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Clark County coroner reveals new details on 3 bodies found at Lake Mead in CNN interview

Remains discovered at Lake Mead
Human remains found at Lake Mead
Lake Mead Third Body found.jpeg
Remains found at Lake Mead
Posted at 9:50 AM, Aug 03, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-03 21:49:48-04

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — Three sets of human remains found at Lake Mead in recent weeks offer three new mysteries to be solved by the Clark County coroner.

In an interview with CNN, Melanie Rouse revealed new details about the coroner's mission to determine how these three people died.

'Hemenway Harbor Doe'

Of the three sets of remains discovered, only one is currently deemed a homicide investigation. The remains found in a barrel at Hemenway Harbor in May were well-preserved by cool temperatures and freshwater, Rouse told CNN.

Homicide detectives initially estimated the person found in the barrel was killed sometime in the mid-'70s to early 1980s, based on clothes and shoes the victim was wearing. The clothing was so well-preserved that investigators were still able to read the labels, Lt. Jason Johansson with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department's homicide unit told CNN.

It was also immediately obvious that the person's death was the result of a homicide, Johansson told CNN.

"Anytime you have a body in a barrel, clearly there was somebody else involved," he said.

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An apparent gunshot wound to the body was immediately noticed by investigators. Rouse preliminarily ruled the person's cause and manner of death was homicide by gunshot. She told CNN her office is submitting specimens from the remains to try and extract DNA. The FBI is assisting in the case, and any DNA found will also be sent to their investigators, Rouse said.

DNA extraction is not an easy task, Rouse said, since all three bodies could have been submerged in the lake decades ago and were in advanced stages of decomposition when they were found.

Without knowing the victim's identity, investigators are limited in what already would have been a difficult case given the age of witnesses and potential suspects, Johansson told CNN.

"If you think about what the age of who your witnesses or anybody related to this case would be, many of them are getting older every day. And they're at an age where you have to worry, are they even alive? And so I would say that's probably our biggest concern right now," he said.

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The discovery of the Hemenway Harbor Doe's remains led to speculation about possible mob involvement, since the remains were dated to a time when organized crime had a strong foothold in Las Vegas.

Johansson called those theories "mere speculation" and denied that there is any evidence to support them, CNN reported.

"Yes, Vegas does have a history in the past where we had a connection to violent crime, to organized crime back in the '60s, the '70s," he said. "However, right now, there's nothing in this investigation that is directly tying it organized crime."

Calville Bay remains

New information has also come to light regarding a second set of remains discovered at Calville Bay a week after Hemenway Harbor Doe. Rouse told CNN she preliminarily determined the person was between 23 and 37 years old at the time of their death.

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She couldn't confidently determine how the person died, she said. The Calville Bay remains are more skeletal than the other two sets, which both still have organ tissue available for examination, Rouse told CNN. That's because the cooler temperatures underwater cause a body to decompose more slowly, she said.

For now, the cause of death is "undetermined." Rouse said the coroner's office is sending specimens from the remains to be examined for any potential DNA.

Swim Beach remains

The corner's examination of the most recently-discovered set of remains, found at Swim Beach on July 25, is still at an early stage, Rouse told CNN.

Remains found at Lake Mead
Video shared with KTNV by Jesus Catalan shows the third set of human remains discovered near Swim Beach at Lake Mead on July 25, 2022.

What complicates this investigation is that these are only partial remains, unlike the other two. Rouse said she is still processing them to determine what can even be examined, based on their condition.

There was no sign of foul play or suspicious circumstances for the remains found at Calville Bay and Swim Beach, Johansson confirmed to CNN, so police aren't investigating those deaths.

It's possible that the Calville Bay remains and Swim Beach remains belong to people who previously drowned at Lake Mead when water levels were higher, a National Parks Service spokesperson told CNN. Since recovery divers are limited on how deep they can go, some drowning victims don't get recovered, the spokesperson said.

MORE TO DISCOVER: Lowering water levels at Lake Mead could lead to new discoveries

With the lake at its lowest level since it was filled in the 1930s, it's possible more discoveries will surface.

"The lake has drained dramatically over the last 15 years," Homicide Lt. Ray Spencer said in May. "It's likely that we will find additional bodies that have been dumped in Lake Mead" as the water level drops further.