Jesus and the Thieves: the First of the Big Jerome Pot Busts

One day, fireman Terry Molloy looks towards the Holy Family Catholic Church from his perch on the roof of the old fire station on Main Street, which he is trying to repair. What he sees astounds him. Papa Lozano appears to be sawing the breasts off a wooden mannequin. Terry gets down off the roof and strolls up towards the church to get a better look and, sure enough, that’s what Papa Lozano is doing.

A few days later, Terry strolls up Company Hill Road and there, in the backyard of the church, he recognizes the mannequin, which has become transformed into a life-size statue of Jesus Christ nailed to a crude wooden cross. He wears a crude skirt and red paint is splattered on the wrists, fingers and knees. Beside him are two more mannequins, equally bloodied with paint, now transformed into Jesus’ two thieves.

Some of Jerome’s citizens are outraged: the statues are too grotesque, too bizarre, too much like a bad LSD trip. They’re right in the face of everyone who walks up the Company Hill Road. A few women pronounce themselves members of the Mary Magdalene Society and take a petition to the Jerome Town Council Meeting asking that they pass an ordinance to remove them.

According to Papa Lozano, the statues are his thanks to God for answering his prayers to cure his daughter. She had injured her back after falling down some stairs. When the doctors could do nothing for her, Lozano prayed to God to make her well.
 Her cure was miraculous. In the old Catholic tradition, Lozano bought the mannequins from Good Will for $15 each and created a tribute to God.

The statues stay up.

Jerome, 1983: The First of the Big Pot Busts
Three self-proclaimed members of Jerome’s ethics police, Steve S, Don C and Joe M turned their sights towards getting rid of dope smoking hippies. There wasn’t far to turn: when the wind was right, a rich odor of ripening pot plants came wafting towards Steve’s house.

They started investigating, and, sure enough, looking down from the pathway to Richard’s house, were dozens of pot plants hidden from the street by a corral made up of tall, thick bamboo at Glen Baisch’s house. The corral was 300 yards on a diagonal from Steve’s house, just below the main highway into town.

What nerve! What outrage! What to do but call the cops. First an airplane came whizzing over the corral. Then the cops arrested Glen and his girlfriend Lisa, ripped up the plants and shoved them into the trunks of their cars.

Hiding pot plants in bamboo corrals did not originate with Glen. In 1977, police confiscated 1000 pounds of pot in Centerville, Arizona much of it grown behind a bamboo and scrap wood fence. (Verde Independent August 17, 1977)

The big surprise was the one-inch newspaper headline in the Verde Independent, which focused not about the arrest of the grower, but on Ron Ballatore, Chief of Police: “Chief Accused in Drug Trafficking.” (Verde Independent, Oct. 7, 1983)

According to the article, “Jerome residents have accused Jerome’s police chief of ignoring a massive drug trafficking problem in the tiny community . . . One of them said he’s got a loaded gun in every room to protect himself from drug dealers who have threatened to kill him. . .They requested anonymity because ‘it’s only a matter of time before the killing starts. . .’”

Steve S commended the paper for “having the guts and integrity to print the truth regarding the circumstances we have been living under in Jerome. …Let’s all serve notice to the drug dealers. We will not tolerate them destroying the lives of our young people and the future of our community.” Don C said older people were “afraid to even talk about it with their closest friends.” (Verde Independent, Oct. 19, 1983) Joe M commended the paper for its “courageous ad truthful reporting.” (Nov. 4, 1983) Joe M. wrote, “I knew it was only a matter of time before someone wrote the truth about this town. . .”

Other letters accused the paper of inept, tacky, misleading, biased, and shockingly sensationalist rubbish and yellow journalism. Phil Harris, who worked at the Douglas Mansion State Park, said that “the individuals interviewed are well-known all over town as chronic trouble makers who are also ‘up to their ass’ in paranoia, unconstructive criticism, boorish bad manners and arrogant attitudes. Fortunately, they are in an infinitesimal minority.” (Verde Independent, October 13, 1983) Another letter said that only a couple of stupid old fools would be capable of dreaming up the kind of crap the Verde Independent printed.

The crap included a mistake in the number of plants actually found. The original article said that the cops ripped up 473 plants; the next week, however, the paper issued its correction: 87 plants.

In February 1984, Baisch pleaded guilt to a felony charge of possession of marijuana. He was placed on three-years probation, fined $1370, ordered to serve 100 hours of community service work and was sentenced to 14 days in Yavapai County Jail. His girlfriend Lisa pled guilty to a misdemeanor, was placed on probation for two years, ordered to perform 50 hours of community service and serve two days in jail for possession.

Jesus Christ Gets a Marijuana Leaf Crown
The night after the Verde Independent came out with its sensational headline, three men stole into the churchyard of the Holy Family Catholic church. One of the men propped a ladder on the shoulders of the former store mannequin that had been fashioned into the bloody replica of Jesus Christ.

A man climbed up and nailed a new crown on Jesus’ head: a large wooden marijuana leaf that was painted a flamboyant green. Across his stomach, he nailed another sign: “Ballatore.”

The sign disappeared the next day; but the marijuana leaf crown stayed up on Jesus’ head for 6 weeks. Although Papa Lozano came to the church every day to work on its restoration, either he never noticed the addition to his statue or chose to ignore it.

Baisch was only a secondary character in Jerome’s Wild West hippie drama: How to Grow Pot Without Getting Caught. The star that was dead center was James Faernstrom. If Ferne Goldman embodied the hippie ideals of peace, love and good vibes, Faernstrom became the icon of their betrayal.

(Soon to be published in Diane Sward Rapaport’s new book, Home Sweet Jerome, Rescuing a Town from its Ghosts, forthcoming Spring 2014 from Johnson Books (Big Earth Publishing).


18 thoughts on “Jesus and the Thieves: the First of the Big Jerome Pot Busts

  1. KEEPEM COMING! I had a dream to make 3 wooden crosses and put them in yard simple nothhing faancy and i drove my best friend crazy till he went to construction dumster and did it for me!! Try it:)




  3. By the way – I had no idea the trail to my house was used for spying on anyone and if I had, those “three” would have been on the receiving end of my javelina attention getter.


  4. I don’t understand the reference to James Faernstrom. For the last 5 years, James has been a good and faithful friend to many here in Reno, Nv. FYI: He passed away on Jan.2, 2013. Someone please tell me what the hell he ever did to y’all out in Jerome. Your blog just makes him sound like a dick without saying why! The James I knew was a loving, kind man who wouldn’t hurt an enemy, and he is sorely missed.


    • In 1985, a large drug bust in Jerome led to the arrest of 16 Jerome and 9 Cottonwood citizens , many of them James’ friends, business partners, girlfriends and ex wife. James was the snitch (informer) who wore a wire that helped lead to their arrests. He was arrested at his large marijuana patch near Camp Verde AZ. He traded immunity for information. Then he disappeared a month later and went into hiding. Charges against 5 defendants were dropped and several other sentences reduced, because he wasn’t around to testify. He resurfaced two years later in Las Vegas for stealing a car in Bullhead City, AZ. He was “sent to the jail in Prescott to face a marijuana-production charge brought by prosecutors who said he failed to complete his agreement to testify against suspects in the drug raid.” That case led to a sentence of three years probation. “That day, Faernstrom left town.” AZ Republic: Friday, August 7, 1987

      I believe that people can ‘turn a new leaf.’ And it sounds like your friend perhaps did. But his betrayal in Jerome left a very bitter and lasting mark among many many people.


      • Diane—
        I am stunned. His ashes sit beside the very computer I amwriting on. He was my good friend, A mentor. A teacher with whom I will not break faith. Forgive my reaction, if you can. Of course, James never told me this side of the story. He spoke of Jerome with both love and longing, asking me, in his final days, to spread his ashes in Prescott National Forest — to take my harley and grant him that one last ride. I can’t imagine what led him to hurt everyone like that. Please know that he always spoke of his life there in the most glowing terms, so much so that my wife and I have given serious thought to relocating.

        He ended a good Man. I have spoken to Natalie (ex-wife) on the phone repeatedly. I know that his passing was hard for her. I hope she is not the subject of anger for James’ actions.

        I am no longer sure what to do. Would he be welcome there? Or should I keep him here, where folks have good memories? They say the Lord forgives all. I don’t know if that is true, but I hope the people of Jerome can find it in their hearts to forgive any transgression he may have done. That’s asking alot, I know.

        I thought I knew my friend, and for my part, I guess I knew all I needed to. Now I guess “the truth comes out when the fires burn low”.

        I still want to visit your town. It has always sounded like my kind of place.

        Thank you, for sharing a hard truth with me. I must say, I think I’m going to keep this to myself. Folks here would be too hurt.

        God Bless.

        DAMIT JIM!!!!


      • I have known many people that move to a new town to reinvent themselves and forget the past. And often those people only tell you what they want you to know. Before the bust, many people thought well of Jim, an intelligent, often charming, sometimes self destructive guy, true of many people. The bust negatively impacted many lives. Diane


      • Two questions from me. How did you even get steered to this blog that mentions James? What did he die of? Diane


  5. I hit on your blog while googling James’ name. I was trying to find a published short story of his (never did). James died of terminal cancer. As there was no one else, my wife and I took care of him. He was pretty much disabled for the last 6 months or so.


  6. Ha! That’s what I get for never leaving well enough alone. I was actually doing research to write a nice obituary. I googled James’ name and your blog came up first.
    James succumed to advanced cancer after a year-long struggle.


  7. Diane,

    Did you know my uncle, Glen Baisch? I spent many summers in Jerome in the 80’s as a young teenager at his old shack and then at his house on the highway coming into town. I remember the events around his suicide vividly and was in Jerome soon after that to help my mom and grandma deal with his estate. My grandma never quite got over his death, and I never knew many details other than it was his second pot arrest. I ended up inheriting his pot growing books and wrote a high-school term paper on why marijuana should be legalized which is interesting given the recent legalization in Coloardo where I now live (although not my kind of thing).

    Last time I was in Jerome was in 1994 with my wife and could believe how much had changed in a decade with the influx of tourism.

    Also wondering what became of Lisa. Never saw or heard anymore of her after that.

    Best Regards,
    Brian K. Baisch


    • I did not know Glen, but knew many others that did, including Lisa. The effects of his bust and suicide had many aftershocks, as did the after shocks of the big bust that happened in Jerome the year after. Lisa was one of those dancing butterflies in Jerome that many fell in love with. She eventually married Maynard Keenan’s father (Maynard is a somewhat famous rock musician turned vintner). He was quite an admirable man who helped her get through school to become a nurse. After she graduated, I lost track of her.
      The growing of pot helped revitalize Jerome’s flagging economy through the seventies and helped quite a few artists buy tools and materials and others to buy construction materials to fix their houses. There were some excellent growers, Glen among them. The demonization of pot smoking continues, even in states that have legalized limited use.
      Where was the ‘shack’ you alluded to in your comment? What memories can you share about Jerome in those days? Who were your friends?
      You would be even more shocked to visit Jerome today. It has become a wealthy town, with five wine tasting shops and many art galleries to feed the tastes of those with money.
      Within the year my new book, Home Sweet Jerome, will be published by Big Earth. It recounts the rescue of the town when big mining shut down in 1953 through about the nineties when,at least for me, the town became a tourist paradise and most all the controversy in town was about money. When I was there a few months ago, the big town meeting centered around how to limit ‘vacation’ rentals.
      Would love to hear from you. Thanks for writing. Diane


Comments are closed.