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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:

Buffalo Jim buried, but not put to rest - Part One

INSIDE VEGAS by Steve Miller
April 13, 2008

LAS VEGAS - Today, the bravest man I've ever known lies six feet under the desert floor on North Main Street in downtown Las Vegas.

My best friend James "Buffalo Jim" Barrier called me at 5:30, Saturday, April 5, the evening of his death. He said he had just got back from his office where he picked up the following unsigned letter.

"Steve, read the part about he's using people to get close to me, and about the female. I always knew that getting me into a compromising situation with a girl in a hotel room would be an invitation for me to get killed. I'm smarter than them. I know better."

I wasn't the only person to get the cryptic call or have the letter faxed to me that fateful day. Buff, as we called him, also contacted Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist John L. Smith, Las Vegas Weekly writer Joshua Longobardy, and his friend a retired FBI Special Agent. Since his death, all three of us have compared notes. Buffalo told us all the same thing.

Two hours after I received my call, Buffalo Jim lie dead in room 105 of Motel 6 on the Boulder Highway.

Just before he left his 4,800 square foot three story estate on Sunrise Mountain in one of his two Rolls Royce automobiles, he told his two younger daughters Jerrica, 15, and Elise, 20, that he had received a call from a man he had recently met, a man he referred to as his "life coach."

For the past several months Buffalo often talked of a new friend, a man who he said was amazingly successful and wanted to share his knowledge and inside connections for a fee. Buffalo hired him, and according to his long time attorney former judge Robert Lueck, wonderful things began to happen in the big man's life.

I never met Buffalo's life coach, and I truly regret that fact.

According to Buffalo, Lueck, and the four Barrier daughters, a reality show contract with NBC was about to be signed. Buffalo and his four  beautiful daughters were to star in a reality series about the bearded man moving his 37 year old auto repair business out of the bowels of the Mafia into a new location on three acres nearby. Part of the plot of the reality series included Barrier announcing a run for Mayor, though Buffalo new he couldn't actually win. It was all theatrics and self promotion, the stuff ex-pro wrestlers like Buffalo Jim know all about.

"Las Vegas Most Colorful Character" died under extremely mysterious circumstances. He had never been happier, healthier, or richer in his life, and his  future seemed like a kid's dream come true.

But something very sinister was hanging over Buffalo's head. He was the one person most responsible for the closure and seizure of the Crazy Horse Too topless bar located next to his garage. And the bar's owner, incarcerated in federal prison since April 2007, was released from custody the day before Barrier's death.

But that wasn't all the Mob damage Barrier accomplished in his 55 years. His efforts also caused the convictions of 16 other Crazy Horse Too employees who have filtered back in to Vegas society over the past year, and seriously miss the easy cash they garnered by extorting hapless tourists, sometimes breaking a neck or bashing a head just for good measure while local authorities turned the other way, some for large campaign contributions, others for cash.

There was also the nagging matter of the mysterious deaths of three Crazy Horse bouncers who were involved in the 1995 beating death of long haul truck driver Scott David Fau. All three died of undetermined causes. All were body builders, and also in the best of health.

The reality show was not all Buffalo's life coach had in mind. Buffalo was a collector of memorabilia -- stuff and things given to him by his friends including Elvis and Mohammed Ali. Few knew that he the largest such collections in existence.

The life coach, according to Buffalo and attorney Lueck, had arranged for the sale of Buffalo's Elvis collection for an astounding $750,000. He was going to use the money to help relocate his business before the lease expires in July 2009.

At 7 PM on the night of his death, Elise, 20, and Jerrica Barrier, 15, said their dad got a call from his life coach saying he was inbound from London, and could they meet?

Buffalo excitedly told his daughters he was going to a business meeting. "I will be home before midnight."

Buffalo was a man of predictability and habit. Buffalo's daily routine consisted of getting up before dawn to prepare Jerrica for school, call me -- sometimes from on the toilet because he always flushed sometime during the conversation, have breakfast, and go to work. On weekends he always spent the days with his kids.

Each and every morning I  knew my phone would ring at dawn and end with the answering machine speaker blaring the same thing it had for almost every morning since 1999.

"Hey steve it's Buff. Give me a call at 385-6050, 385-6050," as if I didn't know who it was or the phone number after all those years. It was just Buff's way of wishing me a great day, and I  learned at his funeral that he did it to a bunch of other guys every day as well.

Oh how I miss those calls.

He loved his life, his four daughters, and his friends. He also loved Las Vegas since he moved here from Cleveland in 1971. Where else could someone so different become such a success?

At his funeral, we heard the country song "You can't judge a book by its cover" playing softly in the background as we entered the chapel. It was his favorite, and it said so much about the great man.

Just before Buffalo thundered out of his house to go to the purported business meeting, he received another call , this one from a woman. Caller ID said the call lasted for seven minutes and thirty one seconds. Elise and Jerrica didn't know who it came from, only that their dad stopped in his tracks to talk to her.

Then Buffalo drove his Rolls down the steep hill toward the bright lighes of Sin City, and never returned.

At around 9 PM the girls said the phone rang and a message followed. "Buffalo, are you OK?" stated the female voice.

Another call followed an hour later from the same voice, "Buffalo are you all right? Give me a call."

Could these calls be an alibi?

When Buffalo wasn't working his 12 hour hectic shift at his ultra busy garage, he was having meals with Elise and Jerrica, or sleeping. He had few close friends and seldom went out socially at night in his later years -- except with my family for dinner at his favorite restaurants, Opa, and Benihana. His wild days were far in the past, though they were the stuff of legend.

Legends revolve around the younger Buffalo Jim. Legends the type only Las Vegas could harbor. He was a wild man who looked the part! A huge, hairy ex-pro wrestler who along with the likes of the Undertaker, Goldberg, Rick Steiner, Johnny  "Psyco" Payne, Hulk Hogan, Psyco Sid, and The Rock would make the nightly rounds in one of Buffalo's Rolls Royce Silver Shadows or one of his stretch limos. When these guys walked into local strip clubs, well, you can imagine the rest.

But that was over twenty years ago. Buff had been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes several years back, and his family including his beloved Roxanne, the mother of his daughters, implored him to slow down. Slow down he did -- cold turkey! He was never seen again in his haunts like the Palomino in North Las Vegas. He stopped drinking alcohol, taking drugs, and became the Buffalo Jim I grew to love.

Like a reformed smoker, he constantly advised those he loved or respected to "Take care of yourself brother." Then he would offer some pretty good advice about diet, exercise, or general health matters. And he knew what he was talking about. When I had a health problem several years ago, Buffalo repeatedly told me "Hang in there brother, you're a fighter. Don't let it win."

I had no choice. He was right by my side at least once per day coaching me through like a cut man in a boxing ring ring. I won the match in part thanks to him and his four daughters who cheered me and my family on. (I also have four daughters.)

What a family! The Barriers are the closest I'd ever known. Few knew that Buffalo was a regular at Disneyland. Since he began feeling threatened by his business neighbor in the early 1990's, he kept his travel activities secret. My family and I often went on trips with the Barriers to Catalina, Redondo Beach, Disneyland, and Universal Studios. Since 2003, we spent our Christmas through New Years together in San Francisco. Buffalo loved the town because many of his wrestling cronies live there. We always had a blast, and our kids loved the penthouse suites he rented for them in the Saint Francis Hotel across from Union Square where he took extreme pleasure lavishing his girls with expensive gifts from Neiman Marcus, Sacs, and his favorite Macy's (sometimes Buffalo would try in vane to pinch pennies.)

We even visited Alcatraz together joking about which denizens of the Crazy Horse or Las Vegas City Hall belonged in which cells.

On the week before his his death, his Allstate Auto and Marine did the most business in its 31 year history at the same location, and a hand shake agreement and a deal was about to close to buy a nearby three acre RV sales and repair facility in which to relocate sometime this summer.

Buffalo's body was discovered by a housekeeper at 1;30 PM last Sunday. The door to room 105 was not bolted from the inside, another one of Buffalo's habits that he never wavered from personally doing, or advising his daughters to do when away.

Within three hours, Las Vegas police started calling the big man's death a suicide. Then they said it was from natural causes.

On Monday, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department dropped the case and told reporters that Barrier died a natural death.

The police also told the daughters at the scene that they never heard of him.

Now we know that was wrong.  A Clark County coroner's office examiner  said that Barrier had no drugs in his stomach, and that he did not die of a heart attack, aneurysm, or any kind  of trauma. The causes and manner of death will not be known until the toxicology and pathology results are back in four to six weeks. The results from the family's private pathologist will help determine that too.

Buff was found in  room 105 that was freshly made up. The bathroom had not been used. The bed was was not turned back. He was fully dressed, but his pants had been pulled down to his knees.  And he was  lying on an undisturbed, made bed on his back with a "serene" expression on his big face according to his daughters who will be tramautized for the rest of their lives by the experience. There was a small plastic prescription bottle with four Valium pills in the room with a Styrofoam cup on the side table. Buffalo only drank Avion. (He bought it by the case.)

The room was rented at 8:20 PM Saturday, April 5. His body was discovered seventeen hours later. The Clark County Coroner's office told the family that Buffalo died between 7 and 8 PM. The family also said that they were told there was no evidence of semen present on the bed or on his body.

What brought the Buffalo down?

Hundreds of  mourners attended Buffalo's funeral exactly a week after his death. I had the honor to do part of the eulogy, and I took advantage of the opportunity to try to cheer people up by telling about his morning calls from the toilet and the flush, saying I repeatedly asked my friend to wait until he was finished before calling because I was usually having breakfast at the time, and the flush ruined my appetite. The congregation hesitated, then broke out in laughter.

the most  moving moments came when Roxanne Barrier, the mother of his children, sang a teary acappella rendition of "You are my hero. Then a video produced by photographer Mike Christ was played that brought everyone to tears. (There is a slide presentation by Mike Christ in Sunday's Review-Journal front page story, "Throngs mourn 'Buffalo Jim.'"

Looking around the packed chapel, I saw several dwarfs, at least three Elvis impersonators, a bunch of politicians, the hobos who sleep under the Sahara overpass next to his garage, and a giant man who just called himself Indian Dan.

After the minister lawyers, friends, mechanics, competitors,  a community activist, the Barrier daughters, and I spoke, the giant Indian slowly walked up to the podium. Pastor Marvin Gant looked a little concerned since nobody seemed to know who he was.

Buffalo was half Greek, and half Cherokee. Indian Dan and Buffalo had a pact  few knew about. Dan  made  the jewelry out of bones that Buffalo wore at wrestling matches, one his trademarks.

Indian Dan in wrinkled T-shirt and worn blue jeans leaned into the microphone and said, "Buffalo Jim was an Indian. This for my friend." Dan then reached down and picked up a  hand tooled flute the size of a base ball bat.

He put it up to his mouth and out came a  beautiful rendition of Military Taps. He finished, turned, and walked back to his seat while people sat in  silence, then rose to their feet in applause. The minister went up to the podium. He told the congregation that in 32 years of officiating at funeral services, he had never been so touched as he was that sunny Saturday. He then invited the congregation to the grave site.

Buffalo's wallet from which his driver's license was taken had a single one dollar bill stuffed in it in true Mafia form when the police arrived. His Rolls Royce was not at the motel at the time Buffalo's 15 year old and 20 year old daughters were called to ID their dad. The Rolls mysteriously appeared at the motel at around 8 PM after the police left the scene. We are now believing that someone took the car to a self service car wash and fully cleaned the interior of evidence. This was a very professional hit in my opinion, and has caused my family to fear for my life because Buffalo and I were so close, and I believe his death was to be a warning to me to stop writing about mob associates who still intend to go back in to the Vegas strip club racket with or without a licence with the help of the same brutal thugs that extorted and beat tourists at the Crazy Horse and would have been allowed to continue had the FBI not stepped in after our local District Attorney David Roger dropped the Kirk Henry attempted murder case.

Henry also had a one dollar bill stuffed in to his emptied wallet by a Crazy Horse goon while he lay on the sidewalk waiting for paramedics. He has been a quadriplegic caused by his injuries for disputing a bar bill for the past seven years, and he is still waiting to receive his $9 million dollar judgment.

There's so much more to the story of Buffalo Jim's miraculous life and untoward death that I must wait until next week to continue this horribly sad story.

All we know is he did not die of suicide or natural causes. He had thousands of friends, and a few powerful enemies. Buffalo's friends, and especially his family have not been able to find closure, but will not rest until this untimely death is fully investigated.

Someone is trying to deflect the investigation by putting out false information. I am aware of a person who was fired two weeks ago from a long time job at Allstate Auto.

This person may be being paid to peddle a very false accusation about what he or his new sponsors want to be the latest publicized circumstances surrounding the mysterious death of his former boss.

I believe a local reporter is preparing to break this misleading story, but if so will not reveal the actual circumstances that may have inspired his source to contact him.

This same source possessed keys to the auto garage, and though the locks had been changed prior to the funeral, someone tried to enter the garage with a key over the weekend, but could not. The person left evidence of his or her attempt, and Metro police are investigating the attempted entry.

The reason for the attempted access is unknown. The premises are under guard by a private security firm during night hours. The attempted access occurred after the guard went home on the morning of April 12.

Be aware that there is a local veteran television reporter who is a long time associate of Rick Rizzolo, and should by now have been removed from covering the Barrier death case by the station's management. This is whom I believe is preparing the false and shocking story in return for years of free booze and sexual favors.

There are attorneys presently at work in our city attempting to create perfect alibis for those who are suspected of killing our friend. Evidently, someone never imagined all the fuss the big man's death would bring!

There has been extreme coverage of James "Buffalo Jim" Barrier's amazing life and death in our local media throughout the past week. The writers and reporters I link to below all knew and respected him.  He was a columnist for the Review-Journal and a number of other publications. His "Buffalo Jim's Nuts and Bolts" column had a very large weekly audience. His friends in the media have created many fitting tributes to his life, and have correctly reported his death and the mysterious conditions surrounding it. I wish to defer to Buffalo's friends in the news media:

National Public Radio affiliate KNPR's "Life and Death of Buffalo Jim," April 11, 2008
Featuring Steve Miller, Councilman, Las Vegas... on the colorful life and mysterious death of "Buffalo Jim" Barrier, longtime auto shop owner, TV wrestler and perhaps most notably a Las Vegas character with a knack for mixing it up.

An unlikely hero, a strange death
The mysterious demise of Buffalo Jim has inspired lots of speculation, but few facts -- so far
Las Vegas CityLife
Thursday April 10, 2008

"Buffalo Jim's" Daughter Talks About Her Father's Death
Streaming video
April 10, 2008

Mitch Truswell reporting
Friends, family call Buffalo Jim's death suspicious
April 7, 2008
Streaming video

'Buffalo' Jim Barrier Found Dead in Motel Room
April 7, 2008
Streaming video

More than a 'colorful character'

If you wish to obtain additional new stories, you can Google "Buffalo Jim Barrier." I believe you will draw your own conclusions as to what happened to Buffalo Jim, and if you do, I must caution you that Las Vegas is not a safe city any more.

I miss that wonderful, safe town Buffalo and I grew up in -- the real Las Vegas.

Copyright © Steve Miller

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