Corpses in Lake Mead | A drought reveals the mob’s grim past in Las Vegas

(Las Vegas) The crooks who are put to sleep with the fish rarely reappear. But the mafia is neither hot nor cold about climate change, and the chronic drought ravaging the Las Vegas area has begun to reveal its darkest secrets.

Posted at 11:23 am

Media Agency France

Lake Mead, very close to the game’s capital and popular with boaters, has dropped to record levels, revealing a pile of previously submerged rubbish and dead bodies.

One of those bodies in particular has caught the attention of underworld experts: the skeleton of a man who was shot in the head, stuffed into a barrel and thrown to the bottom of the lake some 40 years ago.

“The underworld tended to put people in canisters, whether it was to dip them in a lake or throw them in a field,” says Geoff Schumacher, vice president of the Mob Museum, literally the “Museum of the Underworld,” from Vegas.

“That’s the first thing. Second, the person was shot in the head, which is typical of the type of banditry. And third, we know it happened in the late 1970s or early 1980s when the Las Vegas underworld was very prominent,” he explains.


A very unlikely oasis of hotels, casinos, and doomsday has sprung up in the Nevada desert over the past century.

Las Vegas was founded in 1905, but its population didn’t really explode until the 1930s, when work began on the titanic Hoover Dam nearby.

The influx of workers living away from home for long periods created a great demand for entertainment, a gap that was quickly filled by shows, prostitution and gambling.

But where there’s sex, casinos and booze, organized crime is never far away.

“The underworld played a pretty big part in the development of Las Vegas between the 1940s and 1980s,” says Schumacher.

“There was a lot of covert activity that allowed bandits to control the management of casinos, but also to build and develop them, often with funds from the truckers’ union,” he adds.

Las Vegas took advantage of the post-war economic prosperity and became considerably richer thanks to its casinos. And for every dollar that the drunk tourist left on the green carpet, a crime boss from Cleveland, Chicago or New York took his share.

These “levies” have certainly cost the city millions of dollars in lost tax revenue, but they’ve also established its sulfurous reputation and attracted increasing numbers of visitors.

“People wanted to come to Las Vegas and thought: If I’m sitting at the bar, maybe a mafioso is sitting next to me,” explains Geoff Schumacher.


But “the reality is these guys were killers, thieves. If you wanted to double-traverse the underworld in any way, there had to be consequences…”

Las Vegas police are still investigating the body, which was found on a dried up shore of Lake Mead.

But Mr. Schumacher already has ideas about the identity of the victim.

It could be Jay Vandermark, who worked at the StarDust Hotel, then run by Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal on behalf of the Chicago mob.

Rosenthal played by Robert DeNiro in the film casinoHe diverted some of the proceeds to his organization until he caught the attention of authorities.

Vandermark disappeared soon after.

The man in the can could also be a certain Harry Pappas, also connected to the Chicago Mafia, who was responsible for arranging boat trips on Lake Mead for StarDust’s wealthy clients.

“Just before his disappearance, he told his wife he was having lunch with someone who would be interested in buying his boat. We never saw Harry Pappas again,” says Geoff Schumacher.

Lake Mead is currently only a quarter full, the result of a long drought that has been exacerbated by global warming.

The trend doesn’t appear to be stabilizing any time soon, and lower water levels could reveal new mafia-related mysteries.

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