Answers sought in death of icon

The death earlier this year of iconic Las Vegas figure James “Buffalo Jim” Barrier was ruled accidental, but family members continue to contend that the colorful mechanic was murdered.

On Friday, Barrier’s daughter Jennifer Barrier said the family is requesting that authorities exhume the body for further testing. She has asked Las Vegas police about testing Barrier’s hair to determine any history of drug use. The Clark County coroner in May ruled that the man’s heart failed while he was using cocaine, but Jennifer Barrier denies that her father took drugs.

“I don’t want to exhume my dad. I want to leave him alone,” she said. “I have to show them (police) they’re wrong. I have to get to the bottom of this.”

Bill Cassell, a public information officer for Las Vegas police, said Friday he was unaware of the family’s request.

“That would be handled by homicide detectives,” he said. “If they made such a request, they would evaluate it and take the appropriate action.”

The department’s homicide division and the county coroner’s office were closed Friday, and their representatives could not be reached for comment.

The large-framed, long-haired former professional wrestler was found dead in April inside a Motel 6 room at 4125 S. Boulder Highway, near East Desert Inn Road. In May, Clark County Coroner Mike Murphy announced that Barrier suffered from dilated cardiomyopathy, a condition in which heart muscles become inflamed.

Murphy said Barrier’s death was ruled accidental because cocaine was found in his system. Barrier’s death otherwise would have been considered to be due to natural causes.

Barrier, 55, checked into the motel room alone on April 5 and was found dead by a motel cleaning woman the next day. Police spoke with a woman who said she was with Barrier inside the motel room when he had a seizure. She then left the motel, according to police.

Jennifer Barrier does not believe her father used cocaine. Further fueling her suspicions is the amount of cocaine found in his system and that he died soon after checking into the room. She also wonders why her father appears tired on footage captured by the motel lobby security camera when cocaine is a stimulant.

She also has asked doctors about how her father could have taken in a large amount of cocaine in a short period of time, with quantities detected in brain tissue but only a small amount having metabolized.

“There are only two ways: snuffing somebody” — forcing inhalation — “or injecting them,” she said.

“I think this was a set up.”

The family has publicly pointed fingers at Rick Rizzolo, former owner of the Crazy Horse Too, which was located next door to Buffalo Jim’s Auto & Marine Electric at 2478 Industrial Road, near East Sahara Avenue. The two had a long-standing feud and Barrier had received threats in the months leading up to his death. Authorities have not linked Rizzolo to the death.

Jennifer Barrier, who has taken on an investigation of her own by interviewing those who have offered tips about her father’s death, said testing his hair should determine his drug history dating back several years.

“My dad was not an avid cocaine or drug user,” she said. “My dad didn’t do drugs, and I know that to be a fact. His moods were never up and down.”

Last week, the Clark County coroner’s office exhumed the body of a 14-month-old Kierra Harrison, who had been dead for more than a decade. Prosecutors are attempting to show that she was killed by a day care worker.

In 2006, authorities exhumed the body of Charles Augustine to determine whether he was killed while under the care of a critical care nurse, Chaz Higgs. At the time, Higgs was accused of killing his wife, former state Controller Kathy Augustine, who was married to Charles at the time of his death. Authorities determined that Charles died of natural causes.

Contact reporter Adrienne Packer at or 702-384-8710.

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