Overview of James Barrier
The phrase used most frequently to characterize the late James Christopher “Buffalo Jim” Barrier was “larger-than-life”.
Voted "Las Vegas' Most Colorful Character" by the Las Vegas Review-Journal in 2005, the former professional wrestler, auto mechanic and business owner was described as a “modern Renaissance Man”, due to his many successful business interests. Brash, burly, and bearded, Jim was also an outspoken and self-described “enemy of the mob”, and constant critic of his nemesis, reputed mob-affiliated club owner Rick Rizzolo. Jim had scores of friends in both high and low places; the walls of his auto repair shop were crammed with pictures depicting him with the many celebrities, business moguls, attorneys, journalists, and politicians he befriended. However, Jim never met an underdog he did not champion, and he was also viewed as a friend and hero to the disenfranchised, underserved, and overlooked individuals and communities that populated Sin City. The loving single father was also a hero to his 4 daughters - Jessica, Jennifer, Elise, Jerica - who are unwavering in their quest for justice for their dad.
Buffalo Jim moved from Ohio to Vegas in 1971 at the age of 18, determined to succeed in business. Signing a 30-year lease at a location in an Industrial Road strip mall next to a strip club, he opened his repair shop, Allstate Auto & Marine, and operated the business until his death in 2008. His nickname can be attributed to his wild, bushy hair and wooly beard, his imposing height - he towered well above 6’ - and his hefty bulk at 275 lbs. He attributed his inherent toughness to his Native American and Greek roots, and it was quickly evident that Jim was supremely confident of going up against any opponent, be it on the wrestling mat or in the courtroom.
Before long, Buffalo Jim became a local celebrity.
His colorful career spanned the gamut from auto repair shop owner and specialist to professional wrestler, wrestling promoter, and wrestling school owner/entrepreneur, to cable television show creator and star. In addition, he wrote a weekly column on auto repair for a local newspaper and had assembled a sizable collection of celebrity memorabilia, including a lock of Elvis Presley’s hair and a pink Cadillac. He counted Hulk Hogan, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and Muhammed Ali among his many friends. But he didn’t just cultivate those with star power; Jim also became a friend and unlikely hero to ordinary, everyday people. Jim’s willingness to fight corruption - along with his refusal to back down - served well the downtrodden, overlooked, and marginalized folks lurking in the shadows in the Neon Capital of the World. His wrestling school The Buffalo Wrestling Federation, well-known by fans of his local cable TV show Jim Wars, offered mat training as well as the opportunity to observe local professional matches by up-and-coming young wrestlers. The Native American community also warmed to Buffalo Jim, largely due to his opposition to his neighbor, the owner of the Crazy Horse Too strip club. They felt the club was an egregious example of the misappropriation of Native symbols and imagery. Jim quickly became a Las Vegas media institution; a “lovable loudmouth” who was a self-identified “enemy of the mob” and avenging angel against corruption.
The main focus of Jim’s campaign against greed, depravity, and exploitation was his landlord Rick Rizzolo, owner of the Crazy Horse Too gentlemen’s club and reputed mob crony. Through their attorneys, the two engaged in a bitter turf war over their shared territory for years, with Rizzolo attempting to force Jim into vacating the premises so he could expand his club. The warring factions traded accusations of nuisance complaints, loitering charges, and harassment. One of Jim’s crowning attacks was displaying an enormous, automated papier-mâché bison that snorted smoke out of its nostrils in the lot in front of his shop. The tensions continued for years, while the opposing neighbors continued to fight over territory expansion, parking spaces, and the general appearance of their shared territory. Relief finally seemed imminent in June of 2006, when Rizzolo pleaded guilty to federal tax evasion and racketeering charges and was sentenced to a year and a day in federal prison. Additionally, Rizzolo was ordered by the court to sell the Crazy Horse but attempts to do so were unsuccessful. The U.S. Marshals Service eventually seized the club in September 2007 and forced its eventual closure. Rizzolo was ultimately released in April of 2008, after serving less than a year in prison. That same month, Buffalo Jim was found deceased under what his family considered to be mysterious circumstances.
On the morning of April 6, 2008, Buffalo Jim’s unresponsive body was discovered by a maid in a Motel 6 on Boulder Highway.
He was lying face up with his pants pulled down around his ankles. A bottle of Valium was discovered in the room, and there appeared to be some white powder on his beard and shirt. The room was undisturbed, and his wallet contained only $1, though his daughters said he typically carried up to $1000.00 on him. The keys to his Rolls-Royce were found in the room, but the distinctive vehicle was not found in the parking lot at the time of the discovery of the body. (It was later found parked in the lot in a spot that had been previously checked and appeared to have been cleaned.) Police did not initially suspect foul play, despite the later contention that Jim had reportedly been receiving death threats just prior to his demise. Specifically, he was under the impression that any attempts against his life would be carried out by a woman, possibly using drugs. It later emerged that a woman - identified only as "Lisa" - was in the room with Jim at some point the prior evening. She was located and interviewed by the police, and told them that Jim had suffered a seizure. The last voicemail on Jim's phone was from Lisa, asking if he was all right.
On April 12, 2008, masses of mourners, young and old, descended in droves to pay their respects and bid goodbye to Buffalo Jim. The attendees ranged from celebrities, politicians, and executives to Hell’s Angels, auto mechanics, and Elvis impersonators. Jim was laid to rest in fitting and colorful style at Las Vegas’ Palm Downtown Mortuary and Cemetery, with anecdotes, tributes, songs, prayers, and a seemingly endless river of tears.
Where the case stands today.
Despite the somewhat suspicious circumstances, the LVMPD dismissed foul play in Jim’s death, largely due to the surveillance video from the motel, which indicated Jim had checked in willingly, under no duress. Clark County Coroner Michael Murphy ruled Jim’s death as accidental, citing dilated cardiomyopathy. Also, he released details that cocaine found in his system was a contributing factor. A toxicology report revealed 20 mg/mL of GHB in his system, which the coroner said did not contribute to Barrier's death. Las Vegas Metro Police closed the case after the autopsy report was released, and it remains closed to this day.
Jim's daughters were not satisfied with the ruling of accidental death. His family admitted that while it was true Jim had used drugs recreationally in the 1980s, he no longer indulged. Further, they stated that he was seeing a "life coach" and seeking a healthier lifestyle before his death, taking vitamins and drinking only moderately. Instead, Jim’s family and friends were convinced their beloved Buffalo Jim’s death was the result of a homicide. They suspected that he had been drugged and transported to the motel in his Rolls-Royce, and the vehicle was subsequently taken from the lot and cleaned. Due to the eyewitness claim that Jim did not appear to have been coerced when he checked into the motel, authorities did not explore this avenue. Jim’s daughters, however, remain steadfast in their conviction that foul play was involved, and that Jim had been targeted by the mob due to his decades of outspoken opposition to corruption and greed. To challenge the findings of the Clark County Coroner, Jim’s supporters hired an independent pathologist to perform an autopsy. The family was promised visual, audio, and written documentation upon completion; however, the pathologist reneged, saying, “I need to hold on to the file in case it goes to court.” As of 2018, no new information has been released to the family. The family then requested an exhumation of Jim’s body in an effort to determine any recent history of drug use prior to his death. The Clark County Coroner’s office denied the request, stating they could only do so at the request of law enforcement. Jim’s devastated daughters continue to seek ways to exact justice for their father, which they believe has been denied due to the lack of investigation by authorities and the premature conclusion of accidental death in his case.