Lake bodies recall Mob's time in Las Vegas

·4-min read

Las Vegas is being flooded with lore about organised crime after a second set of human remains emerged within a week from a drought-stricken Colorado River reservoir just a 30-minute drive from the notoriously Mob-founded Strip.

"There's no telling what we'll find in Lake Mead," former Las Vegas mayor Oscar Goodman said on Monday. "It's not a bad place to dump a body."

Goodman, as a lawyer, represented mob figures including the ill-fated Anthony "Tony the Ant" Spilotro before serving three terms as a martini-toting mayor making public appearances with a showgirl on each arm.

He declined to name names about who might turn up in the vast reservoir formed by the Hoover Dam between Nevada and Arizona.

"I'm relatively sure it was not Jimmy Hoffa," he laughed. But he added that a lot of his former clients seemed interested in "climate control", which is Mob speak for keeping the lake level up and bodies down in their watery graves.

Instead, the world now has climate change, and the surface of Lake Mead has dropped more than 50 metres since 1983. The lake that serves seven US states is down to about 30 per cent of capacity.

"If the lake goes down much farther, it's very possible we're going to have some very interesting things surface," observed Michael Green, a University of Nevada, Las Vegas history professor whose father dealt blackjack for decades at casinos including the Stardust and the Showboat.

"I wouldn't bet the mortgage that we're going to solve who killed Bugsy Siegel," Green said, referring to the infamous gangster who opened the Flamingo on in 1944 on what would become the Strip. Siegel was shot dead in 1947 in Beverly Hills, California. His assassin has never been identified.

"But I would be willing to bet there are going to be a few more bodies," Green said.

First, the dropping lake level exposed Las Vegas' uppermost drinking water intake on April 25, forcing the regional water authority to switch to a deep-lake intake it completed in 2020 to continue to supply casinos, suburbs and 2.4 million residents and 40 million tourists each year.

The following weekend, boaters spotted the decomposed body of a man in a rusted barrel stuck in the mud of newly exposed shoreline.

The corpse has not been identified, but Las Vegas police say he had been shot, probably between the mid-1970s and the early 1980s. The death is being investigated as a homicide.

A few days later, a second barrel was found by a KLAS-TV news crew, not far from the first. It was empty.

On Saturday, two sisters who were paddle boarding on the lake near a former marina resort noticed bones on a newly surfaced sand bar. There was no immediate evidence of foul play, Las Vegas police said.

More bodies would be discovered, predicted Geoff Schumacher, vice-president of The Mob Museum in Las Vegas.

"I think a lot of these individuals will likely have been drowning victims," Schumacher said, referring to boaters and swimmers who've never been found. "But a barrel has a signature of a Mob hit."

He and Green both cited the death of John "Handsome Johnny" Roselli, a mid-1950s Las Vegas mobster who disappeared in 1976 a few days before his body was found in a steel drum floating off the coast of Miami.

Green said the discoveries had people talking not only about Mob hits but about bringing relief and closure to grieving families.

"People will talk about this for the right reasons and the wrong reasons," the professor said. "They're going to think we're going to solve every Mob murder. In fact, we may see some.

"But it's also worth remembering that the Mob did not like murders to take place in the Las Vegas area because they did not like bad publicity going out under the Las Vegas dateline."

The right reason, Green said, was the visible evidence that the West had a serious water problem. "The 'bathtub ring' around the lake is big and getting bigger," he said.

Whatever story emerges about the body in the barrel, Goodman predicted it would add to the lore of a city that, with lake water, sprouted from a creosote bush-covered desert to become a marquee gambling mecca.

"When I was the mayor, every time I went to a ground-breaking. I'd begin to shake for fear that somebody I may have run into over the years will be uncovered," he said.

"We have a very interesting background. It certainly adds to the mystique of Las Vegas."

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