The Mob Museum is looking to display its most recent artifact — the infamous barrel with a body discovered this spring at the bottom of Lake Mead. (Without the body, of course.)
The museum has officially asked local police if, once they finish investigating what turns out to be a mob hit, it can take possession.
We had a conversation with a person in leadership at Metro,” Geoff Schumacher, VP of Exhibits & Programs for the Mob Museum, told Casino.org. “They were open to the idea.”
The corroded metal barrel made international headlines in early May after a boater spotted it in a muddy spot once located 100 feet under Lake Mead’s Hemenway Harbor. The barrel was made visible, potentially for the first time, because of the lake’s receding waters caused by the recent drought.
Even two months later, the museum still receives dozens of requests a week from news outlets and documentary crews seeking interviews about the discovery.
Schumacher calls it, “The most interest a Las Vegas story has drawn since we opened 10 years ago.”
Swimming with the Fishes
Police believe the victim was murdered by a gunshot to the head, then stuffed into the barrel, which was then taken several hundred yards out into Lake Mead by boat and dumped. (Schumacher calls these “all signatures of a mob hit.”)
Judging from the clothes still clinging to the body, police date the murder to sometime between the late ’70s and early ’80s. This places it squarely within the vicious reign of mob boss Anthony “Tony the Ant” Spilotro, the inspiration for Joe Pesci’s character in the 1995 Martin Scorsese film, Casino.
Suspected of nearly 20 murders and disappearances from 1975 to 1977, Spilotro was himself found beaten to death and buried in an Indiana cornfield on June 22, 1986.
“I’m not saying that Spilotro is responsible for this. But it’s a natural to think he might be the likely culprit, if it was a mob hit,” Schumacher told Casino.org. He noted that Spilotro was under intense scrutiny from the FBI and Nevada gaming regulators during the time in question.
“The FBI was developing informants and trying to flip people, trying very hard to upend whatever Tony and his crew were doing,” Schumacher said. “This created problems for mobsters, and problems are things that mobsters want to get rid of.”
The Clark County Coroner’s Office estimates it could take up to a year for it to identify the victim using familial DNA.
Schumacher said the odds-on favorite is a veteran Vegas casino host from Chicago. Harry Pappas was linked to the Argent Corporation, a front company that ran the Stardust and was presided over by Lefty Rosenthal, the inspiration for Robert DeNiro’s Casino character.
Pappas disappeared without a trace on Aug. 18, 1976, after telling his wife he was going to meet someone interested in buying his boat.
“By virtue of his owning a boat at Lake Mead, we can reasonably place Harry Pappas at the scene of the dumping grounds around the time the murder may have occurred,” Schumacher said.
Whether the murder victim turns out to be Pappas or someone else, Schumacher promises that the Mob Museum, also known as the National Museum of Organized Crime & Law Enforcement, will show “the utmost sensitivity” to the victim’s family if a decision is eventually made to display the barrel.
“We wouldn’t want to do anything that would unduly create discomfort for anyone,” Schumacher said. “And the fact that we’re expressing an interest in the barrel doesn’t mean we’ve fully thought of everything as it relates to displaying it.
“But, if this is indeed a mob hit, it is indeed a big deal that could answer a question about the history of crime in Las Vegas.”
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