Mafioso. As the resort hit hard times, buildings were abandoned and started their decay. The pool was drained, and became a receptacle for garbage, broken furniture, and other debris. RVers, vagabonds, and squatters took over the property. When the Bakers died, there was a dispute as to the ownership of the property that lingered on for years, finally wilting in court.
On September 22, 2008 Fred A. Kahale, 27, rented a Chevrolet Suburban in San Diego, California, hitched up a trailer to the car and headed for Arizona. He loaded the van with a shotgun, an assault rifle, four homemade bombs, a pistol, a rope ladder, three 100-round drum magazines, and a pit bull. He told his friends he was headed to El Rancho Diablo to “get the loot,” which Kahale was positive had been hidden years ago by the visiting gangsters.
When the ranch watchman arrived for work the next day he found the bodies of George McCumber, the night watchman, William Blankinship, a resident on the property, and the dead pit bull. Later the police, searching the immense property and the multitude of vehicles and structures scattered on it, found the body of Kahale. Toxicology tests eventually revealed Kahale had died from a methamphetamine overdose. Left alone in the van, with temperatures reaching 99 degrees, the pit bull succumbed to heat exhaustion.
In 2015, the owners decided to give up on ever restoring the property and offered it for sale to the neighboring skeet club.
Next time you are driving down Old Ajo Highway think of the flashy cars filled with celebrities and gangsters whizzing along this road heading for this famous popular resort. Perhaps their trunks were filled with loot.
Local author Barbara Marriott has written a dozen fiction and non-fiction historical books including four books on the history of the Oro Valley area.