Author provides a glimpse of a wild pony's last ride

The late Ross Brymer, a convicted murderer, was a belated songwriter and musician who, though he caused plenty of trouble on the outside, wasn't known for causing trouble in prison.

In March 1978, he entered the "fish tank" at the Northern Nevada Correctional Center. He had pleaded guilty to the murder of Oscar Bonavena outside the Mustang Ranch in 1976 and been sentenced to two years in prison. He did 15 months but would return several times before his death June 27, 2000.

It was during his time in the intake area of NNCC, and then later at the Nevada State Prison, Brymer met Bill Valentine, a guard at the prison.

Valentine, a 28-year Nevada resident and 20-year prison employee, tells of Brymer in his new book "Mustang's Last Ride."

Due out in November, the book is a collection of stories beginning with Joe Conforte's antics in the 1950s and ending with the Mustang's closure in August 1999.

For those unfamiliar with the history, the Mustang Ranch ran no horses during its day, only legal prostitution. Sitting on the northern edge of Storey County, the operation grew under Conforte's tutelage from an illegal, mobile, three-county operation known as the Triangle Ranch to a legitimate business.

Valentine, who is now 62, began work at the prison the January before Brymer was brought in. He retired in December 1997.

"Mustang's Last Ride" is the third book for Valentine, who has published two others based on gang intelligence he gathered while in prison.

With a Polaroid camera, Valentine began recording gang signs and tattoos in an effort to identify gang members.

"I turned in monthly reports on gangs at NSP," he said. "I'd accumulated all this intelligence and the thought occurred to me that I should put it in a manuscript."

Today he has a collection of more than a thousand images of gang members, signs and gang colors. He uses the information, photos, books and videos mostly as training aids for law enforcement. His Web site is

Valentine is in the midst of editing the manuscript for "Mustang's Last Ride," a project he is publishing himself. Like Valentine himself, his study is neat and ordered belying the chaos of Nevada's past that he's been working on. Valentine's wife of 42 years, Jesse, is a nurse at Carson-Tahoe Hospital. They have three children and 10 grandchildren. Their daughter, Joyce Miller, lives in Carson City, son William Valentine lives near Elko at Spring Creek and son Patrick lives in Livermoore, Calif.

To his history of the birth, rebirth and fall of the Mustang Ranch, Valentine adds a short history of the Nevada State Prison, a glimpse into the 40-year gambling operation run by inmates inside the prison, a sketch of Brymer's victim, Bonavena, and a story on the state's many struggles to employ execution by gas.

Valentine said more intricacies of Conforte's illegal and political machinations round out the rest of the book, which ends with an epilogue telling where the characters are today.

Valentine said he spent about three years researching and writing the book, calling on newspapers, court records and state and prison archives for material.

"Sometimes I would do nothing but this for three weeks at a time," he said. "Then I'd have so much in my head I'd have to stop for a week."

Valentine said he and Brymer never discussed the shooting that landed him in prison.

"I knew Ross well," Valentine said. "He was a convict. An inmate is a run-of-the-mill prisoner. A convict was a stand-up type person who took care of their business and would never rat on anyone.

"He was in and out. When he was out for the last time he played the guitar on Friday nights at a Reno casino. He OD'd on morphine last year on Wells Avenue. I always liked Ross. He never once bothered staff members. He was a big guy - 280, big, barrel-chested.

"He had an eye that wandered," Valentine said. "He was nearly blind in his right eye. But he fired one shot through the bars and hit Bonavena in the heart."

Valentine said he was told that Brymer and another bodyguard had been ordered to kill Bonavena, and the two flipped a coin to decide who would do it. "Brymer won - or lost, depending on how you look at it," Valentine said.

"I followed the trial, such as it was. Here we had a top-ranked boxer gunned down outside Mustang. Everyone around here was interested. Then the next thing you know I'm working at the prison."

Valentine said Brymer was housed in an area of 48 single cells where he worked as a line officer.

"You get to know them," he said. "With some of them you reach a decent rapport. All he asked for was to make his phone calls. At that time, personal calls were limited to one a month, but they could make as many calls to their lawyers as they wanted. He didn't bother me and I let him make his calls."

Brymer pleaded guilty to manslaughter after his first trial was declared a mistrial when Conforte was seen slapping jurors on the back, Valentine said.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment