The Mafia has a long history of disposing of its victims in barrels. Explore this gruesome mob tactic in our most recent Crime Bulletin post.
The Mafia has a long history of disposing of its victims in barrels. Explore this gruesome mob tactic in our most recent Crime Bulletin post.
We wonder if this dates from the mob days of Vegas…
Having a fun first day at Crime Con 2022! If you didn’t get a chance to stop by our booth today, come visit us tomorrow morning.
And remember, it’s a big desert out there… 🏜
Mayhem in the Desert will be at Crime Con this week! Stop by our booth to chat about all things Vegas true crime!
16-year-old Kim Bryant was waiting at the Dairy Queen across from her Las Vegas high school just after 10:00 a.m. on the morning of January 26, 1979. Bryant was abducted by an unknown man in a vehicle, and her body was later found in a desert area near Buffalo Avenue and Charleston Boulevard. Bryant had died due to several blows to the head from a large rock, and her body bore signs of sexual assault.
In 1983, 22-year-old Diana Hanson returned home from college to Las Vegas for the holidays. She went jogging on an afternoon in late-December but never returned to her parents’ house. Her body was later found in the desert near Spring Mountain Road and Buffalo Avenue - not far from where Bryant’s remains were located. Hanson’s killer had stabbed her repeatedly, and like Bryant she was sexually assaulted prior to her murder.
These two brutal murders remained unsolved for nearly four decades. Fortunately, with the advent of technological advances in DNA analysis, the murderer of Bryant and Hanson was finally identified in 2021 - Johnny Blake Peterson.
But who was Peterson? And was he responsible for the murders of other women in Las Vegas?
Little information is available about Johnny Blake Peterson. He was born and raised in Las Vegas. Peterson worked as a plasterer and was married with two children. He faced arrest on at least one occasion since press accounts after his identification as Bryant and Hanson’s killer included a police mugshot of Peterson, but we could not identify any criminal case involving Peterson. He died at age 32 in January of 1993 at a Las Vegas hospital, but his obituary is silent on his cause of death.
What drove Peterson to kill? And did his rage and propensity for extreme violence extend to his personal life, or was he able to conceal his worst impulses until they could be vented against an unsuspecting victim?
Ginger Rios, a young entertainer that performed with a group called Salsa Machine, and her husband pulled into the parking lot of a shopping center at 3507 Maryland Parkway not far from the campus of the University of Nevada Las Vegas on April 4, 1997. She and her husband were making a stop at the Spy Craft store to pick up a book on credit repair so the couple could fix their finances in order to purchase a house.
The Spy Craft store was a new addition to the Vegas business community. The establishment sold a variety of listening devices, surveillance equipment, and books on topics such as how to get away with murder. The store was novel enough that the owner, John Flowers, was interviewed shortly after its opening for an article by the Associated Press. Flowers liked to give others the impression he had “off the books” associations with the CIA, FBI, and DEA.
But on this day, something suspicious happened at the Spy Craft store. Rios’ husband waited outside in his car, but the time continued to pass without the young singer ever exiting the store.
Rios’ disappearance would eventually implicate the owner of a chain of spy stores in multiple murders.
BILLY LEE CHADD
Another entry from Part 2 of our series covering the serial killers that have operated in Las Vegas:
21-year-old Billy Chadd had already taken a life when he moved to Las Vegas in 1975.
Chadd was married, and he and his wife attempted to establish their young family in San Diego during the early-70’s. In 1974, Chadd broke into what he thought was the empty house of Patricia Franklin, a secretary at the Scripps Clinic. Chadd surprised Franklin while she was in the shower as she prepared for a date with her boyfriend. Chadd grabbed Franklin and restrained her with the cord of a window blind. He then sexually assaulted his unfortunate victim before stabbing her to death.
Chadd and his wife moved to Las Vegas not long after the Franklin murder. Upon arriving in Vegas, Chadd took a job as a dishwasher at a restaurant located on Fremont Street and 11th Avenue, while his wife found work as a housekeeper in one of the city’s hotels.
One day while walking down Fremont Street, Chadd encountered Delmar Bright, a 31-year-old porter at the Fremont Hotel. The two struck up a conversation about the sweltering heat on this particular August day and eventually went back to Bright’s nearby apartment upon him offering Chadd some cold beers.
A week later, on August 7, 1975, Chadd again found himself inside of Bright’s apartment located at 513 South First Street. As Chadd later recounted the events, Bright had suggested they head to his apartment for some drinks as they had done the week before. The two went back to Bright’s apartment, had a few beers, then Bright made the short trip to the Fremont Hotel to pick up his paycheck. When Bright returned to his home, he offered to pay Chadd $20 to take a few nude photographs. Chadd agreed to the proposition, telling police he needed the money.
The nude and bound body of Delmar Bright was found in his apartment on August 11, 1975. He was located on his bed with his arms tied behind his back and had suffered numerous stab wounds.
Chadd did not remain in Vegas for long before moving to Arizona, and, from there, to Louisiana. Apparently seeking something approximating stability, Billy Chadd enlisted in the U.S. Marines sometime after relocating to Louisiana. Fate returned Chadd back to San Diego – back to the city where he had first killed. It was not long after being stationed in California before he again acted on his murderous impulses – or as Chadd later described it, he was prompted to kill again when the “monster” that lurked inside of him “peeked out.”
On February 15, 1978, while Chadd was taking a bus back home after dropping his car off at a repair shop, he encountered 28-year-old Linda Hewitt and her infant son. Chadd and Hewitt struck up a conversation, during which Hewitt mentioned she was on the clock as a babysitter and was returning to her employer’s house before his children arrived home from school.
Chadd accompanied Hewitt to the front door of the house where she babysat in Mira Mesa. But when Hewitt refused his requests to come inside, Chadd forced his way in and pulled out a knife. Chadd sexually assaulted Hewitt before stabbing her repeatedly in front of her child. The gruesome crime scene was discovered later that afternoon when the two children for whom Hewitt babysat came home during their school lunch break.
Police tracked down Chadd to his latest change of station in Lafayette, Louisiana. He was extradited back to California to stand trial for the murders of Patricia Franklin and Linda Hewitt, as well as for the sexual assault and kidnapping of a mother and daughter in Chula Vista.
The mask slipped off once Chadd was incarcerated. The murderous Marine started writing down the purported details of his crimes as well as his internal motivations in what would end up as an 84-page manuscript titled Dark Secrets.
Within Dark Secrets, Chadd recounts his life story and the inner-workings of his mind, including the internal force that drove him to kill. Chadd wrote about what went through his mind during the murders he committed: “My monster peeked out. He had been awakened…I tried to stop what was happening, but I couldn’t. It wasn’t me anymore. It was the creature who thrived on fear and death, a creature who had lain dormant for so long that he would not be denied.”
It was June 25, 1981, and nobody had heard from either Jack or Xenia Rabinowitsh for several days. When a maid arrived at the couple’s home at 2856 La Casita Avenue in a tony area of Las Vegas that morning not long after 10:00 a.m., she immediately took note of three days’ worth of newspapers strewn near the front door. The Rabinowitshs’ four dogs were frantically barking, and a security gate near the home’s entrance was ajar. In fact, the barking emanating from the house was so incessant that several neighbors had already called the police to complain.
The unusual scene prompted the maid to flag down a passing security patrol. The security guard, followed by the Rabinowitshs’ maid, walked slowly through the sprawling 6,000 square foot home. The house had been ransacked, adding to the sense of dread building in the maid and security guard.
The maid’s worst fears were confirmed when the duo entered the bedroom and found the lifeless bodies of the Rabinowitshs on their bed, both killed by a single shot to the back of the head.
Homicide detectives pieced together most of what transpired the night Jack and Xenia Rabinowitsh were killed.
Around 8:00 p.m. on June 23, 1981, Jack received a call from some “friends” informing him that they were driving to Las Vegas from Los Angeles. Not long after hanging up the phone, Jack received another call from his acquaintances informing him that their car had broken down and they were currently at McCarran Airport in need of a ride.
Jack hung up the phone again and got in his 1969 Lincoln to make the short drive to the airport. The Lincoln was ultimately found abandoned in a parking lot at McCarran Airport about two hours after police learned of the murders. Investigators were never able to determine whether Jack drove his “friends” back home or if he was forced into a different vehicle before being taken back to his house.
Once back at the home in the Sierra Vista Ranchos neighborhood, the killers bound and gagged the elderly couple. When police found the Rabinowitshs, the couple had marks on their wrists from handcuffs and still had duct tape covering their mouths. Detectives noted the crime scene showed no signs of a struggle. The killers ransacked the home, forcing Jack and Xenia to open each of the four safes in the residence.
Eventually, the assassins found what they were looking for – a single file located in a drawer of one of the safes. The contents of the stolen file were never determined, but the Rabinowitshs’ children believed the document contained information their parents “considered worth guarding.”
Once the intruders recovered the file, they led the couple to their bedroom and forced Jack and Xenia facedown on the bed they had shared for so many years. Then one of the killers took a pillow and used it as a crude silencer to muffle the sound of two gunshots from a .22 handgun. The pillow with powder burns was found lying next to the bodies.
No fingerprints were found in the home or in Jack’s 1969 Lincoln abandoned at McCarran Airport. The timeframe for the murder was no later than early on the morning of June 24, 1981 - a ticket found in the Lincoln was timestamped at 1:00 a.m. on June 24th.
In December of 1982, Russian author Yuri Brokhin was found murdered in New York City by a single shot to the head. Like the Rabinowitshs, Brokhin was a Jewish immigrant from the Soviet Union and an outspoken opponent of his former homeland. And also like in the Rabinowitsh slaying, the killer of Brokhin stole several documents and left behind $15,000 in cash located in an attache case.
Las Vegas homicide detectives conducted multiple interviews with two Russian nationals suspected of ties to the KGB that were acquainted with the Rabinowitshs. One of the Russian nationals even failed a polygraph administered by the NYPD in relation to the Brokhin murder. The FBI even offered assistance to Vegas detectives as federal agents believed the two Russian nationals were working as spies.
But police were never able to develop enough evidence to make an arrest.Those following the murders of Soviet emigres during the 1980’s speculated the KGB may have used its connections with the burgeoning Russian Mafia to carry out the assassination of those considered threats to the Soviet regime.
CRAIG LESLIE JACOBSEN (AKA JOHN FLOWERS)
Ginger Rios, a young entertainer that performed with a group called Salsa Machine, and her husband pulled into the parking lot of a shopping center at 3507 Maryland Parkway not far from the campus of the University of Nevada Las Vegas on April 4, 1997. She told her husband that she was running into the Spy Craft store to pick up a book on credit repair so the couple could fix their finances in order to purchase a house. He waited outside but never saw Rios exit the store.
Police questioned the owner of the store, John Flowers, but he claimed Rios purchased a book on how to disappear and then left the establishment. A local reporter even interviewed Flowers about Rios’ disappearance, and Flowers complained that Rios’ disappearance was causing him bad publicity. A few months before Rios went missing, Flowers had done an interview with the Associated Press about the chain of Spy Craft stores he was opening in Vegas, Phoenix, and across California.
Investigators would receive a major new lead three months later when Flowers’ wife, Cheryl Ciccone, came forward to tell police about discovering Ginger Rios’ lifeless body in the back of the Spy Craft store with a pool of blood surrounding her head. Flowers told Ciccione that he had struck and killed Rios after she “got in his face and he snapped.” Flowers stuffed Rios’ body into plastic garbage bags and then traveled to Arizona with his wife and their infant child, where he buried her body in concrete out in the desert.
Police searched the Spy Craft store and identified blood belonging to Rios on the floor of a back room. And Rios’ body was eventually uncovered in a grave in the Arizona desert.
After his arrest, police found out that “John Flowers” was actually Craig Jacobsen, who had a criminal record for counterfeiting and a warrant related to battery of a federal officer. Jacobsen was initially incarcerated at a facility for mentally ill offenders while being assessed for competency to stand trial. Jacobsen had previously been diagnosed with schizophrenia, and he claimed to investigators that “the Russians are after me.”
Prosecutors initially sought the death penalty, but the questions over Jacobsen’s mental state and a recent change to Nevada law making a first-degree murder conviction more difficult lead the State to accept a plea agreement. Jacobsen was convicted of murder after pleading no contest to the charges and sentenced to twenty years with the possibility of parole.
Three months before Rios’ body was discovered in the Arizona desert, police uncovered the body of an unidentified teenage girl only about 1/8 mile from Rios’ gravesite. The remains were later identified as those of 15-year-old Christina Martinez, who had gone missing a week before her body was discovered. Jacobsen owned another Spy Craft store only a few blocks from where Martinez disappeared.
Jacobsen was extradited to Arizona to stand trial for the murder of Christina Martinez. He also confessed to the killing of another missing woman, Mary Stoddard, a teenager possibly abducted in the Las Vegas area. Jacobsen claimed that Stoddard’s body was buried near the site of Rios’ grave, but he has never been charged in relation with Stoddard’s death.
Another entry from part 2 of our series on the serial killers of Sin City - Neal Falls:
Heather Saul answered the knock on the door of her home in Charleston, West Virginia on July 18, 2015. She recognized the face that greeted her – it was Neal Falls, one of several prospective clients Sault had interacted with on Backpage.com in the course of her work as an escort. Nothing about the middle-aged Falls had struck Saul as particularly out of the ordinary during their prior online interaction, but now here he was at her door.
Falls brandished a handgun, grabbed Saul, and told her, “Live or die” as he shoved her back inside the house. While holding the gun to Saul’s head, he demanded the young woman choose whether to be sexually assaulted or murdered. The assailant then set his gun down and strangled Saul, but amidst the struggle she managed to get ahold of the firearm.
Neal Falls fell lifeless onto the floor after Saul placed a single round into his head. Responding officers discovered a toolkit of mayhem in Falls’ vehicle parked outside of Saul’s residence, including four pairs of handcuffs, bleach, knives, and trash bags. Further investigation would reveal that Falls’ attempted murder of Heather Saul was just the latest in as many as eight murders across the United States, including three women in the Las Vegas area.
Misty Saens’ partial remains were discovered by two bikers off of State Route 159 near Red Rock Canyon on March 6, 2003. Her body was found wrapped in plastic and a sheet. The 25-year-old Saens had found work in the sex trade before she went missing and was murdered.
Jodi Brewer struggled through high school and fell into prostitution, but she ultimately earned a grant for beauty school. But when she lost her grant, Brewer returned to the streets. She went missing in Las Vegas in August of 2003. Her torso, wrapped in a sheet and plastic, was discovered in the desert on the I-15 offramp to Cima Road in California.
Lindsay Harris was employed as a sex worker in Las Vegas after moving to the city from her native New York, and it seems she may have been targeted while on the job. The 21-year-old Harris faced arrest on solicitation charges in 2005 and had attempted to hide her profession from her family. She disappeared on May 4, 2005, shortly after leaving a message on her boyfriend’s phone.
Harris spent time at the Luxor on the night of her disappearance, and she was last seen walking along the Strip during the early morning hours. Harris’ rental car was discovered later in the desert. It would take three weeks from Harris’ disappearance before her legs were discovered off the freeway near Springfield, Illinois.
Police in Nevada and Illinois had long suspected connections between the slayings of Harris, Brewer, and Saens but were unable to find a common link between the crimes. Though Falls is a strong suspect in the three murders, he has not yet been conclusively tied to the young women’s deaths.
Among the circumstantial evidence supporting a connection between Neal Falls and the three women’s murders is the fact that Falls resided in Henderson, Nevada starting in 2000, and he lived there until around 2012. Falls worked at Hoover Dam but was fired after sexually harassing a female coworker. Falls also developed a reputation for torturing animals that ventured around the Dam and for his obsessive focus on firearms and survivalism in his conversations with coworkers. After his job at the Dam, Falls found employment as an unarmed security guard.
“It’s likely that Mr. Falls is a serial killer,” said Steve Cooper, Charleston Police Department Chief of Detectives.
Brookey Lee West – dubbed one of the most dangerous women in Nevada – grew up in a life of violence. West’s mother, Christine Smith, was carrying on an affair with a married man in the early 1960’s. Smith became enraged after the relationship was broken off, so she concocted a plan to lure her ex and his wife to a restaurant so Smith could apologize. Once the couple sat down, Smith produced a shotgun and fired a blast into her ex’s chest. He survived, and Smith served time for attempted murder.
Her father was a violent white supremacist that was guided by the darkest areas of occult belief. When West became embroiled in a bitter custody dispute with the father of her child, West’s father sent a threatening letter to West’s ex. Days later an unknown individual showed up knocking at the ex’s door and shot his elderly grandmother when she answered.
After West established a lucrative career as a technical writer, the first known suspicious death to occur around her happened in the mid-90’s. West met Howard Simon St. John at a substance abuse rehabilitation center in California and within a month the two were married. It was only a few weeks after being wed that West lashed out by shooting St. John in the neck during a domestic dispute. St. John lived and decided to not pursue charges. But days later, St. John was shot in the back and killed. Police suspected West was responsible for the slaying as part of an effort to collect a life insurance policy, but prosecutors decided not to bring murder charges.
In 1998, West made her way to Las Vegas where her mother was residing. Christine Smith’s health had deteriorated from chronic alcoholism, and West was on hard financial times. West suffocated her mother with a plastic bag and placed her body in a sealed garbage can which West then placed in a storage facility on West Sahara Avenue. West proceeded to cash her mother’s Social Security checks in the amount of $1,000 each month for the next several years. When people inquired as to her mother’s whereabouts, West claimed she was residing with her brother Travis in California.
West claimed to possess psychic abilities, including having premonitions of the TWA 800 crash and 9/11. Despite these purported powers, West did not foresee that the airtight garbage can would eventually develop a leak in February of 2001. Other tenants at the storage facility reported the foul odor coming from West’s storage unit, and police discovered a grotesque scene when they unsealed the garbage can.
At her murder trial, West maintained that her mother had died of natural causes and she simply panicked about what to do with the body. West’s defense relied heavily on the fact that Smith’s body was liquefied by the time it was discovered, which prevented the coroner from rendering a determination on the cause of death.
The jury did not believe West’s version of events that lead to her mother’s death. She was convicted of murder and sentenced to life. Investigators in California also took a renewed look at the murder of Howard St. John to see if there was a basis to seek charges against West. She was also suspected of involvement with the murder of her brother, Travis Smith, in an effort to steal his Social Security benefits. Travis disappeared and West had made an effort to have his benefit checks routed to an address in her name.
West made her way into the news again in 2012 when she briefly escaped from the Florence McClure Corrections Facility in Nevada before being recaptured. Today, the woman convicted of one murder and a suspect in two others continues to serve her time in a Nevada prison.
We are out with Part 2 of our series examining the serial killers that have passed through Las Vegas over the decades.
SERIAL KILLERS OF SIN CITY:
Pictured are Christopher Wilder, Samuel Little, Thomas Crump, and Carroll Cole
WOMAN STABS HER DATE AT HOTEL NEAR LAS VEGAS IN APPARENT REVENGE FOR US DRONE STRIKE
The suspect, Nika Nikoubin, met the victim on Plenty of Fish and the two met for a date at Sunset Station. They then rented a room and, while having sex, Nikoubin allegedly blindfolded the victim and turned off the lights.
She then allegedly stabbed the victim in the neck. The victim ran out of the room and sought help, while Nikoubin also ran out of the room and allegedly confessed to her crime. According to news reports, the suspect told police she committed the crime in retaliation for the U.S. killing of Iranian Quds Force leader Soleimani in 2020. Nikoubin apparently had no ties to the Las Vegas area.
OTD in 1972 a bomb went off in a TWA plane at McCarran Airport in Las Vegas as part of an extortion plot.
The home of Las Vegas entertainer Stanley Morgan, leader of the Ink Spots, was bombed in 1964 after Morgan moved into an all-white neighborhood.
Morgan said after the attack, “We’re not going to move. I’m just as particular as other people about where I want to live.”
Jazz saxophonist Wardell Gray - who played with Count Basie & Benny Goodman - was scheduled to play opening night of the Moulin Rouge in 1955. But Gray never played, and the young musician’s body was later found in the desert. Mystery surrounds his death.