They were young, they were in love and they'd just tied the knot in Las Vegas. Yet thanks to one of the ghastliest turns of events to ever occur in the glittering gambling capital, the honeymoon was over for this pair of Phoenix newlyweds almost before it began. Vows of "I do" changed to oaths of "P.U.!" the minute the newlyweds waltzed into the honeymoon suite of one of that city's most highly publicized new hotels.
Clearly there was something rotten in the state of Nevada.
"They noticed this funny odor as soon as they got in the room," explained my sister's mother-in-law, who claimed she was privy to details of the grisly yarn because the bride in the story was "the daughter of a friend of a friend."
"Anyway, for some reason, this couple didn't want to give up the room," continued the storyteller. "Instead they decided to call the housekeeping department. A maid came up and sprayed air freshener or something and that seemed to get rid of the odor." Their olfactory sensibilities no longer offended, the newlyweds reportedly forgot the odor and set off to "do" the town. Hours later--after an evening that included dinner, a show and gambling--the amorous pair straggled back to their bridal boudoir and did what newlyweds do.
The next morning, however, they received a rude awakening: During the night, the odor had returned with a vengeance. Breathing through his mouth, the husband managed to telephone the front desk; hotel employees were eventually dispatched to the room to investigate. Baffled staffers were just about to admit defeat when someone got the bright idea to look beneath the mattress.
Stuffed inside the slashed underside of the newlyweds' marital bed was the decomposing corpse of a prostitute, presumably murdered in the room by a previous hotel guest!
Disregarding the story's gaping flaws (Is there an air freshener in the world that can mask the aroma of a decaying cadaver?), you have to wonder: How had this grotesque saga escaped media attention?
"Well, of course the hotel paid everyone to hush it up," explained my sister's mother-in-law. Then, with a knowing glance, she added, "You know Vegas."
So does Sergeant Bill Keeton, a 24-year veteran of the Las Vegas police force. Quizzed about the hooker-in-the-mattress tale during a telephone interview last week, Keeton chuckles.
"That story has hit every hotel for I don't know how long," says Keeton, who works out of homicide. "It's definitely unsubstantiated."
Ironically, Keeton says, he first learned of the story from his own mother-in-law, who heard it in Bakersfield, California, about 18 months ago. "I accused her of making the story up," says Keeton. "When I first heard it myself, I laughed my fanny off."
Keeton says he has no idea how or why the rumor started. However, Keeton theorizes that Hollywood's sensationalistic portrayals of the gambling mecca (in the old TV series Vega$, casino lobbies regularly saw more gunfire than the local rifle range) may contribute to the public's willingness to believe that anything of a criminal nature is possible in Las Vegas. "Last year I think we had 96 murders in the whole county--and this is a big county," Keeton says of Nevada's Clark County. "In a year's time, I think we had one murder that touched a hotel property. Some years we haven't even had any."
Unlike the fictional flat-backer who comes to a bed end, though, the Las Vegas legend refuses to die. "I can't pinpoint exactly when I first heard that story, but I'd guess it's been going around the country for about two years," reports folklorist Jan Harold Brunvand, the country's leading authority on microwaved poodles, spider nests in beehive hairdos and other urban legends. "I call this one 'The Body in the Bed,'" says the Salt Lake City-based Brunvand, who says he will include a recap of the tale in The Baby Train, his newest compilation of urban legends, scheduled for publication next spring.
Although Brunvand has no answers about the origin of the story, he claims that certain details of the tale remain amazingly consistent from one retelling to the next: The corpse is almost always identified as a prostitute, and the city in question is always Las Vegas, with the two most-frequently mentioned hotels being the Excalibur and the Mirage--the two newest in Vegas.
(Contacted for comment, a spokeswoman for the Mirage giggles as she listens to the story but tells New Times she's never heard the rumor before. Considerably less amused is a representative from the Excalibur; she admits she's heard the tale but claims it has been linked "to every hotel in town.")
Brunvand, meanwhile, can't wait to share another motel horror story currently making the rounds--a shocker so disgusting that it makes a visit to Dead Hooker Hotel look like a weekend at the Waldorf.
"I challenge you to figure out how to write about this one in a newspaper," says Brunvand. Chortling, he tells of vacationers who return to their motel after a day of sightseeing, only to discover that someone has ransacked their room, stealing everything but a camera and their toothbrushes.
The puzzled couple eventually have the vacation photos developed. Among them is a snapshot of the robber mooning the camera--while simultaneously using their toothbrushes to swab a cavity nowhere near his mouth.