BOULDER CITY, Nev. — Boaters found the body of a man secreted in a barrel on the bottom of Lake Mead Sunday, and Las Vegas police officials say the dead man was likely shot sometime in the 1980s.
A severe drought has unearthed areas of the lake that were previously covered with water. Lake Mead, a reservoir of the Colorado River formed by the Hoover Dam, is the largest water reservoir in the U.S.
According to authorities, boaters spotted the heavily corroded barrel in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area near the Hemenway Harbor boat ramp.
“We heard a woman scream from the side of the beach, and then my husband went over to obviously see what was wrong,” Shawna Hollister told KLAS in Las Vegas. “And then he realized there was a body there in a barrel.”
National Park Service officials said rangers began searching the area around 3 p.m. Sunday. A perimeter was set and federal investigators worked with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department to recover the remains.
The Clark County medical examiner is working to identify the man, who police believe died of a gunshot wound. Las Vegas police Lt. Ray Spencer told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that the man was likely in the lake for at least 30 years.
Spencer explained that the clothes and shoes the man wore when he died were manufactured in the 1970s, the Review-Journal reported. The clothing was sold at Kmart.
Detectives were expanding the time frame for the killing as far back as the mid-1970s, the lieutenant said.
“It’s going to take an extensive amount of work,” Spencer told KLAS of identifying the man. “It’s going to be a very difficult case.”
Spencer said he believes the body may be just the first of multiple that the drought will uncover.
“I would say there is a very good chance as the water level drops that we are going to find additional human remains,” he said. “I think anybody can understand there are probably more bodies that have been dumped in Lake Mead. It’s just a matter of, ‘Are we able to recover those?’”
Hollister expressed sadness over the discovery she witnessed.
“It’s heartbreaking to see that somebody’s loved one is out there, so I mean, I hope they get justice or somebody finds out at least who it is,” she told the news station.
Authorities believe the barrel containing the man’s body was dumped into the lake via a boat. According to KLAS, detectives believe the barrel was intact when it was deposited into the water.
The container would have likely remained undetected if not for dropping water levels.
“The water level has dropped so much over the last 30 to 40 years that, where the person was located, if a person were to drop the barrel in the water and it sinks, you are never going to find it unless the water level drops,” Spencer told the newspaper Monday. “The water level has dropped and made the barrel visible. The barrel did not move. It was not like the barrel washed up.”
Water authorities last week announced that they were pumping water from deeper in Lake Mead than usual due to drought conditions. The Associated Press reported that the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s uppermost intake valve had become visible above the surface of the lake.
Lake Mead provides Las Vegas residents with about 90% of their drinking water.
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