September 5, 2022 — According to experts and Clark County officials, there could be literally “hundreds” of bodies found on the banks of Lake Mead near Las Vegas in the coming years due to water levels in the area drastically dropping and not expecting to cease any time soon. Five sets of human remains have been discovered since May. One has been identified as a drowned boater from 2002.
During the brutal mob reign of Tony (The Ant) Spilotro on the Vegas Strip in the 1970s and 1980s, several of his associates disappeared and were suspect to have been murdered at his behest. Five of those missing person-turned-homicide cases are being probed for connections to the bodies found off Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the United States surrounded by a National Park which flows into the Colorado River, per sources in law enforcement.
Spilotro’s maniacal antics were dramatized in the gangster-movie classic Casino in 1995, with Oscar-winner Joe Pesci famously playing a character based on Tony the Ant. Lake Mead’s water level is expected to drop another three feet by the end of next year.
The first body was found encased in a muddy barrel on May 1. The second one emerged on May 10. The skeletal parade subsided for a couple months and then picked up again on July 26 when bones were found by a public swim park in Hemenway Harbor. On August 5, another set of remains were found around Hemenway Harbor and on August 15, the most recent body popped up close to the place the previous pair were unearthed.
Las Vegas was once a gangster’s paradise and is a city with a trove of unsolved mob-related disappearances and murders linked to the old Spilotro regime. Spilotro was sent to Vegas in 1971 by mafia bosses in Chicago to look after the mob’s financial interests in the casino and hotel industry. He was heinously slain for his increasingly insubordinate behavior in June 1986, beaten, stomped and strangled to death in the basement of a Chicago residence in a macabre double-killing (his baby brother Michael was also murdered) depicted in Casino.
Police in Las Vegas credited Spilotro and his so-called “Hole In The Wall Gang” with more than two dozen killings in their 15 years rampaging through the desert sun with impunity. At least four members of Spilotro’s crew went missing between 1976 and 1983, including Bobby Shaw, Jay Vandermark, John (Johnny Pappas) Panagiotakos and William (Billy Bahama) Crespo. The FBI is actively investigating those missing person cases and attempting to link them to the bodies being found in or near Lake Mead in recent months. Investigators are also reexamining into the case of an unnamed Vegas cocktail waitress that vanished in 1981 in the days after drawing Spilotro’s ire for spilling a drink on a member of his party in the VIP section of the chic disco Jubilation.
FBI techs took DNA samples from Bobby Shaw’s relatives in May, suspecting he might be the body in the barrel. Shaw was last seen alive in the spring of 1977 in the Los Angeles area departing for Las Vegas. He was a drug dealer and thief that had met Spilotro through Tony the Ant’s L.A. lieutenant Joey Hansen, a seasoned mob burglar and hit man, who like Spilotro, was originally from Chicago. Hansen died of cancer in 2000.
Vandermark and Panagiotakos both went missing in the same three-week period in the late summer of 1976 in the wake of a series of FBI and IRS raids of casinos on the Strip that fell under Spilotro’s responsibilities to maintain order at for the mob. 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” (the cash stolen directly from the casino and transported to mob shot callers in the Midwest). He disappeared on August 1, 1976 while being sought for questioning by the FBI. The last public sighting of Vandermark was in Phoenix with members of Spilotro’s Arizona crew.
“Johnny Pappas” Panagiotakos came to Las Vegas from Chicago and managed the mob-controlled Echo Bay Resort resting on the shores of 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 Lincoln Continental was found in the parking structure attached to Circus Circus casino.
“Billy Bahama” Crespo got busted with a shipment of cocaine on a flight going from Miami to Las Vegas in November 1982. He was acting as a courier for Chicago mob-skim money being invested into drug deals in South Florida, per his grand jury testimony. Crespo was on the verge of testifying against fellow Chicago mafia associates when he disappeared in June 1983.
Lake Mead isn’t unfamiliar with tragedy beyond mobsters sent sleeping with the wishes. Records indicate there have been more than 300 drownings in the body of water reported since its creation in the 1930s in the construction of the Hoover Damn.