Las Vegas, Sin City, The City of Lights, has seen it fair share of crimes in the past century. From the legend of Native American killer Queho to the killing of mob henchman, here are the most famous Las Vegas crimes
The Legend of Queho
Queho was a notorious Native American Las Vegas outlaw who terrorized the region in the early 1900s. Queho has been implicated in at least six murders, beginning with the slaying of his half-brother. After the murder of the wife of an El Dorado Canyon miner, Las Vegas authorities were determined to bring in Queho, dead or alive. After years of eluding capture, Queho’s remains were discovered in a cave. Today, Queho and his crimes are Las Vegas legends.
Murder of Martin Shumate
In December 1967, the body of Las Vegas cab driver Marvin Shumate was discovered on a mountain overlooking the city. Shumate had been shot in the chest and head. Although the murder has never been solved, it is widely believed that Benny Binion, owner of the Horseshoe Casino, ordered the hit after Shumate plotted to kidnap Binion’s son and hold him for ransom.
Death of Sonny Liston
Sonny Liston was a legendary professional boxer who was found dead in his Las Vegas area home on January 5, 1971. Liston’s body was discovered by his wife who was returning home from a two-week trip. Although the coroner said that there was not a lethal amount of heroin discovered in Liston’s system during autopsy, authorities attributed his death to an accidental drug overdose. Despite the official explanation for his death, many believe that Liston was murdered by the mob. Liston’s mysterious death is still fresh in the consciousness of Las Vegas, and as recently as 2013 the son of a deceased mafia hitman published a book claiming that his father confessed to murdering Liston via forced drug overdose.
Murder of retired FBI agent Bill Coulthard
In July 1972 a massive car bomb detonated inside of a downtown Las Vegas parking garage, killing the former head of the FBI’s Las Vegas office, Bill Coulthard. At the time of his death, Coulthard was a prominent local attorney and businessman who owned a stake in the land that the Horseshoe Casino was built on. Local authorities were immediately joined by the FBI and the ATF in an attempt to solve the high-profile murder. Despite a $75,000 reward for information and many wild goose chases, the case remains open to this day. The FBI believed that casino magnate Benny Binion ordered the hit on Coulthard when Coulthard refused to renew Binion’s lease of the Horseshoe Casino.
Robbery and Execution of Al Bramlet
In the 1970s, Al Bramlet was the head of one of the country’s most powerful unions; Las Vegas’ Local 226. Bramlet was notorious for his willingness to use violence to coerce cooperation. In 1977, Bramlet ordered bombs be placed in front of two nonunion restaurants. When the bombs failed to detonate and police discovered them, Bramlet refused to pay the men he hired to carry out the bombing. The bombers, father and son Thomas and Gramby Hanley, vowed revenge. A month later, the Hanley’s forced Bramlet into a van at gun point. They demanded payment for the botched bombing job, and after Bramlet arranged a $10,000 loan to pay his kidnappers, they drove him to a remote area of the Las Vegas desert and executed him. The father and son duo are serving life in prison for the murder.
Arson Fire at Las Vegas Hilton
In 1981, Philip Cline, a troubled 23-year-old busboy at the Hilton hotel, started a fire in the elevator lobby. The fire spread fast, trapping guests in their rooms. Eight people died, and over 200 were injured. Authorities initially believed that Cline attempted to put out the fire, but he gave himself up when he mentioned “grabbing a trashcan and filling it with fire.”After being convicted of eight counts of murder, Cline granted a jailhouse interview and confessed to the arson. He said that high on PCP, he used his lighter to set fire to some curtains.
Theft of $500,000 in cash and chips by William John Brennan
In September 1992, then 34-year-old William John Brennan walked out of the Stardust with $500,000 in cash and chips. Brennan was a sports book cashier at the casino. After the theft, Brennan disappeared and has not been heard from since. An arrest warrant charging him with 12 counts of felony theft has been issued for Brennan, however he remains at large to this day.
Robbery of $2.95 million from Circus Circus casino.
In 1993, Heather Tallchief drove away from the Circus Circus Casino in an armored truck with over $2.95 million inside. Tallchief and her accomplice, Roberto Solis, disappeared with the millions and were not heard from for over a decade. In 2005,Tallchief turned herself in to Las Vegas authorities. In 2006, a federal judge sentenced Tallchief to five years and three months in prison for her role in the heist. Roberto Solis has never been found and none of the stolen money has ever been recovered.
Kidnapping of Casino Mogul Steve Wynn’s Daughter
In 1993, the then 26-year-old daughter of casino mogul Steve Wynn was kidnapped and held for ransom. Two armed men abducted Wynn’s daughter from her home and demanded $2.5 million for her return. The kidnapper’s settled for $1.45 million when Wynn told them that was all he could get from the vault that night. He put the money in a plastic bag and left it in a car a couple miles off the Strip. After picking up the ransom, the kidnappers called Wynn and told him he would find his daughter in a parked car at a local airport. The young woman was shaken and tied up, but safe. The perpetrators were arrested days later when one of them attempted to buy a $200,000 car in cash, arousing the suspicions of law enforcement.
Murder of Tupac Shakur
On September 7, 1996, 25-year-old hip-hop legend Tupac Shakur suffered fatal gunshot wounds in a Las Vegas drive-by shooting. Tupac was the passenger in a car driven by Death Row Records founder, Suge Knight, when, while stopped at a red light at the intersection of E. Flamingo Rd. and Koval Lane, a white four-door late-model Cadillac approached and opened fire. Tupac was hit four times, once in the arm, once in the thigh, and twice in the chest. He survived his initial injuries and was rushed to the hospital, but he died there six days later of respiratory failure leading to cardiac arrest. The murder of Tupac Shakur devastated fans and the hip-hop community, and remains officially unsolved to this day.
Shooting of Herbert Blitzstein
In January 1997, Las Vegas mob legend Herbert “Fat Herbie” Blitzstein was shot execution style in his home. Seven mob members from Buffalo and Las Vegas were arrested in connection with the murder plot. Rival gang members wanted him out of the way so that they could take over his numerous profitable street rackets, including prostitution, insurance fraud, and loansharking. Fat Herbie was a fixture in the Las Vegas underworld and was a member of a burglary ring known as The Hole in the Wall Gang. The movie Casino memorialized the popular gangster with the fictional character Bernie Blue, who was created in his likeness.
Murder of Christine Smith
In 1998, 65-year-old Nevada resident Christine Smith disappeared. Three years later, her body was found in a garbage can inside of a storage unit owned by her daughter. The victim’s daughter, Brookey Lee West, allegedly killed Smith so that she could steal her monthly Social Security checks. Although she has only been convicted of one murder, West is believed to be a serial killer responsible for the deaths of at least three people. In 2012, West made Las Vegas headlines again when she tried to escape from prison.
Murder of Ted Binion
In 1998, Ted Binion was found dead on the floor of his Las Vegas home. Binion was a wealthy gambling executive and his father, Benny Binion, was a Las Vegas legend and casino magnate. A cocktail of prescription and illegal drugs was found in Binion’s system, and his death was initially thought to be a suicide. However, Las Vegas detectives believed that the scene of his death had been staged, and six months later, reclassified the manner it as homicide. In June 1999, Binion’s girlfriend and her lover were arrested for his murder. The pair was convicted, but their murder convictions were overturned in 2003. In their 2004 retrial, they were each acquitted of murder and convicted of lesser charges in connection with Binion’s death, including robbery and grand larceny. Both have since been released from prison.
Bellagio Cashier Cage Robbery
In 2000, two men dressed in body armor jumped over the cashier cage counter at the Bellagio. A third man served as a lookout. The men stole $160,000 in cash and chips and fled the floor. Authorities arrested three men in connection with the robbery; Oscar Sanchez Cisneros, Jose Manuel Vigoa, and Luis Suarez. Vigoa turned out to be responsible for multiple casino robberies and the murder of two armored truck drivers and was sentenced to life without parole. Suarez was sentenced to 15 years for his role. Cisneros hung himself in his jail cell four months after the robbery. In response to the theft, MGM Resorts installed bars around each of its Las Vegas Strip cashier cages.
Murder of Melissa James
In December 2005, a surprised motorist stumbled upon a torched Jaguar in the middle of the Las Vegas desert. In the trunk was the body of 28-year-old Melissa James, who had moved to Las Vegas just four months earlier at the insistence of her friend, Craig Titus. Titus, and his wife Kelly Ryan, were stars in the fitness industry, holding multiple bodybuilding titles between them. James had moved to Las Vegas to become the couples live in personal assistant, and less than six months later, she was dead. An autopsy revealed Melissa had been tased, strangled, and injected with a lethal dose of morphine. Although the couple initially denied involvement in James’s death, mounting evidence against them led to their arrest. In 2008, Craig Titus and Kelly Ryan pled guilty to the second-degree murder of Melissa James. Today, they are both serving time in Nevada prisons for their crimes.
Unsolved Attacks on Las Vegas Homeless
In December 2005, a panhandler was fatally shot in the street while he begged for change. This crime is still unsolved, and marked the first in a series of deadly attacks against the Las Vegas homeless population. Since 2005, five other homeless people have been randomly shot. Thankfully, two of the victims survived their injuries. All of the victims were shot with small caliber weapons, for no apparent reason, on or near bus benches. In 2011, after the last two victims were shot, Las Vegas authorities formed a task force to investigate the similarities of the crimes, and hopefully identify a suspect. The series of murders remains unsolved.
Luxor Parking Garage Pipe Bombing
On May 7, 2007, a pipe bomb detonated on the roof of the Las Vegas Luxor’s parking garage. The blast killed 24-year-old Willebaldo Dorantes Antonio. The bomb sat on top of the victim’s car disguised by a Styrofoam coffee cup, and was detonated by a motion sensor trigger. Suspect Porfirio Duarte-Herrera allegedly built the bomb for his friend, Rueda-Denvers, who was jealous that the victim was dating a former girlfriend of his. The act of violence terrified the community and had the potential to kill many more innocent bystanders. Both suspects have been sentenced to life without parole.
Robbery of $1.5 million in Chips
In December 2010, a man drove his motorcycle up to the Bellagio Hotel and Casino and walked inside still wearing his motorcycle helmet. He walked up to a craps table and robbed it at gunpoint, making off with $1.5 million in chips. Although the so-called Biker Bandit was able to escape with the chips, problems arose when he attempted to cash them. The thief, operating under the handle Biker Bandit, went online to attempt to arrange the sale of some of the stolen $25,000 chips. Undercover police officers arranged a meeting at the Bellagio to buy the chips and arrested 29-year-old Anthony Carleo when he showed up to sell them. Carleo is serving 3 to 11 years in prison for the heist.