Elvis tribute artist, Dana MacKay, in an undated photo.
Photo © https://www.8newsnow.com.
The tabloids called Dana MacKay “America’s first Elvis impersonator.” Mary Huffman was the divorced former Mrs. Nevada 1989. To readers of early 1990s sensationalist newspapers, the double murder of the King and the Beauty Queen was the ultimate Las Vegas story. It positively dripped with Vegas glamour: beautiful victims, salacious innuendo, and even a mansion called Mini-Graceland! In truth, it simply was the tragedy of two very real people, with normal everyday problems, gunned down inside the front door of their house.
On Saturday, October 2, 1993, according to the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department Homicide Cold Case Detail, in the course of performing a welfare check at the request of a friend, officers found Dana MacKay and Mary Huffman shot dead in their home. Contemporaneous reporting in the Las Vegas Review-Journal contradicts Metro’s official story, quoting a supervisor of the detective bureaus as saying, “A neighbor who hadn’t seen them for several days found a door open and found the bodies.” Metro records show that MacKay had been shot seven times. Huffman, with whom he shared the home, had suffered a single gunshot to the back of her head. The victims had been dead for at least a day, maybe two. Police believe the couple, having just arrived home from buying groceries, interrupted a burglary in progress and were killed by the suspect(s).
At the time, there was plenty of speculation in the Las Vegas Valley surrounding the double homicide. Some supposed MacKay’s sloppy business practices and questionable business dealings were at the root of the murders. There were rumors that MacKay and Huffman were involved with narcotics trafficking. One particularly nasty prospect was hinted at by Jeff German in his October 10th, Las Vegas Sun column, just eight days after the murder was discovered: “There’s a bizarre twist to the double slaying . . . . I’m told that the 49-year-old Huffman had some interesting social habits. A well-respected public official could get dragged into the homicide case as a witness if more about Huffman comes to light.” Regardless of the Valley scuttlebutt, the official line from LVMPD was and continues to be: “It is believed that the victims walked in on a burglary in progress."
Years later, in September of 2008, Detective George Sherwood, an 8-year veteran of the Metro Homicide detective, gave the Las Vegas Sun an interview. He was moving to another assignment after working the Cold Case Detail for two years, but he planned to take the MacKay case with him. He believed the case could be solved; his investigation pivoted on one salient fact. Even though the house had been broken into and ransacked, nothing had been stolen, not Dana’s wallet nor cash nor jewelry, nothing save for the manila folder that MacKay carried with him everywhere he went. According to Detective Sherwood, “Somebody wanted that folder, and somebody wanted Dana.”
Inside that folder, MacKay kept documents pertaining to his music ventures, his personal finances, and his current and prospective business deals. In particular, he kept records about the landscape company, Paradise Palms Co., he had formed with his best friend Danny Koker, along with Tim Stonestreet who would provide the financing. Dana had a contact in California who raised palm trees and sold them to Dana at a steep discount. The three partners believed they could make use of that discount to land a contract to line the Las Vegas Strip’s median with palm trees.
That plan never came to fruition as the company was dissolved only 5 months later, with MacKay and Stonestreet quickly ending up in court, fighting over the $100k worth of landscaping equipment the company had purchased. MacKay represented himself and Stonestreet hired an attorney from Goodman & Chesnoff, a firm founded by the then future Mayor of Las Vegas, Oscar Goodman. The case was not going well for MacKay, but he was optimistic. He told Danny Koker he had information that might help him win the case, but before he could bring that new information to the court, Dana MacKay was dead and the manila folder was gone. About two weeks later, the assets of the Paradise Palms Company were awarded to Stonestreet.
Fast-forward to May of 2017. KLAS-TV Channel 8, the Las Vegas CBS affiliate, characterized in an online article the MacKay and Huffman cold case as “heating up.” Sources in law enforcement who were familiar with the case told reporters there were strong indications the homicide was a murder-for-hire plot. They indicated their belief that someone paid the killers to do a job on MacKay. Both Danny Koker and Misty Vargas, Dana MacKay’s daughter who was 13 years old at the time of her father’s death, are convinced they know who was behind the murders. Misty expressed frustration that the case remained open,“Because I know exactly who did it, and I know the cops know exactly who did it, but he’s allowed to get away with it because of his connections. My dad was telling people before he died, if something happens to me, this is the person responsible.” Koker stated, “I have no doubt in my mind, beyond a shadow of a doubt I am positive who had this done.” It was not necessary for the writers of the article to name the person whom Metro, Misty Vargas, and Danny Koker believe is behind the murders, as it’s made perfectly clear in the context of the reporting.
“Cold case investigators remain confident that the murders can be solved with more input from the public,” according to the same Channel 8 report, but that reporting is from well over two years ago. Today it’s going on 26 years since Dana MacKay and Mary Huffman were murdered in cold blood right inside their front door, and—still!— after all this time, the culprit has neither been named nor brought to justice. It’s unlikely that it really is the “public” who needs to come through on this one.
Photos of Mary Huffman (top) and Dana MacKay
posted on the Metro Cold Case Detail website.