Officials hoping to identify man found dead in Lake Mead barrel release simulated images of his face

Nov 30, 2023, 8:01 AM

Officials in Nevada's Clark County released this image, and two others, that they say show an appro...

Officials in Nevada's Clark County released this image, and two others, that they say show an approximation of the face of a man whose remains were found in a barrel in Lake Mead in 2022. (Clark County officials)

(Clark County officials)

LAS VEGAS (CNN) — More than a year after human remains were found in a barrel in the receding waters of Lake Mead, Nevada authorities on Wednesday released images they say are an approximation of the dead man’s face, hoping the images will spur the public to help investigators identify the person.

The remains were the first of four sets found in 2022 in various parts of Lake Mead – the country’s largest reservoir, located in Nevada and Arizona – as the lake shrank amid a severe drought. Authorities have identified the other three people, but the identity of the first – who investigators believe was a homicide victim and died of a gunshot wound – still is unknown.

The FBI created simulated images of the man’s face based on the recovered remains, officials in Nevada’s Clark County said Wednesday. The images show three angles of the simulated face. Anyone with information about the person’s identity should call the Clark County coroner’s office in Nevada, county officials said.

A lake visitor found the barrel – and could see the remains inside because the barrel was corroded – at Lake Mead’s Hemenway Harbor in Nevada on May 1, 2022, authorities said.

Authorities at the time said detectives believed the person was killed in the mid-1970s to early ’80s, based on clothing and footwear found with the remains. The remains were in advanced stages of decomposition and therefore difficult to extract DNA from, officials said.

The barrel probably was dropped hundreds of yards off the shore, but it was exposed by 2022 because the shoreline of the lake had receded, a Las Vegas police homicide investigator said last year.

The lake’s elevation dropped to its lowest level on record – about 1,040 feet above sea level – in July 2022. It has since risen: The elevation was about 1,064 feet on Wednesday.

DNA analysis helped investigators determine the identities of the three other people whose remains were found in Lake Mead in 2022. Those people were, according to Clark County officials:

• Claude Russell Pensinger, of Las Vegas, who disappeared at age 52 in July 1998. His remains were found in summer 2022 on the shoreline of Lake Mead’s Boulder Beach. The remains were identified this year; the cause and manner of Pensinger’s death have not been determined.

• Donald P. Smith, of North Las Vegas, who was reported to have drowned in April 1974 at age 39. His remains, found in Lake Mead’s Callville Bay area in October 2022, were identified this year. The cause of death was determined to be drowning, and the manner was accidental.

• Thomas Erndt, of Las Vegas, who was reported to have drowned in August 2002 at age 42. His remains, found in May 2022 in Lake Mead’s Callville Bay area, were identified in August 2022. The cause and manner of Erndt’s death are undetermined.

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Officials hoping to identify man found dead in Lake Mead barrel release simulated images of his face