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December 18, 2014

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Killer of three bank employees in ‘67 Overton robbery dies

Terry Lynn Conger, who 32 years ago killed the manager and two women tellers of an Overton Bank and stole $35,000, died Sunday due to complications from diabetes at University Medical Center. He was 55.

Conger confessed to the execution-style slayings and in June 1968 was sentenced to a triple life sentence at the Southern Nevada Correctional Center in Jean.

The death of the native Las Vegan is the final chapter in one of the most infamous crimes and tragedies in Southern Nevada history, which caused decades of grief for not only the victims' families -- but also for Conger's kinfolk and an entire community.

"It was the blackest day in the history of our valley -- something that never happened before and hopefully will never happen again," said John Robison, editor of the Moapa Valley Progress weekly newspaper and a lifelong resident of Overton, 50 miles northeast of Las Vegas.

He said Overton was the kind of place where people left their doors unlocked when they went out -- the epitome of small-town America.

The incident that robbed Overton of its innocence was as heinous a crime back then as the four random slayings at a Las Vegas Albertson's grocery store on June 3, for which Zane Floyd stands accused of murder.

Bevan Dalley, whose barber shop is across the street from Overton's Bank of Las Vegas branch that was robbed on Aug. 29, 1967, was cutting the hair of John Robison's brother, Deputy Sheriff Clark Robison, when the incident occurred.

"There was a lot of excitement, a lot of chaos, people running everywhere," Dalley said. "The Clark County sheriff's deputies and the FBI came to town. This kind of tragedy happened in the big city, not in a close-knit community like ours.

"My wife worked at that bank. The manager told her the day before the robbery that she didn't have to come in unless he called her. He didn't call. It saved her life."

After aborting robbery attempts at a bait shop and a drug store, Conger went into what is now the Bank of America just before it closed at 3 p.m.

He killed 30-year-old bank manager Larry Staley and clerks Vera Walkington, 30, and Betty Heitmann, 42. They each were shot in the head with .45-caliber rounds from a semiautomatic pistol.

Conger then stacked the bodies like cordwood in the vault and escaped with $35,000. More than 100 sheriff's deputies from Southern Nevada fanned across the Muddy River valley and captured Conger near Warm Springs Ranch two hours later.

"I was 4 1/2 years old at the time, but I remember my father giving me a big hug and a kiss before he went back to the bank after lunch that day -- I remember it as clear as yesterday," Dr. Bret Staley said.

"As a child, I had a lot of anger over what happened, but I long ago forgave Terry Conger for what he did because hatred can tear you up. All I can say about his death now is that the matter is in God's hands and the real judgment day is here."

Bret was raised by his mother, Donna, and her second husband, Bud Walkington, the widower of Vera. Bret followed in Larry's footsteps, becoming a community leader. He is an Overton chiropractor and president of the Moapa Valley Chamber of Commerce.

"I want to make it clear that my family does not have any negative feelings toward the family of Terry Conger," Staley said. "The Congers, especially his father Ernest, suffered as much as my family and the families of the other victims."

Bret said Terry Conger never apologized to him or any member of his family.

Walkington's two daughters and Heitmann's two daughters still live in Overton. Because it is a small town, there are residents today who are relatives of both the victims' families and the killer's family.

Terry Conger was born Jan. 3, 1944. He graduated from Rancho High School and went into the Army. He was dishonorably discharged for stealing government property in Honolulu.

Conger served two years of a six-year sentence in the Federal Correctional Institute at Lompoc, Calif., and was on parole at the time of the robbery/slayings. He moved to Overton to be near his parents and work as a farm hand at the Warm Springs Ranch.

"He was a reckless kid," said Dalley, who used to cut Conger's hair. "He would drive through town real fast, and he told people he was going to rob a local business, but nobody believed him."

According to prison records, Conger never went before the parole board but did go before the pardons board once in the early 1980s. He was denied. Conger started his sentence at the Nevada State Prison in Carson City and later was among the first inmates at the new Ely State Prison.

Conger escaped from prison early in his sentence but was quickly recaptured. Overton residents said they feared Conger would try to return there and get revenge. But he never again would see the light of freedom.

Years after the robbery, at the Peppermill -- now the Oasis hotel-casino -- in Mesquite, Ernest Conger sat alone, crying in a booth. A waitress asked him what was wrong. He told her what his son had done and how distressed he was so many years later.

Ernest doubted the young woman could understand how he felt, but Sherry Staley indeed could relate to it. The daughter of the victim then hugged the father of the killer, and together they shared their grief.

Conger is survived by three sisters, Francine Schooley and Suzanne Fain, both of Las Vegas, and Jeanine Dourbet of Norco, Calif.; and a brother, Ernest W. Conger of Newport Richey, Fla.

Conger's body was cremated. There will be no services. Palm Mortuary-Jones handled the arrangements.

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