“Death in a Vegas Motel” explores what seems like a pretty obvious case of corruption and police negligence, and it’s difficult to argue with the conclusions, despite the bias in the storytelling.
This Unsolved Mysteries season 3, episode 4 recap for the episode titled “Death in a Vegas Motel” contains spoilers.
“Death in a Vegas Motel” is the first episode of this season of Unsolved Mysteries that has really made me think, “Yeah, that’s pretty suspicious.” In fact, it almost ceases to be a mystery, and instead becomes a story about corruption and what seems like pretty obvious police negligence.
Unsolved Mysteries season 3, episode 4 recap
The victim’s name was James “Buffalo Jim” Barrier, a local celebrity in Las Vegas thanks to his wrestling promotion, local TV appearances, and auto-repair shop. A single father of four, he was a well-known character who unfortunately ran afoul of Rick Rizzolo, the owner of the gentleman’s club, Crazy Horse Too, next door to the auto shop, and was eventually found dead in a motel room due to what was officially reported as a combination of a heart issue and imbibing cocaine.
Since the episode is told primarily from the perspective of Buffalo Jim’s daughters and lawyer, it’s obviously a slanted account of the facts. But unlike, say, Unsolved Mysteries season 3, episode 1, which left out key details that supported the official theory, “Death in a Vegas Motel” includes enough easily verifiable information to cast some serious doubt over the official, supposedly accidental cause of Jim’s death.
For one thing, Rizzolo’s club was verifiably tied to organized crime. He had gotten into disputes with Jim over parking spaces, and Jim eventually filed a harassment lawsuit over the alleged vandalization of cars in Jim’s lot, and other such behaviours. Jim collected evidence for the FBI for a couple of years, and Rizzolo was eventually sent to prison for tax evasion.
This would seem like a pretty obvious motive for murder on its own. But Jim also received a number of threats against his life, warnings about threats to his life, and predicted almost the exact manner of his demise, saying to both a journalist from Las Vegas Weekly and his daughter that if “these people” were to get him, they’d do it via a woman and drugs. When Jim was found dead, he was confirmed to have been with a woman who worked as a stripper in Rizzolo’s club, had white powder around his nose and mouth, and had cocaine in his system.
“Death in a Vegas Motel” is, as mentioned, slanted, but it’s hard to argue with any of this, and the coroner claiming an accident with no reason to look any deeper into the case smacks of someone being paid off. Jim’s daughters make for compelling and surprisingly rational anchors to the human element of this story, which seems like the kind of fanciful tale you might see in a mob show. Jim being a larger-than-life character gives it the same kind of vibe, but this is nonetheless a true story, and the refusal of both Rizzolo and the woman who failed to report Jim’s apparent “seizure” to the police refusing to be interviewed for the show isn’t a good look.
This is another of those cases that those involved are clearly hoping are picked back up thanks to the attention a Netflix release might garner it. If that happens, it’ll be interesting to see what comes of one of the most seemingly cut-and-dry mysteries this show has shared.