As the largest reservoir in the country has dipped to record low levels among worsening droughtthe receding waters of Lake Mead revealed a grim series of finds – several sets of human remains.
They have all been spotted since May, at any time of the day in three parts of the sprawling lake’s western corner, along a stretch of the lakeshore less than an hour from Las Vegas.
But almost everything else about them is a mystery. One case is being investigated as a homicide; the manner and cause of death in the others are unknown.
“In an ideal world, the climate turns around, all the waters rise, and we don’t see them again,” Michael Green, a history professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said of the remains. “But the odds are not good.”
The first discovery was perhaps the most disturbing. The National Park Service, which operates Lake Mead National Recreation Area, said in a news release that around 3 p.m. rangers found a barrel containing human remains in Hemenway Harbor, a section of the lake where a local family claims to operate the largest private marina in the United States.
Of the six boat ramps at Lake Mead, it is also the last to remain open as water levels drop dramatically. Federal data shows the 270-square-mile reservoir — which straddles the Nevada-Arizona border and supplies water to 40 million people — at 27% capacity.
dive saw the rivers “become mineralized”, sunken ships emerge and the shores recede.
The barrel was discovered in the mud along a shoreline that appeared to have been submerged before, NBC affiliate KSNV of Las Vegas reported.
Inside what a witness described to the station as a 50-gallon barrel was a person who appeared to have died of a gunshot wound in the 1970s or 1980s – an estimate by police department investigators Metropolitan Las Vegas was developed based on the person’s clothing and apparel. shoes.
Although the tank was not known as a place where organized crime members disposed of bodies, some local experts said the murder bears the hallmarks of an execution by mob.
“A barrel bears the signature of a crowd hit,” Geoff Schumacher, vice president of the Mob Museum in downtown Las Vegas, told The Associated Press. “Shoving a body into a barrel. Sometimes they would throw it in the water.”
What to know about the Lake Mead water crisis
Six days later, at 2 p.m., a park person reported finding remains on the northwest side of the lake in Callville Bay, the park service said.
The agency described the remains as skeletal. Dan Kulin, a spokesman for Clark County, said in an email they were from a man believed to be between 23 and 38 years old.
No further details were available on the find, but Kulin said the coroner’s office was working to identify the man and other remains through DNA analysis, although he warned the quality of the sample could be compromised by environmental conditions and time.
Officials were also comparing their findings to information about park visitors who have gone missing over the years, he said.
It was unclear how many remains might belong to people who drowned in the recreation area. According to data obtained through a public records request, 101 people drowned in Lake Mead between 2007 and last year, a number that exceeded any other cause of death in the park.
The National Park Service did not respond to requests for comment.
July 25, August 6
A third discovery came nearly two months later. Park visitors alerted authorities on the afternoon of July 25 to human remains at Boulder Beach, a popular stretch of shoreline known for swimming, boating and picnicking.
Kulin described the remains as “partial”.
On the morning of Saturday August 6, skeletal remains were found in the same area, he said, and the coroner’s office is trying to determine if the two finds are related to the same person.
After watching a Las Vegas police dive team search the waters of the lake that Saturday, a local fisherman, Freddy Ramos, told NBC affiliate KSNV of Las Vegas that he was thinking of “giving up the lake”.
“I have no fish, and everywhere I go there are dead bodies,” he told the station.
Nine days later, on a Monday evening, more skeletal remains were found on the same beach, the park service said. The police dive team was again dispatched to help recover the remains, which a visitor found in the water, and park officials contacted the coroner’s officer.
No other details were available, Kulin said, except that the remains were found in the water.
Thursday afternoon, the authorities said they had been alerted to another disturbing discovery – a gun located near where the body had been found in the barrel.
On Twitter, Las Vegas police said a reporter discovered the weapon. Firearms are often found by the lake, a police spokesman said, and it was unclear whether the weapon was linked to the remains found on May 1.