| Home | Books and Gifts | Photo Album | Mob Busters | Mafia Site Search |
Inside Vegas - Steve Miller

Steve Miller is a former Las Vegas City Councilman. In 1991, the readers of the Las Vegas Review Journal voted him the "Most Effective Public Official" in Southern Nevada. Visit his website at:

Coroner Stymies Homicide Investigation

The Coroner - who is not a doctor - after
refusing to test a urine specimen, said
James "Buffalo Jim" Barrier had a
"normal" amount of GHB in his
blood.  An expert disputes
the coroner's finding.

INSIDE VEGAS by Steve Miller
July 7, 2008

LAS VEGAS - Based on the determination of a coroner who lacks medical certification, no homicide investigation was conducted into the cause of James "Buffalo Jim" Barrier's mysterious death.

In 2003, before the Clark County Commission appointed him coroner, Michael Murphy was a police officer in Kansas City, Missouri and Boulder City, Nevada. He was also the Chief of Police in tiny Mesquite, Nevada, and once worked for the City of Las Vegas Enforcement Division. Otherwise, Murphy had no formal education or credentials to qualify him for the political appointment, or the white smock he wears around the morgue.

On May 28, 2008, it was Murphy (left) who told police, the Barrier family, and reporters that the former pro wrestler and auto garage owner had died on April 5, 2008 of a heart attack, and that cocaine intoxication was considered a contributing condition. He made no mention of any other toxic substance he was aware of at the time that may have hastened Barrier's death, or incapacitated him so his death could be staged as a drug overdose.

Murphy's autopsy report was written on April 7, two days after Barrier died in a motel room on the Boulder Highway. It was written one month prior to Murphy's receipt of a toxicology report from a lab the FBI uses to test for the presence of GHB, "The date rape drug."

Murphy's report was solely responsible for police not investigating the death as a possible homicide.

When Murphy distributed his autopsy report on May 28, he omitted the May 9, toxicology report that stated 20 ug/mL of GHB  was also found in Barrier's system!

It's speculated that Murphy omitted the May 9 report of GHB because it would have brought to question his April 7 statement to the press that Barrier died of "natural causes," and he wanted to put the matter to rest.

Murphy, a former police chief, surely knew that a toxicology report indicating GHB, if included with his autopsy report, would have possibly caused police to suspect foul play and inspire a homicide investigation.

After telling reporters Barrier died of "natural causes," Murphy promised to release the toxicology report as soon as it arrived. According to the April 15 Las Vegas Sun: "... Murphy is waiting for toxicology and other lab test results before officially determining the cause of death."

On April 24, KVBC TV News reporter Mitch Truswell opined on the station's newsblog: 'What we do know is that the Clark County Coroner has listed this death as 'natural causes.' However, all that could change depending on the results of the toxicology report. We could be waiting weeks for those results."

John L. Smith of the LV Review Journal had his doubts about the cause of Barrier's death, but was also interested in seeing the tox report when he wrote on April 13: "The emergence of a breakthrough witness or the presence of a problematic toxicology test would change my mind, but until then count me as a skeptic."

But over the next two months, the "problematic toxicology test" was never released to the media -- at least not by Mr. Murphy -- and the story faded away.

The report was finally made public only after Jennifer Barrier went to the coroner's office on June 20, and tricked the front desk clerk into selling her a copy.

Jennifer told the clerk that she accidentally shredded her copy of the toxicology report and needed a new one. The clerk charged her $15 to copy the five page document.

Here's the toxicology report Mr. Murphy did not attach to his autopsy report:

If it hadn't been for a brilliant ploy by Jennifer Barrier to find a way to obtain the toxicology report, the media and police may never have known about the GHB -- though neither entity seems to care much at this point in time.

Even though Barrier's death was front page local news ten weeks earlier, ten weeks is a lifetime in a town that reports dozens of murders per month. KVBC TV Channel 3 was the only local news outlet still interested enough to follow through with a story about the sudden surfacing of the past due toxicology report. By then, other news outlets had accepted Murphy's overdose finding, and moved on. However, the Buffalo Jim death story was still being covered in Canada where Las Vegas scandals are a hot topic.

Even with the tox report's dramatic revelation of GHB, Mr. Murphy stuck to his guns about "natural causes," and in doing so stymied any further police investigations.

According to Murphy, Barrier died at around 9 PM on Saturday, April 5. His body was discovered at 1:30 PM on Sunday, April 6. His blood was drawn at 11:30 AM on Monday, April 7. That same day, April 7, KLAS TV Channel 8 News reported that Barrier died of "natural causes."

In contrast to Murphy's statement (after Jennifer Barrier released the toxicology report)  that Barrier had a "normal" quantity of GHB in his blood, Steve Downs, a expert in the field of  mass spectrometry -- the science used to test blood, urine, and tissue to find lethal chemicals -- in 2005 wrote that 20 ug/mL of GHB found in blood is twice the normal amount found in normal subjects!

Downs also wrote that GHB metabolizes in the blood usually within six hours after ingestion, and is often not found at all.  Barrier's blood was drawn 37 hours after his death, and double the "normal" amount of GHB was found according to Downs' 2005 statement.

Who should we believe? A recognized expert in the field of mass spectrometry? Or an ex-cop with no medical credentials?

It doesn't take an ex-police officer to reason that Barrier must have ingested a massive dose of GHB on Saturday night in order for 20 ug/mL to still be detectable 37 hours later!

And Murphy must at the outset have been concerned that GHB played a part in Barrier's death because he spent taxpayer's money sending blood and urine samples to an out of state lab. But later somehow determined the amount the lab discovered was "normal" enough to not require further testing.

Before the toxicology report surfaced, Barrier's daughters Jennifer, 24, and Jessica ,26, said they specifically asked Mr. Murphy on May 27, if GHB was discovered because their father had told them that employees of the Crazy Horse Too strip club were experts in the use of the drug to incapacitate patrons who were about to be robbed. They said they emphasized to Murphy that their father was very aware of the dangers of GHB and photographed victims of the drug when they wandered into his garage complaining of being drugged and robbed, or requesting medical help.

The Barriers said that Murphy answered their GHB questions with an unequivocal "No!"

Buffalo Jim Barrier was credited with permanently shutting down the mob run strip club, and afterward was subject to repeated death threats.

In late June after Barrier's four daughters saw the toxicology report, they asked the coroner why he sent their father's blood and urine to a lab the FBI uses to determine the presence of GHB and other highly toxic drugs in persons who died mysterious deaths?

Murphy reportedly answered that because of Buffalo Jim's highly publicized battle with the mob, he thought it would be prudent to have his blood and urine sent out of state to be examined for GHB.

When the Barriers asked why his office refused to complete required urine testing, Murphy passed the blame to his assistant Dr. Larry Simms.

The lab, National Medical Services (NMS) in Willow Grove, PA, on May 9, confirmed the presence of GHB. In the report authorized by Director Robert A. Middleberg, Ph.D. it stated: "THIS SCREENING RESULT INDICATES THAT FURTHER TESTING IS REQUIRED."

But the opinion of the highly qualifed toxicologists of NMS did not appear to impress Mr. Murphy or his pathologist Dr. Simms when they refused to authorize the "required" further testing, and then kept the NMS report out of reporter's and police officer's hands.

Murphy and Simms must have assumed their shoot from the hip "cocaine intoxication" statement would lay the case to rest and stop pesky questions. But a new can of worms was opened when GHB entered the scene, and they kept it a secret.

The NMS toxicology report indicating the presence of GHB with the comment "FURTHER TESTING IS REQUIRED" not being attached to Mr. Murphy's coroner's report should be enough new evidence to inspire the police or FBI to open an overdue homicide investigation into the cause of Buffalo Jim Barrier's death, and possibly an ancillary investigation into the practices of the Clark County Coroner.

Following the Channel 3 story, calls began coming in to the coroner's office. Dr. Simms who works under Murphy fielded most of the calls and for the first time told reporters that 20 ug/mL of GHB was "normal," and can be found in almost everyone's blood.

No reporter bothered to ask Simms why such an amount was still present in Barrier's blood a full 37 hours after he died when GHB is famous for its rapid dissipation?

According to Steve Downs, co-founder of HD Science Ltd, a publishing company devoted to the mass spectrometry field: "One further central factor hindering the successful recognition of GHB in date rape is its fast metabolism. By the time the victim's suspicions are aroused, much of the drug has been metabolized. For a typical dose, GHB is cleared from the blood within 6 hours. Its concentration in urine tends to be ten-fold higher than in blood, extending the detection window to 12 hours, so it is easy to see how it avoids discovery. A further potential complication is interference from natural GHB in the body. GHB, or g-hydroxybutyric acid, is a metabolite of the neurotransmitter GAMA (g-aminobutyric acid) and occurs at levels below 10 ug/mL in normal subjects."

Even though a urine specimen was available to NMS, and GHB's "concentration in urine tends to be ten-fold higher than in blood, extending the detection window to 12 hours," NMS' request to further test Barrier's urine was denied by Murphy.

Police say that had they known of the GHB, they would have been more inclined to open a homicide investigation. But because Murphy said Barrier overdosed on cocaine, the death was assigned to the Victimless Crimes Detail who found no reason to suspect foul play.

Barrier died the day after ex-Crazy Horse Too owner Rick Rizzolo was released from prison. And on the day Barrier died he received a letter warning him of a murder plot involving Rizzolo. One day earlier, Barrier received a telephonic death threat.

A police officer who asked not to identified told INSIDE VEGAS that Clark County District Attorney David Roger is a friend of Rizzolo. He said Rizzolo is well known for his political clout, and Roger would probably ignore any requests for prosecution in the Barrier case, especially if it involved Rizzolo or one of his associates.

My source said that police are sandwiched between a coroner and a district attorney who are probably not willing to inspire a homicide investigation in this case. He said that "Buffalo Jim is not Steve Wynn." In other words, if it were someone more politically connected than Buffalo Jim, the coroner and DA would have looked at it differently.

There are so many questions unanswered. What did the woman identified as "Lisa" tell police about the last moments of Barrier's life. She left him in the motel room to die, but was not charged with a crime because police were told by Michael Murphy that Barrier had OD'ed on cocaine, not GHB.

And this is not the first time Dr. Larry Simms (left) has been questioned about his inconsistencies. The following statement by Jack W. Snyder, MD, JD, Ph.D. appears on the Court TV web site about Dr. Simms' change of mind regarding the cause of the late Ted Binion's death.

In the Binion case, Dr. Simms at first said he died from a drug overdose, the same as Simms said about Barrier.

However, six months later, after Binion's sister Becky Behnen spent hundreds of thousands of dollars hiring experts and a private investigator to convince the district attorney to file charges against Ted Binion's live-in girl friend Sandra Murphy, the heir to a major part of Binion's estate that Becky wanted, Dr. Simms suddenly changed his mind about the cause of Binion's death and testified at Sandra Murphy's first trial that it was "homicide."

At the second trial, after exhaustive cross examination by attorney Tony Serra, Dr. Simms was unable to convince the jury of his reason for changing his mind, and Sandra Murphy was exonerated.

Here are the words of Dr. Snyder:

"As a forensic pathologist and forensic toxicologist, and with a reasonable degree of medical scientific certainty, I offer the following comments:

On October 2, 1998, Dr. Simms signed a death certificate attributing the cause of LTB’s death to intoxication by alprazolam and opiates. He listed the manner of death as undetermined. By contrast, on his autopsy report dated September 18 through October 15, 1998, he listed the manner of death as 'homicide.' Dr. Simms testified on September 19, 1999 that he made his 'homicide' determination in March of 1999, but the specific reason(s) for the discrepancy between the death certificate and the autopsy report, and the specific basis for Dr. Simms’ 'homicide' conclusion, cannot be determined from the documents I reviewed."

A white smock does not make a "coroner." And based on the many discrepancies, contradictions, and inconsistencies of Dr. Simms and Mr. Murphy, it's certainly not too late to open a homicide investigation in this case.

Listen to: The Ghost of Buffalo Jim

Copyright © Steve Miller

* If you would like to receive Steve's frequent E-Briefs about Las Vegas' scandals, click here: Steve Miller's Las Vegas E-Briefs

Copyright © Steve Miller

email Steve Miller at:
div. of PLR International

Copyright © 1998 - 2008 PLR International