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A closer look at ‘Buffalo Jim’s’ death reveals little to support rumors

With mystery and conspiracy and a fair amount of grit swirling in the evening wind, I drove to the Motel 6 at 4125 Boulder Highway on Wednesday night to take a closer look at the place James "Buffalo Jim" Barrier died.

That is, if you believe he died there and wasn't transported there by nefarious persons unknown. That and a dozen other scenarios have been the subject of open speculation, mostly on that post-modern party line, the Internet.

Barrier, the all-Vegas character and constant critic of Crazy Horse Too topless mogul Rick Rizzolo, was found dead in Room 105 this past Sunday by the motel's housekeepers. He was 55. Because he'd had a number of disputes with Rizzolo and his family, and because of Rizzolo's rather eclectic circle of friends and employees, speculation was immediately sparked that Barrier was the victim of a cleverly planned mob rubout.

If he had to die, I can imagine big Jim wanting to be known as the guy who fought gangsters and left this world under mysterious circumstances in the fashion of the late newspaperman Ned Day. But I'm not yet convinced anything dark and mysterious happened. The emergence of a breakthrough witness or the presence of a problematic toxicology test would change my mind, but until then count me as a skeptic.

So is one of Rizzolo's longtime associates, who laughed at the thought.

"I think people are giving those people too much credit," the associate says. "I'd say it's extremely unlikely."

It would've had to have been carefully orchestrated. When Metro officers arrived at the scene on Sunday they suspected Barrier, the owner of the Auto and Marine Electric repair shop, had died of natural causes.

On Monday morning, Metro homicide wasn't aware of Barrier's death. After the press and the family started asking questions, police detectives began asking a few themselves. I'm not sure, but I'll wager they didn't find anything that gave them professional pause.

The cops have been vilified for not acting more swiftly. Barrier had been the subject of death threats and had received letters warning him about being set up for a fatal fall. He also alleged Rizzolo's father, Bart, had attempted to run him over in the parking lot of the Industrial Road club.

Just because you died of natural causes doesn't mean people didn't want you dead. For Barrier's friend and fellow Rizzolo antagonist Steve Miller, and a small legion of loyal Internet readers, it's too much of a coincidence. Miller has focused on what he's described as bumbling police work as well as the apparently mysterious disappearance of Barrier's Rolls-Royce from the motel parking lot, along with other inconsistencies, to reach the conclusion that his pal was murdered.

I wanted to take a closer look at the layout of the motel, so I drove there and toured the property.

The Motel 6 sits on a narrow piece of real estate next to Boulder Station, not far from Danny's Slot Country. Room 105 is in the front of the building, and there aren't many parking spaces near the door.

I asked the friendly clerk what he remembered. He was on duty when the bearded, long-haired Barrier checked in. Although he didn't see him, his partner told him she helped Barrier rent a room for two on Saturday evening. Buffalo Jim was easy to identify. She was absolutely certain it was him, the clerk said.

What about the disappearing Rolls?

"It was parked around the side of the building, over there," the clerk said, pointing to a place not visible from the highway or Room 105. "I saw it myself."

So Barrier, a single father of four with a history on the party circuit, checked into the motel himself. He parked his easily identifiable vehicle in an out-of-the-way space at a local motel.

One more thing. The motel has a security guard on duty. The guard spends most of the evening around the front of the building and, the clerk told me, reported no peculiar movement or problems around Room 105.

It doesn't mean nothing nefarious happened. It doesn't mean police failed to ask all the right questions, or that Barrier wasn't very cleverly murdered.

At this point, it probably won't even help calm the biting winds of conspiracy.

John L. Smith's column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0295.

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