Could the bodies found in Lake Mead be connected to the Chicago mob?

ByChuck Goudie and Barb Markoff, Christine Tressel and Ross Weidner WLS logo
Friday, May 20, 2022
Could remains in shrinking Lake Mead be connected to Chicago mob?
Mystery remains discovered in shrinking lake could have Chicago mob connections.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Just outside Las Vegas investigators are trying to identify old human remains found in a drying-up lake. There's speculation those remains could be tied to the Chicago mob.

The mystery is unfolding 30 miles from the Vegas Strip, where a drought has caused Lake Mead to drop 100 feet. This month, the shrinking water level revealed at least two human skeletons.

One was found by sisters snorkeling in the lake.

"As we discovered more and more bones and we found a jawbone and we realized this is definitely human, yeah," said Lindsey Melvin.

The other remains were found inside one of the many barrels that have become visible on what used to be the lake bottom.

Investigators said shoes on one skeleton suggest the person, a man, died between the mid-1970s and early 1980s, and had been shot.

Tony Spilotro, the Chicago mob's ruthless emissary to Las Vegas, was killed and buried in an Indiana cornfield during a mob spat more than three decades ago. Now there are questions about whether Spilotro is tied to these mystery bodies.

The body in the barrel was found with a gunshot wound to the head made by a .22 caliber gun.

"That would certainly fit Tony Spilotro and his gang's M.O. back then wouldn't it?" Chuck Goudie asked mob expert and journalist John L. Smith.

"Yeah, no question about that," Smith said. "I mean, that was the general idea about many of the hits that Spilotro was said to be involved in, as we know not convicted of them, but associated with them."

Smith said several Outfit-connected figures vanished in the Spilotro era.

"A couple of key figures in Las Vegas organized crime history disappeared, one of them being Jay Vandermark, the former slot manager at the Stardust, and the other being a fellow that I was actually was acquainted with," he said. "His name was Johnny Pappas. He was a friend of my family."

Pappas, from Chicago, disappeared in August 1976 and has never been found.

But Smith said dental records and DNA may prove the lake victims weren't mobsters at all.

"I reminded folks over the last few weeks, you know, look, there were a lot of cheating husbands. You know, there are a lot of folks and barroom bullies and drug dealers who probably deserved that fate," he said. "So, we don't know the answers yet, but certainly those two fellows who disappeared in 1976 within a few months of each other, that had to raise some eyebrows and attract some attention."

Las Vegas Metro Police officials said there is nothing new in their investigation of the Lake Mead bodies.

It has been almost 36 years since Tony Spilotro and his brother were also found buried in a remote cornfield in Indiana; targets of a gangland hit during a mob spat over control of Las Vegas rackets.

They'd been missing only a week and were quickly identified. The lake bodies may take much longer.