As the story goes, a fisherman snagged something for a moment in the deep water just offshore of the South Shore casinos, but it easily broke free. When he reeled up his line, to his shock, on his hook was the top of a human ear.
This might sound crazy, but in the past 10 years, I've heard different versions of this story at least a dozen times. In one account, a fisherman snags up, gets it loose, and reels up a partial hand where two of the fingers had been lopped off Mafia-style. It is a tale passed around called "The Legend of Three-Fingered Tony."
Many have told me that, if you were to take a submarine down 900 feet just off South Shore, you would see hundreds of bodies suspended in the water, preserved perfectly like an underwater wax museum, most wearing clothes from the 1920s, '30s and '40s.
The legend is that this is where the Mafia killers dumped bodies after executions. Some fishermen even call the spot The Grave. At Tahoe, many locals talk as if everybody knows about this, that there are lots of gangsters down there, wearing pinstriped suits, with sneers on their faces and bullet holes in their foreheads.
This makes sense. It has long been verified that Tahoe is a lake that does not give up its dead. That is because the lake is so deep, with an average depth of 989 feet, and so cold, with the temperature hovering just above freezing. So that prevents the creation of gases that would otherwise bloat and float corpses to the surface as in other waters.
This reality brings bizarre possibilities.
Lake Tahoe, as first theorized by the famed geologist Josiah Whitney, was created by a colossal earthquake where a center block of land collapsed between two faults. It might be possible that another massive earthquake here would disrupt the underwater currents and suddenly float all the suspended corpses to the surface at once.
Another possibility is that the bodies will remain submerged for eons of time, just as the woolly mammoths were preserved in glaciers from the last ice age 14,000 years ago.
Even famed oceanographer Jacques Cousteau is said to have had a brush with something horrific in a deepwater dive in the mid-1970s. "The world isn't ready for what was down there," is the quote most commonly credited. Cousteau never released any photographs or data from the dive, adding to the mystery and legend.
Some believe Cousteau was talking about a Loch Ness monster-like creature that locals call "Tahoe Tessie." Unlikely. But if I could get a loaner sub, maybe I could find out.
Apart from Tahoe's maximum depth of 1,645 feet, another legend is that there is a hole somewhere on the bottom of the lake that is linked to an underground river system that feeds into Pyramid Lake north of Reno. This would explain how drowning victims at Tahoe have floated up at Pyramid. Or would it? Others say it just means that bodies floated over the spillway at north Tahoe could be carried via the Truckee River to Nevada and Pyramid Lake.