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Video Vault | Murder, Cannibalism and Prison Break Attempt

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Updated: 7/30/2014 9:13 am

LAS VEGAS (KSNV — It may seems redundant to use the term "shocking murder", because just about any murder is shocking by definition.

But this Video Vault looks at a case from 1985 which was not just shocking, but also macabre ... gruesome. And it ended with a strange epilogue two years later.

The story first came to light when a Las Vegas city sanitation worker noticed a backed-up drainage and tried to fix the problem.

"I seen all the water and I stuck my rod, a rod that I carry ... I stuck it in there," he told News 3 in May 1985. "And when I did that, I pulled this back with some bones in it. And I started looking at it. And they didn't look like any animal bones to me."

They weren't animal bones. And when someone else called in what appeared to be part of a body in a Dumpster near Bonanza and Las Vegas Boulevard North, the search began throughout downtown. 

Who do you ask to rummage through garbage in search of body parts? In this case, fresh-faced Metro cadets, about to get a rude introduction to realities of the job.

Police were soon questioning some men in the area where the first parts were found. Meanwhile, another discovery was taking place at the city sewage treatment plant several miles away.

"People here ... we went down after lunch," treatment plant worker Wayne Barnes told News 3. "They didn't believe me that I found the nose of a human. And they searched through the truck and found other parts. And then another operator, he found an ear on his side of the plant."

Apparently some of the parts had gone into dumpsters while others were flushed down toilets. One of the two men held earlier was released. But Michael Harvey Yarbrough, was charged with murder after police entered his home on 7th near Fremont.

"There are things in the house that lead us to believe that this may be the scene of the mutilation," Metro Lt. John Conner briefed the media.

"Such as knives, hatchets?" prompted a reporter.

"I'm not going to go into what is in there at this point," replied Connor. "I'll simply say that there are things in there that indicated that this may be the scene."

Yarbrough quickly confessed that he killed his roommate, claiming self-defense after an argument. As if it couldn't get any stranger, Yarbrough said he was overcome with a desire to taste the remains of his victim.

Surprisingly, he pleaded not guilty instead of using an insanity defense and was sentenced to life behind bars.  

But life in a maximum-security prison proved to be more than Yarbrough could bear, and he made the news for the final time two years later in an escape attempt. 

Authorities said Yarbrough got over one fence at the Northern Nevada Correctional Center and was trying for the last one. Warning shots were fired, but when he didn't stop, Yarbrough was killed in his bid for freedom, and the bizarre story ended there in May 1987.

Cops often have gallows humor on gruesome cases. One person who talked with police on the case told News 3 that, off the record, some officers echoed a popular ad campaign at the time, saying "parts is parts." For those who were diving the Dumpsters or working the sewers in 1985, those parts stayed with them a long time.



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