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Lake Mead Body in Barrel Could Be Casino Veteran, Say Mob Experts

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Posted on: May 19, 2022, 09:01h. 

Last updated on: May 19, 2022, 09:34h.

The body in a barrel found in the mud of a receding Lake Mead several weeks ago could be that of a Las Vegas casino veteran named Johnny Pappas, according to two Mob experts.

Lake Mead body
Ruthless mobster Tony “The Ant” Spilotro in court in 1983. Spilotro was the Chicago Outfit’s man in Las Vegas and the inspiration of Joe Pesci’s character in Casino.

Writing in The Daily Mail Wednesday, Jeff Burbank and Geoff Schumacher of Las Vegas’ Mob Museum, said the grisly discovery bore all the hallmarks of a Mob hit.

Investigators say the body was likely placed in the barrel in the mid-to-late 1970s, based on the victim’s clothing and shoes. The victim was shot in the head, execution-style, possibly on the orders of vicious Mob enforcer Anthony “Tony the Ant” Spilotro, who oversaw casino operations for the Chicago Outfit at the time.

Joe Pesci’s character in the film Casino was based on Spilotro.

The Case for Johnny Pappas

Pappas was a Chicago native with Mob connections who worked his way up in the casino industry with stints at the Las Vegas Hilton and Caesars Palace casinos. At the time of his disappearance, in August 1976, he managed Lake Mead’s Echo Bay Resort, according to veteran Las Vegas journalist John L. Smith.

Echo Bay was a hotel on the Lake that was owned by the Argent Corporation, which also had four casinos on the Strip and was a front for the Mob.

Not only did Pappas work on Lake Mead, but he also owned a boat that was docked on the lake. On the day of his disappearance, he told his wife he was going to meet someone who was interested in buying his boat. He was never seen again.

“Did the Outfit fear that Pappas might have something to reveal about the then-unfolding details about skimming at the Argent casinos? If so, they had a motive to rub him out,” Burbank and Schumacher speculate. “… After he was theoretically killed and shoved into a barrel, it wouldn’t have taken much to dump his body, perhaps using his own vessel.”

Jay Vandermark and William Crespo

Another candidate is George ‘Jay’ Vandermark, a former slot machine cheater who was hired to oversee the slot skimming operation at the Argent-controlled Stardust. Vandemark double-crossed the Mob and went on the run.

But according to the testimony of former Mafia hitman turned government witness Nick Calabrese, the Mob caught up with Vandermark at a hotel in Phoenix in 1976 and his body is buried in the Arizona desert.

Then there’s William Crespo, a drug runner who was caught flying into Las Vegas with $400,000 worth of cocaine and agreed to become a government witness. Crespo vanished shortly before he was due to testify against seven individuals with alleged links to organized crime, including former Argent executive Victor Greger.

But the date of Crespo’s disappearance, in June 1983, makes it less likely that he’s the man in the barrel.

More Secrets in Lake Mead?

Las Vegas police said in early May they were working to identify the victim, and the Clark County Coroner’s Office would make a statement in due course.

Thanks to climate change, the level of the lake has receded dramatically over the past 15 years. Whoever threw the barrel in the lake likely dumped it hundreds of yards from the shore, unaware it would one day be exposed.

Metropolitan Police Homicide Lieutenant Ray Spencer said in a press conference May 3 he expected to find more bodies as the water level recedes further and the lake yields more mysteries.

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