Las Vegas Mythbusters

Las Vegas Mythbusters

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Even though Las Vegas wasn't founded until May 15, 1905, it's seen more than its share of building, razing and rebuilding over the years. As the old towers of decadence are replaced by taller, even more ostentatious pillars of excess, decades of truths, half-truths and lies seem to melt into the shadows of Las Vegas. Mythbusters, in fact, find that this quintessential party town pulls a gossamer veil over scores of transgressions each year, making it downright impossible to separate fact from fiction. Here are some urban legends of Las Vegas.

The Treasures of Binion

When I was in my twenties, I remember my mom telling me about a tycoon who was murdered and how the questionable details of his death became instant fodder for Las Vegas mythbusters. Apparently the victim's father owned Binion's Horseshoe 128 Fremont Street, Las Vegas, NV 89101; 800-937-6537, and the wayward son eventually took over the operation of the hotel. His name was Lonnie Theodore Binion, and to say that he was loaded is an understatement.

Ted Binion was a man prone to partying, and his years as manager of Binion's Horseshoe were marked by excess and drug use. He even became involved with "Fat" Herbie Blitzstein, a loan shark and lieutenant to the mafia, giving even more credence to the story's inclusion among the most chilling Las Vegas urban myths.

After Binion was found dead in his home, toxicology reports determined that he had massive amounts of drugs in his body. However, it was later discovered that Binion had been murdered by his live-in girlfriend, Sandy Murphy, and her lover, Rock Tabish, in order to gain access to the surprising amount of loot stashed in a vault on the premises of his posh Las Vegas home.

As the urban legend goes, Binion had begun hoarding silver, valuable coins, and Binion's Horseshoe chips either before or after his license to work in the casino was revoked due to drug arrests. According to a lawyer who was once friends with Binion, it was his nature to hide and bury valuable items around his home.

While some of Binion's treasure has been recovered, much of his valuables disappeared not long after his demise. However, it is believed that Binion buried many things around his opulent Las Vegas property, so the urban myth surrounding Binion's story – and much of his loot – remains uncovered, including his Carson City-minted silver dollars, which are believed to be worth millions of dollars.

The possibility of more "hidden treasures" has led to many break-ins at Binion's former home, only deepening the mystery behind this Las Vegas urban legend and making it popular reading material in both national and local publications.

The Mole People

Last year when I was visiting a friend of mine in Vegas, she shared with me the story of the Mole People, homeless people who live underneath the streets in Las Vegas. Scary urban myths and legends like these are what mythbusters crave. Beneath Las Vegas, there is a network of tunnels extending for miles, and the number of people that live there is unknown.

The Vegas tunnels were originally built as a way to protect the city from flooding. But more recently, they have sheltered many folks who would otherwise be living on the streets. Living in these tunnels can be potentially deadly, especially during flash floods. Yet, to those who are homeless, the tunnels provide a place to sleep, shelter from the elements and a cool place to relax during the hot days.

Sadly, this is one Las Vegas urban myth that is far too true, as the story of the Mole People has been picked up by news agencies like ABC and was even covered in a book, Beneath the Neon by local journalist Matthew O'Brien.

The Hoover Dam

I don't know a person who has visited Las Vegas and not heard the urban legend surrounding the construction of the Hoover Dam. My grandfather used to tell me stories about all the men who were buried in concrete during the building of the dam in the 1930s. Over the years, statistics on the number of fatalities during the building of the dam have ranged from 90 to over 100.

When I first visited Las Vegas in 1998, one urban myth was solved for me when I went on a tour of the dam. I asked the tour guide if some of the men who lost their lives during the construction of the dam were buried in the concrete. He laughed and said, "To my knowledge, no one has ever been buried in the concrete. However, there have been men who died."

I suppose the assumption of men being buried within the concrete began to circulate because the details surrounding their deaths were never fully released. For this reason, solving the mystery of exactly how many men died is quite difficult, making it one of the top scary urban legends associated with Las Vegas. Some deaths resulted from non-construction related occurrences, or working on projects completely unrelated to the dam's construction. For example, two men conducting geological surveys drowned in the river many years before the dam's development began, and deaths linked with the Boulder Canyon Project have been included in the fatality count associated with the dam.

According to the U. S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Reclamation, the actual death count associated with the building of the Hoover Dam is 96. Such deaths can be attributed to accidents on site (such as being hit with equipment), drowning, or even being caught in a landslide.

If you'd like to do your own research on this topic, a guided tour of the Hoover Dam itself 702-494-2517, 866-730-9097 is a great place to start.

The Curse of the Slots

My mom was a whiz when it came to playing slot machines. I can't recall a time when she didn't win. Yet, I always found it amusing that she'd never play a Megabucks slot in Vegas. She believed, like many others, that the machines were cursed.

The urban myth surrounding the Megabucks machines always ends with the winner dying soon after hitting a huge jackpot. Such urban myths involving Las Vegas jackpots have been circulating since well before 2000. A true story concerning the Megabucks machines involves a waitress who hit a jackpot paying nearly $35 million. Soon after winning, the waitress was involved in a tragic car accident that left her paralyzed and her sister dead. While this particular story is truly sad, Las Vegas mythbusters haven't found evidence to substantiate further correlations between the Megabucks machines and the deaths of their jackpot winners.

Want to disprove this questionable Las Vegas urban legend? Make sure you do your homework before testing the waters.

The Days of the Gangster

Benjamin Siegel (or Bugsy) was a gangster who had a major impact on Vegas's earliest years of development, and his life and gruesome death have been at the heart of a number of urban myths. In Las Vegas during the 1940s, Bugsy became interested in developing the Flamingo 3555 Las Vegas Boulevard South, Las Vegas, NV 89109; 888-902-9929 and muscled his way into the hotel's construction. But having a gangster instead of a businessman running things was a bad idea to some, and when the hotel's bottom line didn't meet the expectations of Bugsy's associates, he was gunned down in his girlfriend's home in 1947. Following Bugsy's death, a popular urban legend purported that the Las Vegas hotel was frequently roamed by his troubled spirit.

There are many areas around the Flamingo to which Bugsy is still attached, including the famous flamingo fountain in the garden area, his memorial (found by the wedding chapel), and the Presidential Suite. When I took a ghost tour, our guide jokingly offered the following advice: "If you go walking through the garden at night and spot him, be sure to call him Mr. Siegel." As a self-styled Las Vegas mythbuster, I've been to the Flamingo a few times and searched for him, but I've never stumbled into Bugsy.

Get a firsthand experience with Bugsy's ghost by taking a guided Haunted Vegas Tour 702-339-8744.

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