This story was updated Tuesday:
LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — The body found in a barrel at Lake Mead on Sunday may have been underwater for as long as four decades and more bodies are likely to appear as the lake recedes due to severe drought, Las Vegas Metro police homicide Lt. Ray Spencer told the 8 News Now I-Team.
Police suspect the person was killed in the 1980s based on personal items in the barrel, Spencer said. He would not elaborate on the person’s cause of death or the items found, citing the ongoing investigation.
A photo shared with the I-Team showed what looked like skeletal remains in the barrel. The barrel looked to have been stuck in the mud.
Boaters discovered the body around 3 p.m. Sunday. The I-Team first reported the discovery on Sunday afternoon and the new details Monday.
“We heard a woman scream from the side of the beach and then my husband went over to obviously see what was wrong,” Shawna Hollister said. “And then he realized there was a body there in a barrel.”
Police believe the barrel was fully intact when it was dropped into the lake.
“It’s going to take an extensive amount of work,” Spencer said about identifying the victim, adding his team was reaching out to UNLV to examine growth on the barrel and when it may have started to erode.
“It’s going to be a very difficult case,” Spencer said. “I would say there is a very good chance as the water level drops that we are going to find additional human remains.”
The area where the barrel was discovered is near the Hemenway Harbor boat ramp. Crews have had to extend the ramp hundreds of feet over the past decades to get it closer to the water.
In the 1980s, what is now beach would have been several dozen feet underwater.
The ongoing severe drought is leading to other discoveries in the lake. Last week, the top of a water intake pipe was visible above the water’s surface as the lake level continues to drop.
Lake Mead dropped below 1,056 feet in elevation last Tuesday, less than a week after hitting 1,057 feet the week before. Lake levels are expressed in altitude, not depth. At its highest levels, the lake is near 1,225 feet.
“I think anybody can understand there are probably more bodies that have been dumped in Lake Mead, it’s just a matter of, are we able to recover those?” Spencer said.
“It’s heartbreaking to see that somebody’s loved one is out there so I mean I hope they get justice or somebody finds out at least who it is,” Hollister said.
The Clark County coroner’s office was working to identify the remains.
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