VIDEO VAULT | The unsolved murder of a Las Vegas casino dealer
LAS VEGAS (KSNV) —
The News 3 video archives contain many stories which were still developing when first reported, but dropped from the public eye without a satisfactory conclusion.
That's what happened with an unsolved murder case from 42 years ago, which more recently has been the subject of a 2008 book by the victim's brother.
News 3 gave the case another look in 1992 while developing a local segment based on a popular network program at the time.
"Tonight News 3 begins a new feature," began anchor Sue Tripathi. "A special Crimewatch 3 report: Las Vegas Unsolved Mysteries."
The mystery in question was the October 8, 1976 murder of baccarat dealer Peter "Buster" Bufala, who had driven home from his graveyard shift at the old MGM -- today's Bally's.
"It appears he pulled in and parked his Cadillac at this location," LVMPD Detective Dave Hatch told News 3's Gwen Castaldi in 1992 as they walked up the driveway. "The suspects approached him probably from the street. He was murdered approximately right where we're standing. He fell onto the lawn area, onto this grassy area. And this is where the neighbors discovered him and then called the police."
Billy Gray lived in the house next door in the 7000 block of South Spencer, which was very lightly populated at the time. At daybreak, he walked out to get his paper, glanced over and noticed Bufala on the ground.
"Stepped over the fence and walked over to him," Gray told Castaldi in 1992. "And I was going to wake him up. I touched his shoulder and I knew he was dead as soon as I touched him."
Gray shuddered at the thought that his daughter had been asleep in the house when the shooting occurred.
"She just lay there in bed. She didn't get up and look out. Which, I'm glad she didn't. She might have seen something it wouldn't be safe to see. In fact if they’d have seen her looking out, they might have shot her."
Bufala had moved from Pennsylvania to Las Vegas in the early '60s hoping to find fame as a boxer. He had accumulated a 10-5-1 record in bouts at the Castaways and the Hacienda where he was billed as the "Local Favorite." Injuries in the ring forced him to retire early though.
He cycled through a variety of service jobs in the casino industry, and by 1976 was dealing baccarat at the MGM -- a prestigious position in the industry.
But Bufala also had dreams of greater wealth. He always strove upward, renovating the home where he and his wife, Carol, were raising two young daughters.
“He spent a lot of money on his house, you know,” remembered Gray. “And then tearing them out and doing something else.”
To augment his income, Bufala began collecting debts on behalf of Gaspar (also known as "Jasper") Speciale, who operated a loan shark business out of his Tower of Pizza Restaurant just down the street from the MGM, at Harmon & the Strip.
"Police say Bufala palled around with scufflers like Jasper Speciale, one time bookmaker and pizza joint owner," reported Castaldi. "A man law enforcement connected to organized crime. A man nabbed for playing the numbers game illegally in back rooms."
Another theory held that Bufala may have been involved in skimming money as part of his job at the MGM. Rumors that dealers were holding money back never turned into anything more than loose talk.
"He lived at the end of what was then a seedy, flashy era," observed Castaldi. "One of high times, casino buddyism and the glitter of late night wheeling and dealing."
Ultimately though, investigators with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department were drawn to a third theory, which began with an eyewitness account from another neighbor.
"I left this place about 3:45 going to work," Lloyd Young told Castaldi in 1992. "Came out on the road and turned to the right. Right in the middle of the road was a car parked with its headlights off. And a person -- I couldn't tell if it was a male or a female -- sitting in the driver’s seat. I came up behind it slowly. Didn't see any trouble."
Nonetheless, Young made a mental note of the car's make and model as well as the approximate license plate number. When police narrowed it down, it seems to have been a car which that night had been loaned to Bufala's father-in-law. That led to the idea that the murder may have been related to control of a small retail shop at Tropicana and Pecos owned by the family called "Bufala's World of Sports."
Police looked closely at the father-in-law, his son and a couple of their friends, but ultimately could not find enough corroborating evidence. The District Attorney’s office declined to prosecute the case.
"The children of Mr. Bufala were very young when this occurred. They never really knew their father," said Hatch. "And he was a loving father and a good family man. And they would like to know how and why their father came to his death."
News 3 has been in contact recently with Bufala's daughters, both in their 40s today. They still want their father's story out there, in the hopes that even all these years later someone might provide the piece of information that would solve the case.
Anyone who thinks they might know something is asked to call LVMPD Homicide at 702-828-3521 or the anonymous Crime Stoppers Tip Line at 702-385-5555.
Edward Bufala, Pete's brother and author of "Who Killed Buster," passed away a few years ago without being able to write the conclusion for his book that he sought.