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How long could it take to identify Lake Mead remains? Former Clark County coroner shares expertise

Posted at 8:49 PM, May 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-19 17:31:09-04

(KTNV) — Seventeen days ago, a body was found inside a barrel at Lake Mead, near Hemenway Harbor.

Investigators believe the victim was murdered sometime in the 1970s or '80s, but mystery still surrounds the discovery.

As Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department officers continue to investigate, the "Vegas Justice League" has pledged money to help identify these remains.

Days later, a second set of human remains were located at Callville Bay. Police believe that the victim was not murdered.

Experts say more discoveries at the lake are likely as water levels continue receding.

Former coroner Mike Murphy says the probability of finding more bodies at Lake Mead is high and lower lake levels are uncovering objects long forgotten.

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These days, Murphy spends his days on Lake Mead with family and friends. But he's best known for helping solve some of the biggest mysteries in Southern Nevada, working as a coroner.

Over his tenure, Murphy says bodies in barrels weren’t that uncommon — however, he says generally, they are found on dry land.

Murphy says when the barrel is sealed, the bodies continue to decompose.

Remains buried for decades, hundreds of feet below the surface, makes identification even more difficult.

"They're going to be looking at the bones, they're going to be looking at the teeth, the DNA," Murphy said. "They're going to look at a variety of things, and all of those things are all little pieces of the puzzle that they drop into place."

That puzzle may take years to solve, Murphy said.

"Timing is everything. You have to put all this information together," Murphy said.

The former coroner is optimistic that the mystery of this John Doe will eventually be solved.

"It's not going to be tomorrow; it's not going to be overnight, but I do believe it's going to happen," he said. "I'm a firm believer it will happen."

As far as the body found at Callville Bay, Murphy says, it seems likely that it was an accident or even a drowning.

Full coverage of the recent events at Lake Mead can be found at ktnv.com/lakemeadmystery.