LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Vicki Tatum and her husband Vince had been married for only two years when he vanished. That was 39 years ago, but she’s never given up hope of finding out who killed him.
“I can’t even describe how terrible and awful that is to be waiting for someone who never comes home,” said Vicki.
Vince Tatum was a decorated corrections officer, a sergeant at Southern Desert Correctional, a state prison near Indian Springs.
He had undertaken a quiet investigation into criminal activity at the prison, the possibility that fellow officers might be involved in smuggling drugs and guns to inmates, and/or a theft and embezzlement ring, he never told his wife the details but hinted that something was amiss shortly before he disappeared.
“He had brought home a gun. It was a prison issue gun and he told me how to shoot it and he says if I’m not here, something happens. It’s where you can protect yourself,” Vicki tells the I-Team.
At 1:00 a.m. on August 31st, 1982 Tatum finished his shift at the prison, drove toward Las Vegas, and dropped off a fellow officer Donna Smith.
He said he was going to have a confidential meeting. Nearly a month later, his body was found in a shallow grave near what is now a neighborhood near Sunrise Mountain, not far from the Tatum home.
He’d been shot five times in the head with a .25 caliber weapon. Weeks after that, Tatum’s vehicle was found at the railroad pass casino.
Police suspicions focused on fellow officers, including corrections Lt. Lovell Gaines, at the time the president of the local NAACP, and Officer Clyde Johnson, and Donna Smith.
Metro questioned all three multiple times, and they were all placed on extended leave.
Gaines, who had been to the Tatum home for dinner, clammed up and declined to turn over a handgun he owned for testing, a .25 caliber.
George Knapp: “I know there are limits on what you can say, but those names obviously appear in that file somewhere.”
Dan Long, Homicide Cold Case Investigator: “They sure, yes, they were interviewed. Every one of them.”
Det. Long was given a thick file a year ago, in response to a plea from Vicki Tatum to finally solve the case.
He says the original detectives did a commendable job and had zeroed in on the same three names, Gaines, Johnson, and Smith but could never get enough to take it further.
Both Gaines and Johnson were suspects in other serious allegations at the time, but those charges didn’t stick either.
He does not believe Donna Smith was knowingly involved in the murder.
“The good thing is that the suspects that we suspect killed him are dead. So the threat level is it’s much lower,” said Det. Long.
Both Lovell Gaines and Floyd Johnson died years ago. Johnson reportedly made a deathbed confession but police can’t prove it.
“If you do know something like I said, we can solve this case and give the family some peace,” said Det. Long.
“I feel like I’ve been waiting almost 40 years. I feel like that prison at least owes me an explanation,” said Vicki.
During the early weeks of the investigation, police say Vicki Tatum’s life was also in danger.
She was placed under protective surveillance.
Metro has submitted the case to the district attorney more than once, however, without a direct witness or physical evidence, the case could not be taken to trial.