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It ‘defies all reason and logic’: Family wants death of ‘Buffalo Jim’ reinvestigated

Updated December 5, 2022 - 1:37 pm

They want their dad’s death properly investigated. They argue that it never was, despite Las Vegas police maintaining that it wasn’t a homicide.

Their lawyer says this “defies all logic and reason,” given the “utterly mind-boggling” circumstances surrounding the death, which came amid a yearslong beef with the former owner of a now-closed Las Vegas strip club.

Jennifer Barrier, 39, and Jerica Barrier, 30, and the rest of their family have been mourning the loss of their colorful father who wore a scraggly beard, James “Buffalo Jim” Barrier, since he was found dead in a Boulder Highway Motel 6 in April 2008.

They also have been trying to get anyone who will listen, from police to county and state prosecutors to federal investigators, to reinvestigate the man’s death because they think he was murdered.

So far, nobody has been willing to take them up on it.

They have even brought their plight to the streaming era of true crime TV shows. In October, Netflix’s “Unsolved Mysteries” released an episode about their efforts called “Death in a Vegas Motel.”

“The ultimate goal is to reopen the case,” Jennifer Barrier said.

She added that the “Unsolved Mysteries” episode has generated new tips, which she declined to describe because the family was still trying to determine their credibility.

The family’s Las Vegas attorney, Gus Flangas, also is helping with the push for a reopened probe by firing off a strongly worded letter to the Clark County district attorney’s office and the Nevada attorney general’s office.

“We have sufficient evidence that there was potentially foul play,” Jennifer Barrier said.

District Attorney Steve Wolfson said in an interview that while Flangas is an aggressive attorney who is advocating for his clients, he is barking up the wrong tree. Wolfson said he told Flangas it’s up to the Metropolitan Police Department to investigate. If police were to find that a possible crime had occurred, his office then would decide whether it should be prosecuted.

“I thoroughly reviewed the letter,” Wolfson said in an interview. “I called Mr. Flangas and told him that we do not investigate cases. We rely on law enforcement agencies to conduct investigations.”

Wolfson, who took office in 2014, well after Barrier’s death, said he had no opinion on the contents of the letter nor the assertion that there had been a cover-up.

John Sadler, spokesman for the Nevada attorney general’s office, also had no comment on the letter.

For its part, Metro was blunt.

“The investigation into the death of James Barrier is closed,” a police spokesperson wrote in an email. “The investigation determined it was not a homicide.”

Feud with strip club owner

Buffalo Jim was a well-known local character who also had a wrestling show on cable TV. His sudden death in a motel room at age 55 happened against the backdrop of a well-publicized feud with another colorful, although much more infamous local character, Frederick “Rick” Rizzolo.

Both men owned businesses on a corner of Industrial Road near a Sahara Avenue overpass. Barrier owned an auto repair shop called Allstate Auto Marine, which was directly attached to the much larger Crazy Horse Too Gentlemen’s Club, a place so notorious in Vegas lore that it even has its own lengthy Wikipedia page to document its history.

Rizzolo owned that strip club. Rizzolo also was Barrier’s landlord.

The history of the men’s beef is long. Flangas’ letter outlines their dispute. Because Rizzolo wanted to expand the strip club, he tried to evict Barrier in the late ’90s. Barrier refused to leave, and a court ruled that Rizzolo didn’t have grounds for eviction.

According to Flangas’ letter, Rizzolo and his Crazy Horse Too associates then mounted a campaign of intimidation and harassment.

The Barrier daughters said their dad also got death threats via phone calls and letters. Barrier’s customers’ cars and his shop were vandalized. Phony fire zone signs were put up outside Barrier’s shop, and his customer’s cars were threatened with towing, and actually towed. Foul-smelling dumpsters from the strip club were parked right behind the auto shop’s back door.

All of this was playing out while Barrier, who also had launched a lawsuit against the strip club, was cooperating with the FBI and other law enforcement agencies in their investigations into Rizzolo and the strip club.

Rizzolo ultimately pleaded guilty to tax evasion and had to divest his ownership stake in the club in 2006.

His attorney at the time, Tony Sgro, professed Rizzolo’s innocence: “This is a deal an innocent man has to take,” Sgro said.

Rizzolo spent 10 months in federal prison. A day after his April 4, 2008, release from house arrest at the end of his prison term, Flangas says in the “Unsolved Mysteries” episode, Barrier died in the Boulder Highway Motel 6 room.

“Something’s up,” Flangas says in the show.

Efforts to reach Rizzolo for comment were unsuccessful. He also declined to comment for the “Unsolved Mysteries” episode.

In 2017, Rizzolo was sentenced to two more years in prison for tax evasion.

In a 2003 interview with the Review-Journal, Rizzolo said that while mob associate Joey Cusumano was his best friend, they had no business relationship. Cusumano was a close associate of slain Las Vegas mobster Anthony Spilotro.

Autopsy findings

An autopsy report indicated that Barrier’s heart failed while he was using cocaine, according to a Review-Journal story from the time. The Clark County coroner’s office found that Barrier suffered from dilated cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the heart muscles become inflamed.

The room where Barrier’s body was found was never considered a crime scene, the Review-Journal reported.

It “defies all reason and logic” that a full investigation never happened, Flangas’ letter says.

Metro didn’t respond to specific questions about the family’s assertion that police never undertook a full investigation or that it reeked of a cover-up.

The letter says Barrier checked into the motel with a woman who would later give “several blatant inconsistencies” about his death. The letter also alleges that somebody accessed Barrier’s Motel 6 room seven minutes before he did. Flangas’ letter said the motel had no record of staff going into the room.

Relatives wonder if the woman was used as a way to entrap Barrier, who then was killed in the room. Maybe he was somehow forced to ingest the cocaine, Jennifer Barrier wonders, a theory she has long espoused. Whatever happened, they’re not convinced he died accidentally.

The known facts “strongly suggest he was murdered,” Flangas’ letter states.

“We were sitting around in the dining room table, and my sisters looked at me and said, ‘Jennifer, he was set up. What are we going to do? Is anything going to be done?’” Jennifer Barrier says in the “Unsolved Mysteries” episode.

On a recent weeknight, two of Barrier’s daughters stood in front of the now-defunct, derelict property. Their father’s auto repair shop closed after he died. The giant husk of a strip club, also closed, now bears scars from a series of past fires believed to have been started by homeless people living on the premises. Both Jennifer, who now lives in Arizona, and Jerica, of Las Vegas, said they felt sad to be back.

“To have lost him in such suspicious and strange circumstances really, really hurt our family, and it really hurts me still today,” Jerica Barrier said.

Contact Brett Clarkson at bclarkson@reviewjournal.com or 561-324-6421. Follow @BrettClarkson_ on Twitter.

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