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Prostitution is famously described as the world’s oldest profession and in America the oldest legal brothel is Mustang Ranch – but it’s said to be haunted.
The historic two-building pleasure house has also been plagued with murder and scandals.
Despite being shut down before, it is now open 24/7 every day of the year.
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It is based in Storey County, Nevada, with randy clients including truckers, school teachers and celebrities who have their own VIP area with back entrance to avoid being spotted.
Mustang Ranch is now run by Madam Tara Adkins, a former courtesan, who has been there since 1990.
She recently featured in YouTuber Matt Cullen’s documentary series about the facility.
Asked about the qualities she looks for in her workers, she answered: “She has to be kind, compassionate, it’s not just about that quick dollar. Our customers it’s not just about that wham bam. They’ve lost their wives, they’ve been in a war, they’ve been burned, they’ve been disabled.
“We have couples come in and they want to rekindle their relationship after 25 years and don’t know how to do that. They’ve been to therapists and sex coaches and this is their last resort. So I need those ladies who are teachers, they help to guide these people and teach that human touch is OK and it’s OK to talk about sex.”
Tara’s role is to “protect and guide” the sex workers at the legally licensed brothel.
But you will have to go back to 1971 for its origins when it was first opened by infamous owner Joe Conforte. He was an Italian immigrant and former taxi driver who was inspired to start the business while transporting horny blokes searching for prostitutes.
And in a TV interview he once said: “Why should I be ashamed? I am accomplishing a public service.”
But in 1976, professional boxer Oscar Bonavena, 33, was shot dead outside the brothel by a security guard. The Argentinian heavyweight, who fought both Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, was rumoured to have been having an affair with Conforte’s wife.
Conforte, also said to be involved in organised crime in Nevada, later lost a tax fraud case before fleeing to Brazil where he died in 2019.
The brothel was then closed and opened multiple times but the current owner is land developer Lance Gilman.
And in 2019 he told the Nevada Independent: “My legacy is I want to take that next level. I want to see more understanding of the folks that are out there, a better respect for it as an industry. If I can leave it at a better place than I found it, then I will have achieved my vision.”
To understand how much the brothel has changed in the 21st century, look no further than its hair and makeup artist, who is called Jeni.
She told Matt Cullen: “The cool part about 20 years ago to now is 20 years ago I would have someone sitting in my chair and I would say ‘what brought you out here’? They would be like ‘well my pimp this’ or some kind of trouble childhood brought them to sex work.
“In comparison to nowadays when I am like ‘so what brought you out here’ and they are like ‘oh I just finished my double masters in human health and sexuality, oh I have a masters degree in theatre’ and one girl was like ‘don't’ you ever want to use your theatre degree’ and she was like ‘I do everyday’.”
A huge entrance outside the sex house has the world BROTHEL in bold capitals. Due to its legal status, there is no need for it to be hidden away in a shady back alley. Nevada, meanwhile, remains the only state in America where brothels can be legal.
All sex workers have background checks to ensure none are trafficked and customers, both men and women, are inspected to ensure there are no visible STIs.
Tara makes sure her workers are tested every 7 days and workers staying at the brothel for a set of shifts have to be escorted by a driver if they want to go into town.
Explaining why, she said: “A lot of the other brothels will let the girls come in, work and then go home at night. Now I don’t know what she’s doing. I don’t know if she went to see her boyfriend, girlfriend or a customer and now she’s compromised her STD test. All our ladies are tested every seven days. If this lady wants to go into town, absolutely. I have a driver for her five days a week.
“So she can take this driver, go to Walmart, go get her hair, nails done and come back and still be medically clear and work. If she wants to go on their own, they can leave any time of the day but they will have to come back and see a doctor and then re-clear. And I can tell you there's never been an STD from a brothel lockdown ever.”
One of her courtesans is Bella, who is the daughter of Mormon parents.
She had been a hotel director for 6 years before turning to legal prostitution after breaking up with her partner.
And the brunette, who tells her parents she works in graphic design, spoke about the haunted history of the Mustang Ranch which has featured on shows like Ghost Adventures.
She said: “This is supposedly the most haunted, B1. It is the most haunted room. When girls have stayed in here they have woken up to seeing girls doing their makeup in the mirror who aren’t there. They will hear footsteps walking down this hallway. One person heard gum being blown the other night, just popping.”
But spooks aside, she said it was a safe and friendly environment to earn a living in.
She added: “People often think sex trafficking and brothel work are the same thing and they are not at all. This is a super safe, really fun environment [that has] built a lot of us up as women because we do have each other here.
“We are seeing how much money we can make using our bodies in a positive way. I think we are all so sex positive and body positive no matter what you look like.”
And as for bonking strangers, she said: “It’s weirdly normal. You kind of talk in the bar for a little bit with the guys. You get to know each other. It’s like meeting a girl in a bar and then just f***ing on the first date.”
Many men and women have visited the brothel for their sexual awakenings, including those who are disabled. Some rooms have wheelchair access and one customer was a paraplegic lesbian who arrived with a carer.
Sex worker Dacé, from Mississippi, first applied to work at Mustang Ranch aged 21.
Now 27, the independent contractor said: “This is where I help people. Just last week we had an autistic man come here who was 35ish.
“He lost his virginity and he had the time of his life. Now he can go through his life and he is not wondering what all these people are talking about, whispering and cackling about. Now he is in on it and that’s like the biggest gift he could have given himself.”
Anyone over 18 can visit the brothel and some some go for sex while others simply want companionship.
Appointments are not compulsory and a customer can walk in, choose a lady and then go to an office to negotiate terms.
But speaking with Daily Star to offer a behind the scenes insight, Dacé said: “The office handles all monetary transactions and pays us via pay checks twice a week.
"This means all my income is reported and able to be claimed so that I can pay taxes, buy property and invest.
"All of us ladies live on property for the duration of our tour – that’s for the medical safety of the clients.
"When a lady arrives, she’s given a full panel STD test. It takes 24hrs for results, and if she passes she’s able to work.
"Every 7 days we’re re-tested – if we leave the property, we have to re-test and get clean results before working again.
"That makes going home at night impossible – if ladies were allowed to leave during their tour, management could not be sure where they were going, what they were doing and with who.
"That’s one very important reason that I and other working ladies in Nevada (the only state in the US where prostitution is legal in licensed brothels) advocate for legalisation modelled after highly regulated licensed brothels.
"Not just decriminalisation, which puts both the client and the working lady at risk on many many levels."
Mustang Ranch has been portrayed in popular culture including in the film Love Ranch starring Dame Helen Mirren in 2010.
The workers, who come from all over the world, give the house 50% of their earnings in return for their safety and well-being.
Security is on hand 24/7 and each room has hidden panic buttons in case women are ever in danger. Also a doctor is on the premises five days a week.
At least 100 customers come through the Mustang Ranch a day and the courtesans work either the 9am-9pm shift or the reverse 9pm-9am shift.
Workers are able to drink with customers but it is a drug free zone. And if Madam Tara believes they are consuming too much alcohol, she will intervene.
She concluded: “You’re not here to party, you’re not here to get drunk, you are here to focus.”
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