“Did Mrs. Krupp have any other romantic interests while she was here?” A woman’s kind yet eager voice asks off-camera. On-camera, the interviewee pauses. Her answers have been quick and forthright, but this one requires delicacy. “She did have a couple of special, special friends, as she called them. They were probably romantic interests to a certain extent,” says Peg Westburg, personal secretary, confidant and an heir to the enigmatic German movie star-turned-Las Vegas rancher Vera Krupp. Even though Vera died in 1967, Peg’s steadfast loyalty to her former boss never faded. “I didn’t ask; she didn’t vouchsafe. … But she was not completely a hermit, let’s put it that way.”
During her 58 years, Vera married and divorced four times: to a baron, a movie director, a California physician and finally to her childhood sweetheart Alfried Krupp, a German industrialist and Nazi war criminal. The latter purchased the 518-acre Bar Nothing Ranch for Vera, which she rechristened Spring Mountain Ranch.
When their marriage ended in 1956, German magazine Der Spiegel reported that Vera was accused of committing adultery with one of her employees “in the United States, Hawaii and abroad.”
Peg, who died of cancer at age 93 on April 24, would never have mentioned such a news article. Dedicated to preserving her boss’ legacy, Peg sat for multiple video interviews with Nevada state employees, answering questions to create a lasting historical record. She donated a trove of Vera’s belongings to Spring Mountain Ranch State Park in 2008 (where the video archive is also stored). Many of Vera’s items are on display in the visitor’s center, which once was her home. The collection includes “Diamond V” branded guest towels, polished stone jewelry created by Vera, photos from Vera’s sprawling childhood estate, evening gowns and Vera’s Clark County Deputy Sheriff’s Badge.
“She was a deputy sheriff?” The interviewer asks.
“Oh, yes.” Peg answers. “She was authorized to carry a gun. One time, she did arrest someone who was endangering the livestock.”
Perhaps because it’s taught in school, history appears to be neat, tidy—infallible. And yet upon close inspection, the past splinters into a blur of conflicting memories. This is why Peg’s contribution is so important. Even if devotion tinted her perspective, the secretary’s diligent record keeping fills important gaps in Nevada history.
“We don’t even know how tall she was or what color eyes she had, because they’re black and white photos,” the interviewer laments.
“Mrs. Krupp was 5-foot-5 and a half inches tall, had brown hair and hazel eyes,” Peg answers. “She had very broad shoulders and very narrow hips. She was really a beautiful woman. She was very athletic.”
If Vera possessed the stately allure of a noir-era femme fatale, then Peg was Gidget, the bright, smart California girl. Onscreen, she has short hair and a big smile, with the optimistic practicality of Western pioneers. No wonder Vera chose her.
“She expected you to do things, but you had a free hand. It wasn’t a formal atmosphere at all,” Peg says of their relationship. “During the day I called her ‘Mrs. Krupp’; that was the agreement. At 6 or 7, whenever I quit work, it was ‘Vera and Peg.’ We kept a very distinct line between the two.”
If Vera has not reached the same mythical status as her Old Vegas contemporaries, it’s because she wanted to be left alone with her horses and mountain views. Nonetheless, she’s the prototypical Las Vegas icon—wealthy and glamorous, but also rustic and self-sufficient. When she acquired Spring Mountain Ranch, she had no experience in ranching. But she was determined to make this a real pursuit. She studied animal husbandry, leased 300,000 acres of grazing land, learned how to ride horses and bred a hybrid strain of white-faced Brahmas and Herefords cattle.
In exchange for so much work, this German-American aristocrat (she became a naturalized American citizen in 1947) earned the respect of her Nevada ranch hands. “She would go out with the cowboys, eat their food, sleep on the ground with them, herd the cattle, come back dusty-dirty,” Peg says. One foreman preferred that she “stay the gilded lady in the ivory tower,” but he didn’t last long.
Vera could certainly play the gilded lady. “When Mrs. Krupp had jewelry, and she had a lot of it, she wore it.” Peg says. “Not flaunting it, but it was a part of her.”
One such piece—a 33-karat diamond ring—threw Vera into the news cycle when robbers broke into her ranch house, tied her up and stole it on April 10, 1959. The FBI recovered the ring six weeks later in New Jersey. After Vera’s death, Richard Burton bought the ring for his wife, Elizabeth Taylor. In 2011, South Korea conglomerate E-Land purchased it for $8.8 million. Today, QVC sells a replica of the “Elizabeth Taylor diamond” ring for $152 … plus shipping and handling.
Even a violent robbery didn’t deter Vera from wearing the ring in public. “We were in one [grocery] store in Las Vegas looking at vegetables, and one woman came up and said, ‘What a beautiful zircon you have,’” Peg remembers. “I really thought Mrs. Krupp was going to hit her with a cabbage.”
Finally, the hardest question, the one that’s almost impossible to answer: What was Vera really like?
“Mrs. Krupp was probably the most straightforward, the most interesting and easiest person that I’ve ever worked for,” Peg says. “She was just human. She loved to laugh. She loved everything.”