Las Vegas is awash in organized crime lore after a second set of human remains emerged within a week from the depths of a drought-stricken Colorado River reservoir, just a 30-minute drive from the notoriously mob-founded Strip.
"There's no telling what we're going to find in Lake Mead," former Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman said Monday. "It's not a bad place to dump a body."
Goodman represented mob figures as a lawyer, including the hapless Anthony "Tony the Ant" Spilotro, before serving three terms as a martini-wearing mayor who made public appearances with a showgirl on each arm.
He declined to name names about who might show up in the giant reservoir formed by Hoover Dam between Nevada and Arizona.
"I'm pretty sure it wasn't Jimmy Hoffa," he laughed. But he added that many of his former clients seemed interested in "climate control" – mob-speak for keeping the lake level high and the bodies in their watery graves.
Instead, the world now has climate change, and the surface of Lake Mead has dropped more than 52 feet since 1983.
The lake that quenches the thirst of 40 million people in cities, farms and tribes in seven southwestern states has dropped to about 30% of its capacity.
"If the lake sinks much further, it's very likely we'll bring some very interesting things to the surface," noted Michael Green, a history professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, whose father dealt blackjack for decades at casinos such as the Stardust and the Showboat.
"I wouldn't bet the mortgage we're going to solve on who killed Bugsy Siegel," Green said, referring to the infamous gangster who opened the Flamingo in 1944 in the area that would later become the Strip. Siegel was shot and killed in 1947 in Beverly Hills, Calif. His assassin was never identified.
"But I'd be willing to bet there will be a few more bodies," Green said.
David Kohlmeier, a former police officer who now hosts a podcast and fledgling TV show called "The Problem Solver Show" in Las Vegas, said Monday after offering qualified divers last week a reward of 5.Offered $000 to find barrels in lake, he heard from people in San Diego and Florida willing to give it a try.
But National Park Service officials said it was not allowed and that there were hundreds of barrels in the depths – some dating back to the construction of Hoover Dam in the 1930s.
Kohlmeier said he has also heard from families of missing people and cases such as a man suspected of killing his mother and brother in 1987, a hotel employee who disappeared in 1992 and a Utah father who vanished in the 1980s.
"You'll probably find remains all over Lake Mead," Kohlmeier said, including Native Americans who were the area's first residents.
Green said the discoveries have gotten people talking not only about mob hits, but also about bringing relief and closure to grieving families. Not to mention the ever-expanding white mineral markers on steep lake walls showing where water used to be.
"People will talk about it for the right reasons and for the wrong reasons," professor said. "They're going to think we're going to solve every mob killing. In fact, we can see some.
"But it's also worth remembering that the mob didn't like murders in the Las Vegas area because they didn't like bad publicity spread under the Las Vegas dateline."
The right reason, Green said, is visible evidence that the West has 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 will contribute to the lore of a town that became a marquee gambling mecca with seawater from a creosote bush-covered desert.
"When I was mayor, every time I went to a groundbreaking, I would start shaking for fear that someone I met over the years would be exposed," he said.
"We have a very interesting background," Goodman added. "It certainly adds to the mystique of Las Vegas."