Las Vegas Sun

April 20, 2019

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Casino owner Petersen dies

Dean Petersen, a land tycoon and casino owner who in 1969 was kidnapped from a downtown Las Vegas parking lot but daringly escaped a day later, has died. He was 63.

Petersen, who became wealthy through real estate sales and investments and owned the Westward Ho casino on the Strip for more than 30 years, died Sunday at a local hospital.

Services for the 42-year local resident were to be held today at Palm Mortuary on Jones Boulevard. Burial was in Memory Gardens.

A skilled pilot of airplanes and helicopters, Petersen was one of a select group to be licensed to fly a Lear jet alone.

Close friend Hans Dorweiler described Petersen as a "man of conviction" who valued his privacy and whose word was his bond.

"He always wanted to stay out of the limelight," he said. "His integrity is absolutely beyond anything I've ever experienced with anyone else."

State Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, a longtime friend, said Petersen was a "very private individual of high principles" and he had "an intelligent business style."

"Dean had deep roots in Las Vegas and was a major player on the Strip, even though he never sought credit for that," said Raggio, who as the Washoe District Attorney tried the 1970 case that resulted in the convictions of Petersen's three kidnappers.

"He did not go to many social events, but he was a very generous man, who quietly contributed to many causes -- he never sought publicity for his philanthropy."

Another friend, who asked that his name not be printed, agreed: "Anybody who would do anything for Dean, you can bet your bottom dollar, he'd return it tenfold."

Members of Petersen's extended family recall his unending generosity and care for his nieces and nephews, whom he treated as if they were his own.

Stories of his selflessness are common. It is said that he once gave a blank check to a friend whose father required heart surgery. Petersen told him to use the check to pay for the medical expenses, no matter how exorbitant.

A UNLV official acknowledged Petersen's generosity to the university, especially to the athletic department.

The Mary Petersen Foundation was established by Petersen as a way to ensure that his philanthropic endeavors went directly to those in need.

Petersen moved to the area in 1954 with his sister, Faye. The family soon joined them and created a booming real estate business, later purchasing the Westward Ho.

Listed among the achievements of the family business are the construction of the first high-rise apartment in Las Vegas, some of the first multiple housing units in town, and responsibility for many of the area's circular buildings.

Petersen's fortune drew negative attention, as well.

On Oct. 9, 1969, Petersen was approached by two men -- one brandishing a gun and the other a bottle of acid -- as he left the offices of Lawyers Title on South Third Street. They forced him into a car and drove him to a trailer park near the old Dunes hotel-casino.

He was put into a trailer, handcuffed and bound. The trailer was driven 450 miles north to Reno by several assailants, who, according to reports at the time, threatened to poke out his eyes and cut off his fingers and toes if an $800,000 ransom was not paid.

While being held in Reno, Petersen escaped while his abductors were not watching him. They reportedly were on the phone discussing ransom drop-off terms with his family.

Petersen maneuvered out of the ropes, slipped the handcuffs, kicked open the trailer door and made what the SUN described in an Oct. 12, 1969, report as "a mad dash for freedom across a field to the Food King Supermarket."

From that store on Virginia Street, Petersen phoned Reno Police, who had been monitoring the ransom negotiations, to notify them of his escape. He then called his wife, Mary, to let her know everything was OK.

Police found the 35-year-old millionaire hiding behind cartons, pale and trembling, still holding in his hands the very handcuffs that were used to bind him.

"He was a victim of a most scary situation, especially when you consider that most adult victims of kidnappings don't return alive," said Raggio, noting that he developed his friendship with Petersen while preparing for trial and kept in touch with him over the years.

"It was a bungled kidnapping, but that did not make it any less of a dangerous situation."

Upon his return to the Hughes Flight Center in his Cessna 140, he told the SUN: "It's very gratifying to be able to come home to my family because many times I didn't think I would be able to."

Three men were convicted of first degree kidnapping: Joseph Lischko, a former St. Louis police officer who at the time was an out-of-work Carson City casino security guard; William McCoole, a then-unemployed bartender from Seattle; and Robert Sheridan, a Carson City resident who was alleged to be the mastermind of the abduction.

All three, however, only served fractions of their sentences and were freed on parole.

Born March 4, 1934, in Hiram, Utah, Petersen was a member of Masonic Lodge 41, Scottish Rite and the Shriners.

In addition to his wife, Petersen is survived by two daughters, Karen Petersen Tyndall and Kathryn Petersen; one son, Michael Dean Petersen; three sisters, Faye Johnson, Nyla Petersen and Josi Brown; and three grandchildren, all of Las Vegas.

Petersen was preceded in death by a brother, Murray, who was killed in an electrical accident on a boat at Lake Mead.

DONATIONS: In Petersen's memory to the Boys and Girls Club of Las Vegas, P.O. Box 26689, Las Vegas, NV 89126.