Vegas mob surface with bodies in Lake Mead

A rusty metal barrel is exposed at Lake Mead Marina in Boulder City, Nev, near the site of a different barrel containing a human body. (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP/Getty Images)

The skeletal remains found in a vat in Lake Mead earlier this month fascinated and horrified two different groups that typically don’t have much in common: mob historians and climate scientists.

Less than a week after the unidentified body was found in a barrel, paddleboarders found another set of skeletal remains at Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Nevada. Authorities are not surprised that more bodies have come to light as Lake Mead is wreaking havoc in the West in a prolonged drought.

Found in Lake Mead on May 1, the barrel heralds a major disaster for the climate on the horizon, as well as telling a story about Las Vegas. Homicide investigators believe the victim was shot and placed in the barrel 40 to 45 years ago, based on shoes found in the barrel. Lieutenant Ray Spencer of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department told The Times earlier this month that 40 years ago the current shoreline would be 100 feet underwater.

The person in the barrel would have been shot in Sin City around the time the mob was starting to die.

“The late ’70s, early ’80s were truly the beginning of the end of gangs in Las Vegas,” said Geoff Schumacher, vice president of the Mob Museum in Las Vegas.

Schumacher recalls several instances where barrels have featured prominently in mob stories, including the murder of Johnny Roselli, who testified before Congress in 1976. Shortly after Roselli witnessed the conspiracy to assassinate President Kennedy, she disappeared and was found in a barrel of fuel floating inside. A cove near Miami.

But Schumacher said mob attacks in Las Vegas often end in desert burials. It’s not impossible to think that there will be more mob victims at the bottom of the lake. But as the waters receded, drowning victims and other relics of the past are likely to emerge, Schumacher said.

“This is something that stays in mind for a lot of people here,” Schumacher said. Said. “It’s a story that really captures people’s imaginations about what else could be lurking in the depths of Lake Mead.”

For climate scientists, the writing is on the wall as bodies rise to the surface in one of the country’s largest reservoirs, which supplies water to nearly 20 million people. Brad Udall, a water and climate scientist at Colorado State University, said the word drought did not reflect the severity of what was happening in the region.

“It’s time to stop calling it a drought, because it’s confusing what’s going on here. Droughts are temporary. What we see is not temporary,” said Udall.

A better way to describe this water drop in Nevada, California and other states is the aridity of the western United States, where the region will become drier and drier in the long run, Udall said. This is already happening in many parts of the region where wet winters do not turn into wet summers because the soil does not retain the same amount of water as the previous year.

Skeletal remains emerging from the earth are the byproduct of a system in decline.

“We learn terrible things that we can’t learn as soon as possible,” Udall said. Said. “Unfortunately, we’re going to find a lot more horrific things, possibly including more corpses, but on a level more worrying, it’s just that our human systems aren’t set up to deal with these types of water drops.”

For the month of April, water levels in Lake Mead were 1,054 feet above sea level, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. It was 1,079 feet at the same time last year and 1,096 feet in 2020. A prominent ring surrounding Lake Mead clearly shows where the previous water outage reached and was well above current water levels.

On Saturday, sisters Lynette and Lindsey Melvin were paddling on Lake Mead when they crashed on an underwater beach just a week ago. The wind was whipping the area and they set their boards in the sand bar to admire the old trash, including an old Coca-Cola bottle stuck in the sand. Then they saw a strange object popping out of the ground.

“At first we thought it was a rock,” Lynette told The Times. The sisters started digging and thought it might be a sheep skull, but then they saw what looked like a human jaw with teeth and a tooth with metal-like fillings.

“We wanted to make sure what we saw was a human skull before contacting the park rangers,” said Lindsey, who works as a registered nurse and was able to identify several other bones alongside the skull.

The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department told the Associated Press that there was no immediate evidence of any criminal activity and would open a murder investigation until they await the coroner’s report. According to the National Park Service, a Clark County Forensic Specialist will determine the cause of death.

Lynette hopes that if more bodies are found in the lake, it will bring some closure to families who think their loved ones are lost forever.

Still, as a regular Lake Mead visitor, Lynette has watched water levels drop over the years and fears a waterless future.

“I’m more concerned about the lake drying up than finding human remains,” he said.

This story was originally published in the Los Angeles Times.

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