Mob experts say bodies found in drought-depleted Lake Mead could be linked to mobsters

fFirst he heard about the body in the barrel.

Next he heard it was murder.

And then Geoffrey Schumacher — along with other gangster historians and enthusiasts who heard the news from a shrinking Lake Mead — thought of one thing: the mob.

“This is a hot topic in this city,” said Mr. Schumacher, vice president of exhibits and programs at the Mob Museum in Las Vegas The Independent. “Everywhere I go – especially me – people want to talk about it and speculate about it.

“There’s something about solving an ancient mystery that appeals to people. And it’s reminiscent of what some people consider a golden era for Las Vegas: “When the mob ran it,” that’s how they say it… It combines nostalgia with a desire to solve a mystery, and it’s all about thought here “, he says.

The excitement began when boaters enjoying Lake Mead, about 30 miles southeast of Las Vegas, spotted the barrel on May 1 near the port of Hemenway on the Colorado River reservoir.

The water level has dropped so much that late last month the top water intake at Lake Mead became visible. The American West is suffering from a two-decade mega-drought that is being exacerbated by the climate crisis.

The reservoir on the Colorado River behind Hoover Dam is so depleted that Las Vegas is now pumping water from lower elevations of Lake Mead, which also stretches into Arizona.

And as the lake disappears, some of its secrets come to the surface – literally. And some of them could possibly solve long-standing Mafia mysteries, believe Herr Schumacher and others familiar with Mafia activities.

The body in the barrel, which police have classified as a murder victim, bears marks from a mob hit, says the museum’s vice president.

(Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

“There are several reasons for this,” says Mr. Schumacher The Independent. “First of all, this is Las Vegas – and if you normally think of mob murder in the era that police realized this was the ’70s, early ’80s, this was a very violent era in Las Vegas when it comes to the mob goes. And there were a lot of murders, a lot of missing people – and bodies found in the desert.

“It was unusual for Las Vegas to pull a murder victim out of Lake Mead, but the other bit of it is that the body was buried in a barrel in the lake. And whatever the reason, there’s a long history of mobs using this technique to get rid of dead bodies.

“They discard them, they put them in barrels and put them underground, they put them in barrels and throw them in the sea, in a river or in a lake. This dates back to the late 1800s. It’s just something that was a thing.”

The theory that the body in the barrel was a mob victim also raises a new, intriguing question: who could it be?

Herr Schumacher did some research.

“The first name that hit everyone was Jay Vandermark,” he says The Independent. “Jay Vandermark was a pretty big character at the Stardust Hotel in the 1970s, and he was a slots manager. [who] reported to the Chicago Outfit.

“One of the ways they siphoned money out of the casinos was by siphoning coins off the top of the money made on the slots,” says Mr. Schumacher. “Vandermark knew a lot about what was going on with the skimming, and … we know that he disappeared around that time and that he was most likely the victim of a mob attack, because if the police caught up with him, he could be.” ready to talk.”

Jay Vandermark disappeared in Phoenix in 1976

(Phoenix Police Department)

However, a witnessed killer testified in 2007 that Vandermark, who disappeared from Phoenix, was buried in the desert nearby, says Mr Schumacher – so he doubts the slots manager is the corpse in the barrel.

He believes there are two other men who went missing around the same time frame that are more likely possibilities.

One, William Crespo, was a “drug mule” who “had accepted government immunity to become an informant and witness against the big drug ring,” says Scumacher.

Crespo disappeared before that could happen in 1983 and the case was dropped without his testimony, he adds.

Then there was Johnny Pappas, a casino clerk who was “affiliated with the mafia” and disappeared in 1976; His car was found in the Circus car park four days after he was last seen, and there has been no sign of him since, says Mr Schumacher.

Pappas managed a hotel on Lake Mead and was trying to sell a boat he had docked there at the time of his disappearance, he adds.

“It stands to reason that someone who was tied to the lake like him was dumped there,” says Schumacher.

Even more speculation as to how many other bodies might be found in moats as the lake levels drop. Most agree that more will definitely be discovered, if not necessarily murder victims; The lake has been the site of many drownings over the years, with bodies never being found.

Mr Schumacher says other possible mob victims could be emerging, but he’s a little dubious – at least in the same stretch of the sprawling lake.

“If you watch the movies or TV shows about the mob in New York, they always dump bodies in the East River,” he says. “My thought is that you don’t want to create a routine. You don’t want to be predictable.”

Former Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, who represented mafia figures during his career as a defense attorney, said there’s “no telling what we’re going to find in Lake Mead.

“It’s not a bad place to dump a body,” he told the AP, adding that many past clients seemed interested in “climate control” — mob slang for keeping lake levels up and bodies under water.

Mr. Goodman played himself in Martin Scorsese’s 1995 film Casino, which chronicled the Las Vegas mob underworld and played heavyweights such as Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci.

The mob’s influence on the city is legendary, and regardless of who is revealed to be the corpse in the barrel, Mr. Schumacher and others are hoping that some gangster mysteries will be revealed when Lake Mead’s water levels tragically plummet.

“Las Vegas historians in particular are hoping this could answer a search and fill a gap in the history of someone who went missing,” Schumacher said The Independent. “It might help us understand a little bit better what was going on at the time.

“One of the things about the mob is that it’s difficult to make mob history. Because the mob didn’t take notes; they didn’t write Mom home about what they were doing; they didn’t submit any reports,” he laughs.

“There really aren’t a lot of paper trails to get the story right – that leads to a lot of speculation and a lot of embellishment.”

But now he says: “We hope that this could be a real stopgap.” Mob experts say bodies found in drought-depleted Lake Mead could be linked to mobsters

Bobby Allyn

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