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THE CAVE LADY: Audio recordings reveal Vegas urban legend was a woman on a religious mission

A few years ago, News 3 put together a story based on an urban legend about a woman who lived in a cave in the side of Frenchman Mountain though it is more popularly known as Sunrise Mountain (which is the name of a mountain a couple of miles to the north).

That story used memories from some locals who met her in the mid-1960s, along with articles from local newspapers.

Since then, News 3 has been given access to an amazing discovery one that in some ways clears up the mystery once and for all, and in other ways, adds to it.

"At one time she said, 'I have something,' " said Betty Couchigian five decades later. " 'I need someone to take care of it for me.' "

Betty had gained the trust of the woman the newspapers called Rox Morgan in the mid-1960s but had let the encounter fade until moving some things earlier this year after a hot water heater had burst in her garage.

"I was in here unpacking it, and came across those records, and I went 'Oh my God,' " Betty said.

Betty had come across a set of four vinyl records given to her in late 1964 and never played since. The label read "True Story Narration by Mrs. Morgan, Founder, Las Vegas Story Groups, Incorporated."

News 3 brought the records to a dubbing company. They were cleaned, processed and digitized. Now, 51 years later, Mrs. Morgan's voice can be heard again. In it, Mrs. Morgan explains why she came to the city.

"It's simply that I must create a place of Godliness just above the base of the mountain nearest to the center of the City of Las Vegas," narrated the voice of Mrs. Morgan.

"'I was directed'" remembered Betty today. "I think that was her word. 'To come here. I'm on a mission.' "

On the recordings, Mrs. Morgan explained that she researched the location in advance, determining that it was on Bureau of Land Management property and that she should have no problem living there legally, under certain circumstances.

"I found out that it was possible to do so if I substantially improved the property for the good of the general public," Morgan said in the recording.

While never making clear the exact religious nature of her mission, Mrs. Morgan said that her needs are few.

"My instructions were to bring no special equipment. And since my travel wardrobe just included one casual outfit, I came to the mountain with only the following articles: One pair of dressy ranch pants made of cotton suede cloth. A knitted shirt to match. A pair of flat hand-sewn buckskin shoes with leather soles and heels. A bra, panties, a lightweight nylon raincoat, two sheets of dry cleaner's plastic. A toothbrush, a comb, a purse-sized mirror, a lipstick, a ChapStick, an eye care kit. A cake of Ivory soap, a washcloth, a small hand towel, a nail file. A hairbrush. A notebook white folder with a few sheets of paper and a ballpoint pen," narrated Mrs. Morgan

Mrs. Morgan had informed local law enforcement agencies of her plans, but apparently no one else.

"I was then brought by an acquaintance who was unaware of my destination in a car to the extreme east end of Bonanza Avenue. It intersects at that point with the north end of Los Feliz Boulevard. When I handed her my cigarettes and told her what I was going to do, she became very greatly upset," said Mrs. Morgan "But I finally managed to get her to leave."

Soon though, she had visitors. Betty heard about the lady in the cave from a co-worker and loaded up the family car.

"Heck, yeah," said Betty with a laugh. "We went up there ... I don't know. I was fascinated by her. I loved to listen to her. She was so intelligent. Her vocabulary far exceeded mine."

One an example of this vocabulary is the choice of words Mrs. Morgan used to describe a mishap in an educated, somewhat patrician cadence:

"I managed to slip, due to the loose underfooting, either landing unceremoniously on my lean posterior or some other particularly tender part of my anatomy."

Much of what had been known about the "Cave Lady of Sunrise Mountain" to this point came from a May 1963 Review-Journal profile, which now must be re-examined in light of the new recordings.

"A large three-column spread containing one absolute falsehood after another," Mrs. Morgan described, going over the article aloud with a group of companions on the mountainside. "During that morning, many people who had met me already and saw the malicious intent of this writer, came up also highly incensed about it."

When the reporter, Donald Warman returned for a visit, Mrs. Morgan accused him of inventing quotes from her.

"He whined inanely, 'Well, I had to have enough words to make a story,' " Mrs. Morgan claimed.

Mrs. Morgan went on to describe joining her friends in further chastising Warman.

"This group of people, in discussing his outrageous behavior, speculated as to how he had ever managed to obtain a job on any newspaper, since he was obviously no way qualified either as a writer, or as a decent person," Mrs. Morgan said.

Finally, Mrs. Morgan said, Warman became angry, referring to her diminished vision.

"With this, he turned on me like a cat, spitting. 'Why you one-eyed bitch! You're nothing but a con artist. From now on you'll see that I can smear you but good, since you won't play ball.' Then I smiled and said 'Smear and be damned.' "

This provides context for articles the following year, when the mysterious woman who claimed in the recordings that "Morgan" was merely a pseudonym, saying "I have not given myself a first name" was arrested for trespassing on a neighbor's land, and the same reporter spoke of her angry glare.

Mrs. Morgan beat the rap, as rising young Assistant District Attorney Richard Bryan was reported to have thrown his hands in the air saying, "I don't know what to make of this case."

But Mrs. Morgan seemed to have still had enemies, whether real or imagined.

"These were all people whom I had not met, but who had been customers in Maxine's Bar," said Mrs. Morgan, referring to a tavern at Nellis and Flamingo, "and had heard Arlene declare that she was going to come and shoot me off the mountain. Questioning these, I found that it was not a single threat, but one made repeatedly on different occasions throughout the week."

Mrs. Morgan gathered all her notes, recorded them at the cave, and transferred the audio a set of vinyl discs, which she gave to her new friend Betty Couchigian.

" 'Keep them safe, and when I get ready to leave here, I'll let you know, because I'll want those back,' " is how Betty remembers the exchange today. "And I said 'OK'."

That was late 1964. The next time Betty went for a visit, the cave was empty.

Betty kept the recordings just in case, as the decades rolled by. But Mrs. Morgan never returned. She would be 97 if she were alive today.

The recordings total about an hour-and-a-half of audio. At some point in the near future, News 3 expects to make arrangements to see the entire transcript released to the public.

PLANS TO BUILD CHAPEL: Mystery Woman Inhabits Cave, Ponders Positive Living HereBy Donald Warman, May 26, 1963CAVE WOMAN WON'T TALK: Mountain MysteryBy Donald Worman, July 22, 1964FOLLOWERS IN COURT: Sunrise Cave Woman Beats Trespassing RapBy Donald Worman, (date unclear)

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