Lake Tahoe is a beloved United States landmark, found in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, that is a destination for many travelers each year. However, for those who live near the lake, Lake Tahoe urban legends give the area a slightly more sinister atmosphere. Locals have long exchanged stories of the secret graveyard buried in the depths of Lake Tahoe. Are there bodies in Lake Tahoe? This is a hotly debated subject by scientists, locals, and visitors. Even Jacques Cousteau has something to say about it.
Rumors are fueled due to documented cases where bodies were found in Lake Tahoe. Bodies that had been underwater for years emerged shockingly well preserved. As rumors have long circulated that the lake is a dumping grounds for murder victims, some speculate the lake is the final resting place for many missing people. Bodies hidden in lakes are always spooky for the public, but people are particularly invested in Lake Tahoe bodies as they're seen as evidence of a full-on underwater graveyard. Read up on the facts and decide for yourself whether you think the lake is harboring hundreds of corpses.
According to a long-circulated rumor, the famed naval officer and researcher Jacques Cousteau once dove deep into Lake Tahoe. When he resurfaced, he was reportedly traumatized and refused to share what he saw. He allegedly said, "The world is not ready for what I have seen." However, evidence has never proven this to be anything other than local lore.
Nevertheless, the story is still believed by many and contributes to the widespread belief in the underwater graveyard.
In 2011, the body of Donald Christopher Windecker was recovered from Lake Tahoe. Windecker had lost his life 17 years previously while scuba diving. Due to the lake’s cold temperature, his body was remarkably preserved and easy to identify. The lake pulled Windecker’s body 265 feet deep. An average scuba diver cannot safely descend more than 100 feet, but mixed gas divers - whose equipment allows them to swim deeper into the lake - discovered the body while exploring Lake Tahoe’s cliff walls.
The discovery of Windecker lent more credence to the theory that the lake is home to a graveyard of old, well-preserved bodies. Windecker was in such great shape, doctors were able to perform an autopsy to determine the precise cause of death. If Windecker’s body had been preserved for 17 years, the lake could actually turn out to be home to many bodies in similar condition, and at least four more bodies are known to have gone missing in the same area.
At depths between 600 and 700 feet, Lake Tahoe consistently stays around 39 degrees Fahrenheit. This prevents gasses that lead to decomposition from being released into the body. This is why bodies recovered from Lake Tahoe can stay preserved for weeks or even years before they’re recovered.
The lake’s ability to preserve bodies has given some credence to urban legends about very decades-old bodies potentially remaining intact in the depths of the lake.
According to legends, many bodies that are decades and even centuries old lie somewhere at the bottom of Lake Tahoe. It’s speculated the bodies of Chinese laborers that built railroads in the 1860s can be found at the bottom of the lake. Rumors also have it that the lake is dumping grounds for the mob, and mobsters are alleged to be found in Lake Tahoe.
The theory goes that mobsters strapped concrete-filled casino buckets onto the people's bodies. This means the bodies would sink so far into Lake Tahoe, they would reach an area where water temperatures were cold enough to preserve the bodies indefinitely.