A metal barrel containing the remains of a person killed about four decades ago was found Sunday on the shore of Lake Mead in Nevada, a discovery made possible by an ongoing drought, according to the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police.
“It’s really strange in the sense that if the lake had never receded, we would never have discovered the body,” Police Lieutenant Ray Spencer said by phone Monday.
Lieutenant Spencer said police were trying to identify the victim.
He said in a statement Tuesday that investigators believe the victim died of a gunshot wound.
Lieutenant Spencer declined to share details about the victim, including a possible age or gender.
Based on the clothing and footwear the victim was found in, the researchers believe the person may have been murdered in the mid-1970s or early 1900s. ’80s, said Lieutenant Spencer.
The drop in the lake’s water level could lead to other bodies being found near the lake, Lieutenant Spencer said. National Park Service rangers find one or two bodies at Lake Mead each year, he said, “so it’s not uncommon to work out a murder case at the lake.”
Experts from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, will help them identify the remains and determine the age of the vessel’s metal, Lieutenant Spencer said.
Since the victim was murdered in the 1980s in an area near Las Vegas where mafia-related casinos dominated the Strip, investigators “can’t rule out” that the murder may have been mafia-related, Lieutenant Spencer said. .
“We’re going to look at that potential possibility,” he said.
The vessel was discovered around 3 p.m. Sunday afternoon by people walking along the shoreline of Lake Mead – America’s largest man-made reservoir, located about 40 miles east of Las Vegas and formed by the construction of the Hoover Dam.
They saw the corroded, rusted barrel embedded in mud, Lieutenant Spencer said. As the sun shone on nearby boaters floating in the water, they peeked their heads in and discovered a skeleton.
“We were docking our boat to go home and heard a woman screaming,” Shawna Hollister, a witness to the discovery, told KLAS-TV in Las Vegas. “My husband walked up to him and found the body. His shirt and belt were all we could see about his decomposing bones.”
Photos of the vessel, obtained by KLAS-TV, show it on its side, close to the receding shoreline, with a boat in the background.
Witnesses called the National Park Service, which responded and confirmed that the contents were, in fact, human remains, Lieutenant Spencer said. The National Park Service then called the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, who are investigating.
Investigators also plan to scan missing persons from the 1980s to look for clues, Lieutenant Spencer added.
The investigation could take years as police start “at the beginning,” Lieutenant Spencer said.
“In the 1980s, we didn’t have any of the DNA databases, so there was no DNA collection,” he said.
If researchers can extract DNA samples from the remains, extensive genealogy work will be needed to determine the person’s identity, Lieutenant Spencer said.
According to the Southern Nevada Water Authority, the elevation of Lake Mead has dropped nearly 50 feet since 2000 due to “drought and climate change.” This period is now the driest two decades in 1200 years and is considered a megadrought.
Recent circumstances have led to more significant drops in water levels. On Sunday, the Southern Nevada Water Authority issued mandatory summer water restrictions.
In August, the federal government first announced a water shortage at Lake Mead, cutting off water supplies to the region.