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Climate change is uncovering gruesome mafia secrets in this Las Vegas lake

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A rusted metal barrel, near the location at Lake Mead where a different barrel was found containing a human body
A rusted metal barrel, near the location at Lake Mead where a different barrel was found containing a human body   -   Copyright  PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP
By Hannah Brown  with EBU

Lake Mead is the largest man-made lake in the USA. It is connected to the Colorado river and provides water for over 20 million people across Nevada, California, Arizona and parts of Mexico.

Like many other bodies of water in the world, Lake Mead is shrinking.

Extreme temperatures are drying it up, humans are drawing too much from it and there’s now less snow in winter that melts to replenish it.

But what makes Lake Mead so interesting is its proximity to Las Vegas. Less than 50km away, this city of big lights and big money has a dark underbelly. And where there’s organised crime, stuff usually ends up in the water. Or as the mob would say, sleeping with the fishes.

Lake Mead is shrinking

The water level of Lake Mead is the lowest it has been since the 1930s. In fact it is currently at just 27 per cent capacity.

Stark imagery shows a line on the rocks towering high above the surface of where the water should be. In the space of around 20 years the water level has dropped by up to 50 metres in some areas.

PATRICK T. FALLON / AFP
The while lines shows where the water level used to be at Lake MeadPATRICK T. FALLON / AFP

And as the reservoir has got emptier and emptier it has begun revealing all sorts of things that have been dumped in the water.

“This lake has been a dumping ground for a long time,” says Bill Bradley, a local diver.

Since May 2022 the remains of at least three people have been found on the newly dried up shores of Lake Mead.

Though some think two of the bodies are of people who drowned accidentally, there’s no denying the third had a much more untimely end.

Mafia murders hidden in the lake

On 1 May 2022 a battered, partially buried barrel was discovered, newly uncovered by the retreating water. Inside was the body of a man with a bullet hole in his head. According to investigators, he was thrown into the lake in the late 1970s or early 80s.

Then on 17 August a gun was found on the dried up lake bed near to the barrel site. Las Vegas police says it’s too soon to know if this is the murder weapon.

Local experts think the victim is likely to be one of three men: a cocaine smuggler, a gambling machine cheater or a casino host. The first two are known to have double crossed the mob.

"The mob in the 70s and 80s was much more arrogant. They thought they were in control and nothing could stop them,” says Michael Green, a historian of the Las Vegas mob.

As for the killer, at the Las Vegas Mafia Museum, historians are suspicious of Anthony Spilotro, who is already suspected of 25 murders. He was never convicted and was himself murdered before the end of his last trial.

Both experts and police expect more bodies to appear as the lake’s water level continues to drop.

Watch the video above to learn more about Lake Mead.

Video editor • Hannah Brown