Lake Mead Decomposing Torso May Be Hero Veteran Who Drowned Saving Wife

A decomposing torso found at Lake Mead may belong to a U.S. Army veteran who drowned saving his wife's life almost 20 years ago.

Kenneth Funk was 56 when he died on June 16, 2004, having suffered a suspected heart attack while saving his wife, Annette. His body was never recovered. Funk's family has now told Las Vegas news station KLAS that the remains found near Swim Beach at Lake Mead in July could be that of their husband and father.

Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the United States by maximum capacity, was formed by the Hoover Dam blocking the Colorado river and spans the Nevada/Arizona border. The lake is currently in the grips of a severe megadrought and has seen rapid evaporation leading to the lowest water levels since it was built in the 1930s.

As of July 18, Lake Mead was only filled to around 27 percent of its total water capacity. The difference in the shoreline of the lake between 2000 and 2022 can be seen in shocking detail in images taken by NASA's Landsat 8 satellite.

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A body found at Lake Mead's Swim Beach could be U.S. Army veteran Kenneth Funk, according to his family, and may also be the same body as another set of human remains found close by. Above, boats cruise on Lake Mead, as seen from the shore. iStock / Getty Images Plus

With the dropping water levels in the lake, the shoreline is receding inwards, revealing things that haven't seen daylight for many years. In the most macabre cases, this has involved dead bodies, including one found on May 1 inside a rusted barrel, covered with bullet wounds.

Funk's family believes that his remains were those recovered on July 25. The National Park Service said witnesses found remains at around 4.30 p.m. local time.

KLAS reported that pictures of the remains convinced the Funk family they belong to Kenneth.

"[The torso is] built like my dad, the stomach, the chest, the back," Jessica Condon, Funk's daughter, told the news outlet. "The fact that these remains are coming up, if it is him, I want to do the right thing and take care of him."

Drought conditions
Drought Conditions Affect Two-Thirds of the U.S. Statista

This Statista chart shows the share of the continental United States' area under different levels of drought between 2018 and 2022.

Funk was lost during a boating accident when a wave hit. His wife, who was not wearing a life jacket, fell into the lake. Kenneth jumped in to save her. "He gave her the life jacket, and they were in the water together, as close as me and you are right now, and he treaded water as long as he could," Condon told KLAS.

"He put his head back, he closed his eyes, and he went under. My dad knew, he knew there was no way out for him, and he knew that if she held on to him, she would go down with him."

The identity of the remains recovered on July 25 is yet to be confirmed. According to Dr. Scott Glickman, the torso found in July that Funk's family believe to be him actually appears as if the person's arms, legs and head were cleanly removed, which doesn't line up with his death by drowning.

"You're not just going to like lose an arm," Glickman told KLAS. "It's not going to get soft in the shoulder area on the right side or on the left side and the arms kind of spontaneously break off. They're not going to do it in a clean fashion."

The torso is the third of four sets of remains that have been uncovered at Lake Mead since the drought began.

The fourth and most recent set of remains were found by Christopher Orozcohe, who was swimming with his family at the lake's Swim Beach on August 6 when he saw human bones sticking out of the sand in the shallows. He photographed the skeleton before reporting them to the National Park Service, ABC 13 Las Vegas reported.

"We went in the water, one of my daughters said she saw something in the water, she thought it was a bone," Orozco told the news station. "I said okay let me go see, as I got closer I picked it up I noticed it was a bone, like this big."

Swim Beach was also the location of the body found on July 25. This has led to speculation that the third and fourth bodies, which were only partial remains, were both from the same individual. The Clark County Coroner's Office is investigating this possibility, according to ABC 13.

With the megadrought not shifting, the lake's water levels may further drop, revealing more clues or even more bodies. Experts predict that the lake's shoreline will recede a further 20 to 30 feet by September 2023.