George Knapp's Street Talk Led by Award-winning investigative reporter George Knapp, the Eyewitness News I-TEAM is the top television investigative unit in southern Nevada. Political expert Jon Ralston provides insight into local and state government, and former Mayor Jan Jones adds an insider's viewer of City Hall. I-TEAM photographer Eric Sorenson rounds out this first-class investigative unit.
More than 30 years ago, a couple of local men planned to kidnap and probably kill Ted Binion. Despite those many years, no one -- and we mean no one -- was willing to talk about this case on camera. We did speak off camera with current and former lawmen, as well as Binion associates, and were able to piece together this tale of greed, deceit and the ultimate punishment.
In an aging downtown graveyard, beneath a modest headstone and a carpet of grass, are the remains of one Marvin Shumate, remembered only by scattered relatives and a few stubborn detectives.
Shumate worked as a cab driver, and on a fateful night in December 1967, he left work, went to a bar at Paradise and Flamingo, and was never seen alive again.
In a desert area near Sunrise Mountain someone used a shotgun to blast him, point blank, in the chest. Then, for good measure, the assailant put a slug from a 357 in his head.
Police and the press called it a mystery because Shumate wasn't robbed. Shumate had a long police record, mostly penny-ante stuff, and not even his friends could figure why someone would do this. Within days, though, the picture grew clearer.
Beecher Avants, then a homicide lieutenant for the city, says an informant spilled the whole story, and sheriff's investigators say they confirmed most of the story, but no one was ever charged with the crime, and the full story was never made public -- until now.
The newspapers carried vague reports that Shumate knew something about a plot to kidnap the son of a downtown gambling figure. No names ever were printed. But law enforcement sources confirm the son was young Ted Binion, the son of the legendary Benny Binion.
Las Vegas remembers Benny Binion as a legendary gambler, family man and philanthropist, but make no mistake, lawmen say -- Binion wasn't someone you wanted to mess with.
In his younger days as a Texas gambler and bootlegger, Binion is known to have killed two people -- in self-defense -- and he suspected in several other deaths. His thick FBI file mentions his occasional contacts with guys in the outfit, but in Las Vegas, he was beloved, and the most important thing in his life was his family.
Police say Shumate's son was a buddy of Ted's, and he probably helped provide information for a kidnap plan. Shumate and another cab driver were in on the scheme, but detectives say the other driver got cold feet when the conspirators decided they would have to kill Binion after the ransom. The second cabbie cut his own deal -- not with police, but with Benny Binion. Only days later, Shumate's body was found. Others who may have known about the plot wisely left town. Police are certain they know what happened but couldn't make the case. And the end result became part of the lore of Benny Binion.
This is the Benny Binion most longtime Las Vegans remember -- the jovial patriarch; the gamblers gambler; colorful, generous, a much-loved living legend -- and all of that was true. What's also true is that Binion was a tough customer. In his career as Texas gambler and bootlegger, he had to kill two men in self defense; he was suspected in many other killings; and, according to his thick FBI file, hw was known to associate now and then with Mafia figures, including Meyer Lansky.
FBI records also show that by and large, Binion played it straight after he moved to Las Vegas and opened the Horseshoe. The files show, though, that the feds felt Binion was someone to be reckoned with. In 1967, a Las Vegas cab driver named Marvin Shumate made the mistake of taking on the Binion family. Shumate was found murdered on Sunrise Mountain. Police learned days later that he and another cabbie had been plotting to kidnap, and probably murder, young Ted Binion, Benny's favorite. The second driver spilled the beans to Benny Binion, and Shumate found himself on the wrong end of a shotgun and revolver. Detectives interviewed dozens of people, and while they won't say so for the record, they are convinced to this day that Benny Binion ordered the hit on Shumate.
The question remains: Who were the actual triggermen? Police say they have a good idea, and one of their suspects was himself murdered and his house set on fire to cover it up, crimes possibly committed by his partner. The police declined to talk about the case while the Binion trial is still under way, but we were able to piece together what amounts to a story worthy of Mickley Spillane. But who were the actual triggermen?
Investigator and organized-crime writer Ed Becker has extensive mob connections and says it's widely believed that Benny Binion would "reach out to the Italians when he needed things done." FBI files support that assertion. The prime suspects in the Shumate slaying, according to police sources, were known to do jobs for Las Vegas mob figures.
The Hanley family -- father Tom, son Gramby -- infamous names from Las Vegas' murky past. The Hanleys did odd jobs for what was then a mob-infested Culinary Union. They firebombed local restaurants that refused to go union. And a year after Marvin Shumate was found dead, the Hanleys were arrested for killing Culinary boss Al Bramlett. Lawmen suspected it was done under a contract from the Mafia. The Harleys pleaded guilty, entered the witness protection program, and promised to tell what they knew about the mob and the union. Tom Hanley died in prison in 1979. Gramby Hanley is still behind bars.
Lawmen think Tom Hanley played a role in the murder of Marvin Shumate following the kidnap plot. One reason is they were told as much by Hanley's bodyguard, a man named Alphonse Bass, who was himself found murdered not long after Shumate was killed. Police believe Tom Hanley may have wanted to quiet his longtime accomplice. Officially, the murders of Shumate and Bass remain unsolved. Nor can police prove Benny Binion had set things in motion. But it can't be disputed that Binion would have done anything for his family.
A couple of points to make: Despite police suspicions, there was never enough evidence to positively link Benny Binion to the revenge killing of Marvin Shumate, nor was Tom Hanley ever charged with the slaying. And we should point out thatfederal authorities say the local Culinary Union is no longer influenced by organized crime. It was all a long time ago.
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