In April 2008, James “Buffalo Jim” Barrier was found dead in a motel room. The colorful character was a fixture in Las Vegas, Nevada, and loved ones were shocked by the circumstances surrounding his death. Netflix’s ‘Unsolved Mysteries: Death in a Vegas Motel’ focuses on this very case. While the authorities didn’t believe there was foul play, the family thought otherwise. So, if you’re wondering what really happened, here’s what we know.
How Did Buffalo Jim Die?
James “Buffalo Jim” Barrier was originally from Cleveland, Ohio, but moved to Las Vegas in the early 1970s. At the time of the incident, the former professional wrestler was a wrestling promoter and an auto mechanic, running a successful auto shop that catered to a wide range of clients. The 55-year-old was a loving father to four daughters, two of which — Jerica and Elise — resided with him. Jim was described as having a larger-than-life personality and had produced his own wrestling show on cable TV.
At around 1:10 pm on April 6, 2008, a housekeeper at a motel found Jim unresponsive in one of the rooms. She had come by a couple of times prior but had seen him in the same position on the bed. At the time, she assumed that he was asleep. He was found on the bed, face up and naked from the waist down. Jim had some white powder on his beard and shirt, as per the show. The autopsy revealed his cause of death was dilated cardiomyopathy, with cocaine intoxication contributing; the manner of death was ruled accidental.
Was Buffalo Jim Killed?
The authorities learned that Jim had left home the previous night at around 7:20 pm, telling his daughter, Jerica, that he was going to meet a friend. However, she couldn’t reach him after that. The time of death was considered somewhere between 7 pm and 9 pm. At the motel, surveillance video showed Jim checking in at about 8:22 pm, meaning he died shortly after that. According to the show, the white powder was not tested, and the scene was not dusted for fingerprints.
The family was adamant that Jim was a victim of foul play. He had been in a long-running feud with Rick Rizzolo, who previously owned the neighboring strip club Crazy Horse Too and was also Jim’s landlord. The issue started many years before the incident when Rick wanted Jim to leave so he could expand the strip club. The auto shop owner also filed a harassment lawsuit in 2002; Jim claimed that the cars at his business were being vandalized.
The federal authorities were investigating Rick, who was accused of having mob ties. He eventually pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States and received a sentence of a year and a day. At the time, Jim gave the authorities information during the investigation. However, Rick only served about ten months, being released the day before Jim died. In the time leading up to the death, Jim also received death threats, including a call from a self-proclaimed hitman.
Furthermore, Jim had received letters that suggested that the Rizzolo family had been meeting up and discussing attacks on him; the letter alleged that they would try and use a woman to access his business and asked him to be careful. The family also learned Jim was with a woman shortly before his death. There was an unsaved number on his phone, and that person had left him voicemails asking if he was okay that night.
The woman was later identified as Lisa. When Jerica called her back, she claimed not to know Jim. However, during an interview with the police, she provided conflicting accounts of what happened. Lisa stated that she had been friends with Jim for a decade and remembered he was snorting cocaine in the motel room that night. Initially, she claimed to have left while Jim was in the bathroom but later said she left when Jim was in bed having a seizure. Lisa was also an employee at the strip club.
Ultimately, the authorities didn’t pursue the case as a homicide because they didn’t believe Jim was murdered. However, the family didn’t feel the same way. Nevertheless, Jim’s official manner of death remains accidental, and his loved ones have continued hoping for new information.