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The man buried in the barrel was somebody’s son. Who is he, and who killed him?

Who is the guy who was shot in the head, buried in a barrel, and dumped in Lake Mead, Nevada? His remains were found in May 2022 when a drought lowered the lake’s shoreline to its lowest levels since the 1930s.

Based on the style of clothing he was wearing, authorities think he was probably killed in the late 70’s to early 80’s, when the mob still had a strong presence in Las Vegas.

His clothing, they said, was of the discount variety, possibly purchased at a place like Kmart. Most of the “Wise Guys” I met when I was a reporter in Vegas during that era, dressed more expensively than that – not tastefully, mind you – but flashier. And they didn’t shop at big box discount stores unless, well, maybe they were buying wrenches, baseball bats, bullets, and other tools of their trade.

When the barrel was opened, there was immediate speculation it was some sort of mob hit. Fast fingers pointed to Tony “The Ant” Spilotro, said to have been the Chicago mob’s main man in Vegas during that era. Tony’s not here to tell us if this was a hit he ordered. He and his brother Michael were themselves murdered by the mob, beaten to the point where most of their bones were broken, and they were buried together in a deep grave on a farm in Indiana.

In an article last year, respected Nevada journalist John L. Smith raised a strong possibility the Lake Mead victim is a guy named Johnny Pappas, a Chicago native and casino host who managed a Lake Mead resort owned by the once mob-connected Argent Corporation. Pappas was reported missing by his wife in the mid-1970’s, and never found.

But the condition of the victim’s body makes identification by DNA virtually impossible. There’s been no confession, and no tangible tips provided by protected witnesses in the 18 months since the gruesome discovery. Law enforcement has so little to go on, they released an artist’s rendering this week, hoping someone will recognize him and come forward.

If Smith is right, part of this mystery should be solved pretty quickly – someone who knew Pappas will recognize him. Then it might make it easier to find out who killed him, and why.

The mob’s dirty work has long been and long will be glamorized in movies, articles, and coffee shop conversations. But one thing we should all keep in mind, is that this guy is someone’s son. Someone gave birth to him, probably in the 1950’s, and maybe had high hopes for him. His mom, whoever and wherever she is, has a right to know.

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