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Crime News Cold Cases

Plummeting Lake Mead Water Levels Reveal Unidentified Body In Barrel

The location of the John Doe would have been hundreds of yards from the shoreline, but was uncovered due to steadily falling water levels.

By Jax Miller
Lake Mead in Nevada where a Body was Found In a Barrel

Steadily falling water levels in Lake Mead made it possible for boaters to come upon a deteriorating barrel containing human remains.

Passersby made the grisly discovery near the Hemenway Harbor boat ramp Sunday afternoon, finding what appeared to be a 50-gallon drum, according to CBS Las Vegas affiliate KLAS-TV. The barrel was so corroded that witnesses could see through the walls of the drum, which held skeletal human remains.

A severe drought has caused an alarming decrease in the lake’s water levels over the years.

“We heard a woman scream from the side of the beach, and then my husband went over to obviously see what was wrong,” said Shawna Hollister, who was on the scene. “And then he realized there was a body in the barrel.”

On Tuesday, Las Vegas Metro Police homicide Lt. Ray Spencer spoke with Oxygen.com, revealing that the unidentified murder victim was a male who died from a gunshot wound.

Spencer said the John Doe’s clothing suggested he was killed and dropped into the lake in the late 1970s or early 1980s.

“Right now, we’re looking at cases dating back to the '70s and the '80s, looking through missing persons reports to see if we could potentially make an identification,” Spencer said. “We can’t really begin the investigation until we know who he is.”

Spencer hopes items found in the barrel will help authorities in that effort.

“Really, we’re at square one, trying to get him identified,” Spencer added.

According to KLAS, the location would have been dozens of feet underwater back in the 1980s. Over the years, workers have had to extend the marina ramp hundreds of feet to reach the water as levels continue to decrease.

The Lake Mead reservoir is on the Colorado River and formed by the Hoover Dam; it's the United States’ largest reservoir by capacity. Supplying water to multiple states, it's been the subject of a water shortage crisis in light of severe climate change, CNN reported in 2021. The drought has increased the demand for water as levels fell to 143 feet below “full” last year, a record low since it was built in the 1930s. Since its construction, it has lost 5.5 trillion gallons of water.

Evaporation and siphoning for human use also account for dropping levels. CNN reported that 90% of Las Vegas’s water comes from Lake Mead.

“The water is descending at a dramatic rate,” Spencer told Oxygen.com. “As the lake water drops, there’s always the possibility that we’re going to uncover more human remains.”

“It’s really scary that something like that has been out here for this length of time,” a witness told KSNV. “Maybe the family of this missing person can have some peace.”

Anyone with information can contact the LVMPD at homicide@lvmpd.com, Crime Stoppers of Nevada, or by calling 702-385-5555.

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