unsolved mysteries

The Bodies Keep Piling Up at Lake Mead

The Hemenway beach near the boat ramp at the marina on Lake Mead in mid-July. Photo: George Rose/Getty Images

As the water level continues to fall at Lake Mead amid the historic climate-change-fueled drought out West, the number of gruesome mysteries at America’s largest man-made reservoir continues to rise. On Saturday, another human skeleton was discovered at the Lake Mead Recreation Area near Las Vegas — the fourth set of human remains uncovered by the receding waterline there since May.

National Park Service rangers received a call late Saturday morning reporting the discovery of remains at Swim Beach, which is on the southwestern end of the reservoir on the Nevada side and right next to where a set of partial human remains was found in late July. Park Service rangers and a Las Vegas Metro Police dive team later set up a perimeter and began the recovery process. The identity of the person, or how or when they died, is not yet clear. The National Park Service said an investigation is underway, and it will be up to the Clark County Medical Examiner’s office to determine the cause of death.

Thus far, none of the remains found at Lake Mead this year have been identified, nor their sex determined, on account of how much decomposition had occurred. And the causes and timeframes of death remain a mystery for all but the one discovered at Hemenway Harbor on May 1. That person, now called Hemenway Harbor Doe, was undoubtedly the victim of a homicide, since their body was found stuffed inside a steel barrel with clear evidence of a gunshot wound. “Anytime you have a body in a barrel, clearly there was somebody else involved,” Metro police Lieutenant Jason Johansson later told CNN. The person’s clothes were very well preserved, to the point that investigators could still read the labels, and their clothing and shoes indicated they died sometime between the mid 1970s and early 1980s. Investigators are still attempting to extract DNA from those remains to hand off to the FBI. Mob-minded amateur sleuths have also been trying to crack the case.

Another set of remains was discovered at Callville Bay on May 7 by a pair of paddle boarders. There was very little tissue left on that skeleton, but the Clark County coroner’s office has been able to preliminarily rule that the person was between 23 and 37 years old when they died. The cause and timeframe of their death is not yet clear, and the coroner’s office has also sent out specimens from those remains for attempted DNA extraction.

The third body, discovered July 25 at Swim Beach, consisted of only partial remains, and they are still being examined by the coroner’s office.

Metro police are not investigating either the second or third set of remains, since, unlike the first body, there was no reason to suspect they died as a result of foul play. It’s not clear what investigators will learn about the fourth body. One possible explanation, a National Park Service spokesperson told CNN, was that the three latest sets of remains belonged to people who had drowned in Lake Mead when water levels were much higher.

Either way, more sets of human remains will likely turn up as the water level at Lake Mead continues to fall to historic lows.

The Bodies Keep Piling Up at Lake Mead