Updated May 2, 2022 - 3:44 pm
The continuing drop in Lake Mead’s water level enabled a boater to make a gruesome discovery this weekend: a decades-old homicide.
Police said Monday that a body found in a barrel at Lake Mead National Recreational Area Sunday may have been dumped in the lake in the 1980s.
“We are going to try to reach out to UNLV to have a scientist kind of give us an estimate regarding the corrosion of the barrel, looking at the marine life, to solidify a timeline,” Las Vegas police Lt. Ray Spencer said Monday morning.
National Park Service rangers searched an area near Hemenway Harbor at 3 p.m. Sunday after a witness reported a barrel containing human remains, the park service said in a statement. Las Vegas police were then called to the scene.
“There was a person out at the lake and noticed a barrel that was stuck in the mud,” Spencer said.
Witness Shawna Hollister was boating on the lake when the grisly discovery was made.
“We were loading up the boat and a woman actually saw it first and screamed,” Hollister said in a message to a reporter. “So my husband went to check it out and he confirmed it was a body.”
Spencer said the case is obviously a homicide.
“We are in the process of trying to identify the victim,” Spencer said, adding the preliminary estimate is that the barrel was dumped in the lake roughly 40 years ago.
The find was only made possible by Lake Mead’s rapidly declining lake levels. Spencer said it is possible the barrel was dumped in the lake from a boat.
“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 said. “The water level has dropped and made the barrel visible. The barrel did not move….It was not like the barrel washed up.”
Lake Mead reached its high-water mark in July 1983, at 1,225 feet above sea level. On Friday, the level was 1,055 feet — about 30 percent full. Some of the steepest cliffs bordering the lake show 170 feet of white mineral “bathtub ring.”
Spencer said police are scouring through old missing persons reports as the Clark County coroner’s office works to identify the remains.
“We do have some items that were recovered inside the barrel,” Spencer said. “We are going to see if we can make a link in terms of identification. It is a very uphill battle in trying to get the victim identified and solve the case.”