July 28, 2022 — The third body in as many months has been discovered off the shore of Lake Mead in Las Vegas. Lake Mead’s water level is in the midst of plummeting. The first set of human remains emerged in late April encased in a barrel. The second set, two weeks later.
On Monday, skeletal bones were uncovered emersed in mud near Hemenway Harbor’s Swim Beach. The water level at Lake Mead is expected to drop another 20-30 feet in the next 12-18 months.
Authorities in Nevada are examining the possibility that the bodies were victims of former Las Vegas mob boss Tony (The Ant) Spilotro, who ruled the rackets on The Strip from the 1970s until his own gory gangland-connected slaying in June 1986, a brutal double murder depicted in the classic gangster-movie Casino.
Spilotro was sent to Vegas in 1971 by mafia dons in Chicago to look after the Midwest mob’s investments in the city’s hotel and gaming industry. Federal law enforcement credits Spilotro and his so-called “Hole In The Wall Gang” with more than two dozen killings. The three names getting the most glims from investigators as potential victims tied to the recently discovered remains are missing Chicago mob associates Jay Vandermark, John (Johnny Pappas) Panagiotakos and Billy (Bahama) Crespo.
Vandermark and Johnny Pappas both went missing in the same few weeks in August 1976. Crespo disappeared in the summer of 1983. Vandermark’s drug addled son was killed less than a year later. Spilotro’s blood-stained reign was dramatized in 1995’s Casino, with Oscar-winner Joe Pesci playing a memorable character based on Tony the Ant and another character inspired by Vandermark.
According to federal court records, Vandermark was placed in charge of the count rooms at four separate mob-owned casinos and tasked with overseeing the “skim. He disappeared on August 1, 1976 while being sought for questioning by the FBI.
The feds had raided the casinos he was running count rooms in three months earlier. Hours after the raid, Vandermark bolted town for Arizona, per Clark County Sheriffs Department records. The last public sighting of Vandermark was in Phoenix with members of Spilotro’s Arizona crew. Per multiple FBI informants, Vandermark’s killing was to prevent him from giving up the mob’s casino-skimming racket to save himself and his drug-addled son. Vandermark’s name is changed to John Nance in the Casino script.
Johnny Pappas managed a Teamster-funded, mafia-owned resort on Lake Mead. He vanished on the night of August 18, 1976 on his way to a meeting at Jo Jo’s Restaurant to discuss selling his boat. Pappas’ abandoned car was found in the parking structure attached to Circus Circus casino on August 21. Las Vegas Police Department records linked the Windy City transplant to infamous Outfit fixer Gus (Slim) Alex.
From almost the day he landed in Las Vegas in the 1960s, Pappas was deeply involved in Nevada Democratic Party politics. In the 1970s, Pappas was employed at several mob-controlled casino-hotels. By 1974, he was given the plum job of running the Echo Bay Resort.
Crespo got busted with a shipment of cocaine on a flight going from Miami to Las Vegas. He was acting as a courier for mob skim money being invested into drug deals in South Florida. At the time of his disappearance, Crespo was scheduled to testify against Chicago mafia associates in a casino-rip off case.
Billy Crespo was busted in November 1982 at McCarran Airport in Las Vegas deplaning with $400,000 in cocaine stashed in a suitcase. His federal grand jury testimony led to the indictment of ten conspirators in a drug and money-laundering scheme, including Chicago mob associate Victor Greger. When Crespo went missing in June 1983, the prosecutor’s case fell apart and the charges against Greger and six co-defendants were dropped. Greger was found guilty of money laundering and extortion in another case tied to his work at a mobbed-up gambling palace on The Strip.