February 27, 2022

Prescott’s 1st Federal Narcotics Raid was AZ's Biggest (1922)


It was, at the time, the largest drug haul ever confiscated in Arizona—a take-down of “the center of the wholesale drug ring in Central Arizona,” according to the Arizona Republican. The drug kingpin was a Prescott resident and barber named Mayo Simpson. 

Mayo was no stranger to being at odds with the law. His first stint in jail was for burglary…at the tender age of eleven.

Mayo received the harshest sentence when a group of youngsters, all under 12, broke into Wooster’s store one night and were caught stealing. Mayo was sentenced to 30 days in jail, but was released about a week later, on December 2nd. in hopes that the experience would scare him straight. 

However, only nine days later, he got in a fight with another boy, Willie Fagan, and stabbed him with a pocket knife. The blade failed to pierce deeply between the ribs saving young Mayo from a potential murder charge. Several stitches were required to mend Willie’s wounds. Mayo was back in jail.

Mayo couldn’t seem to stay out of trouble and in 1904, the Simpsons moved to Los Angeles “in the hope that a change of climate might have a beneficial effect upon his criminal inclinations,” as the Weekly Journal-Miner put it. Instead, (citing a story from the LA Times,) he broke open the front door of the Wood Carriage Co. to burglarize it. Mayo was rifling through the desks in the office when the manager came out of the back of the store and caught the juvenile red-handed.

But before the police could arrive, Mayo “told a hard luck story” to the manager and was permitted to leave. However, the police still wanted to have a talk with him and tracked him down to the backyard of a house, “evidently planning a burglary.” 

According to the story he told LA police, “He was fined $500 in Prescott for having burglarized a store and escaped a jail sentence by coming to Los Angeles,” the paper reported. “He intended to go to the Fernando College in the fall and act right in the future, but the old desire came over him again and he could not resist.”

“The officers think that the boy is incorrigible,” the LA Times reported. “He was sent to the Detention Home.”

A half-year later Mayo was back in Prescott with a new robbery scheme. He talked another boy into staging a fight in front of a saloon while he entered from the rear and stole the money. However, the proprietor reentered the saloon while Mayo was still in the act of stealing the cash. 

The boy who staged the fight was repentant and acquitted. But the justice system had offered enough mercy to Mayo. This time he was sentenced to 24-30 months in the Territorial Industrial school in Benson. It may have been here that he learned the trade of haircutting.

True crime story of Yavapai County’s first prohibition sting in 1915. One of the informers ended up arrested.

He opened a barbershop in Prescott and stayed free from trouble until he caught the notice of federal drug enforcement agents in 1922. For two days they ran a stake-out on the barbershop and noticed 40 or more patrons whose visits were far too short for any normal barbershop service. 

“More than a dozen tubercular soldiers, inmates at Whipple Barracks, were numbered among the man’s 40 patrons,” the agents declared to the Copper Era newspaper. “Prices charged for the drugs were exorbitant in the extreme, they said, and would have brought the peddler between $10-$12,000 at the price he was getting.” 

After interrogating many of the users, officers themselves were able to purchase narcotics from Mayo. “Simpson concealed the drugs in water pipes behind wash stands and in chairs,” the paper reported. “A few rations of the drug were found under a secured cabinet in the barber shop.”

Immediately agents went to Mayo’s residence to search for the mother-load of drugs there. They were met by Mayo’s mother, Kate, who insisted there were no narcotics in the house. She even helped the agents search the dwelling. They found nothing until they noticed a shed on the back of the property filled with a ton of coal.


“It became necessary for the federal officers to [remove] the entire coal pile before finding the hiding place,” the paper related. Inside the hiding hole they found 30 ounces of cocaine and morphine. It seemed he recently “made a big buy of morphine and cocaine [from] a Mexican smuggler who delivered the goods at Skull Valley one dark night.”

With the seizure of the reserve stock, Simpson was placed under arrest. “Marked currency, used by the officers in purchasing the drugs from Simpson, was found on his person at the time of his arrest,” the paper reported. He was held under a $5000 bond. For good measure a federal grand jury indicted Mayo’s mother Kate and his brother Lemuel on similar charges and they were jailed as well.

A century ago, instead of destroying seized narcotics, they were sent to hospitals to be used. Mayo’s stash was no exception.

At Mayo’s trial the defense wanted to have the 30 ounces found in the shed behind Simpson’s home to be suppressed because the agents didn’t have a warrant to search there. However the court agreed with the US Attorney’s argument that one was not needed because the crime was in progress.

Defense’s first witness was Mayo’s mother. “White haired and old, but vigorous, Mrs. Kate Simpson, who lived at 308 S Montezuma St for 25 years, denied on the witness stand that the Simpson residence was the warehouse of a wholesale drug peddling business,” the paper reported.  She stated that the agents used foul language and even walked over and upon her bed-linens which were strewn onto the floor during the search of her rooms for the hidden narcotics.

Lemuel followed his mother on the stand “and admitted that he had been using narcotics for two decades, but denied ever buying it from Mayo. Furthermore, he testified that the drugs found in the barber shop were “his own personal stock.”

Despite this, Mayo was convicted of the federal offense and sentenced to six 25-month terms to be served concurrently. In 1922 that meant 25 months in Leavenworth. Upon Mayo’s conviction, Kate and Lemuel’s charges were dismissed.

Before he was sent to Leavenworth, his mother visited him at the county jail. “She was visibly affected, but strove to hide her emotions as much as possible before the officers,” the Journal-Miner reported. “But the fortitude she had shown previous to her son’s conviction and sentencing was now gone.”

It seems that his time in Leavenworth provided the necessary rehabilitation to keep Mayo away from serious trouble for the rest of his life. A newspaper search found him in Williams, AZ in 1928 running a barbershop. At some point he was welcomed back to Prescott where he finished his days. He had a chair in the Highland Hotel building, and in his last years, he cut people’s hair in his home at 406 S Montezuma St.

He died October 22, 1940 at age 50. “Mayo Simpson had been a barber for three decades,” the Prescott Evening Courier wrote, “operating his own shop for many years.” The Arizona Republican described him as an “old-timer of Prescott…[who] operated a small business establishment for many years.” There was no mention of his early criminal past by either paper. Ultimately Mayo was rehabilitated and reconciled.

His funeral was held at Ruffner’s Funeral Home and he was interred in the family plot in the old Citizens Cemetery.



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Arizona Republican, 5/21/1922; Pg. 1, Col. 3.

Arizona Republican, 11/25/1900; Pg. 1, Col. 7.

Weekly Journal-Miner, 7/13/1904; Pg. 4, Col. 1.  

Weekly Journal-Miner, 2/8/1905; Pg. 2, Col. 6.

Copper Era & Morenci Leader 6/16/1922; Pg. 5, Col. 6.

Arizona Republican, 6/16/1922; Pg. 3, Col. 8.

Weekly Journal-Miner, 7/26/1922; Pg. 5, Col. 4.

IBID; Pg. 1, Col. 4.

Weekly Journal-Miner, 8/2/1922; Pg. 2.

Williams News, 8/3/1928; Pg. 8, Col. 3.

Arizona Republican, 10/27/1940; Pg. 14, Col. 4.

Prescott Evening Courier, 10/23/1940; Pg. 3, Col. 2. 

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