On Saturday, a longtime Las Vegas investigative journalist named Jeff German—the author of a book called Murder in Sin City—was found dead outside his home in an apparent stabbing. On Wednesday, authorities arrested a local elected official named Robert Telles, whom German had covered extensively for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, on suspicion of having killed the reporter, who was 69. Below, we try to answer some of the most obvious questions about this tragic but undeniably intriguing situation.
Who is Robert Telles?
Telles, a Democrat, has served as Clark County, Nevada’s “public administrator” since winning election in 2018. The public administrator’s job is to supervise the disposal of the estates of individuals who die in Clark County. He was defeated in a June primary and, before being arrested for murder, was scheduled to finish his term in office at the end of the year.
Was German killed because he had exposed, or was going to expose, some sort of allegedly corrupt activity that Telles was involved in?
He’d written about Telles, but not in the way you might imagine if you are aware of the gambling industry’s historic ties to the mob, the size of the estates that the public administrator likely deals with on a regular basis, and German’s history of writing about salacious crimes. (Murder in Sin City is about Ted Binion, a casino heir with drug problems who built an underground vault in the desert to bury part of his fortune and subsequently died when—well, it’s a long story.) Somehow, this has nothing to do with dirty money, casinos, or the mob (yet?). German, rather, had written a series of pieces about accusations that Telles was involved in an “inappropriate relationship” with a female member of the public administrator’s office, that he had created “turmoil and internal dissension” by giving her privileges and authority over other employees that were not justified by her job description, and that he was in general an abusive boss.
An inappropriate relationship? How inappropriate are we talking?
Other members of the public administrator’s staff (!) went so far as to videotape Telles and the woman in question together in her Nissan Rogue at a nearby parking garage on multiple occasions. German’s first Review-Journal article, published in May, delicately and non-libelously describes one such taped encounter as a “meeting” between Telles and the woman and observes that the video “appears to show two heads through the tinted back window joining together.” (Afterward, each of them gets out of the vehicle’s back seat and leaves separately.)
Telles and the woman are married to other people and have denied having an affair. (“I’m actually infinitely in love with my wife,” Telles told German.) He said that all the allegations against him were false and that they had been made by veteran employees who were upset that he had asked them to meet higher standards of efficiency and professional conduct. (In a letter he later posted online, Telles said that one of his requests for members of the office was that they “not spend the majority of the workday chatting.” Abusive indeed!)
Was German’s coverage the reason why Telles lost his primary?
Potentially, although at the time the first Review-Journal article was published, an assistant public administrator named Rita Reid had already launched a primary campaign against him. (It’s a small office; there are only eight full-time employees. Very awkward!) Fallout from the the Review-Journal’s article included a hostile Facebook exchange between Telles and his predecessor in office about Telles’ relationship with the subordinate, which the newspaper duly covered as well. Reid went on to win the three-way race by a narrow margin.
How did Telles react to all this?
By blaming German’s purported obsession with him:
Sounds like we know now that he wasn’t really as “over” the situation as his cry-laughing emoji would suggest.
Why do police believe Telles was the one who killed German?
In a chilling twist, the Review-Journal says that one break in the case occurred when some of its reporters went to Telles’ house on Tuesday—they were presumably not the only ones who wondered what their late colleague’s most high-profile recent subject was up to—and realized that he owned a car fitting the description of one that police had said may have been used by German’s killer. The next morning, detectives interviewed Telles while his house was searched and his cars were towed. When he returned home, he was wearing a hazmat suit:
You’re telling me this guy finished a conversation with police officers who suspected him of murder, then returned to his home, which was surrounded by members of the press, wearing clothing that someone on television would wear if they were trying to dispose of evidence of a crime?
It was an interesting wardrobe choice. Per surveillance images released by police, Telles also (allegedly) killed German while wearing sneakers, a bright orange reflective jacket, and an enormous straw hat.
What happened next?
Later on Wednesday, police returned to Telles’ home and entered it when he did not answer the door. He was soon thereafter wheeled out on a stretcher with what police said were self-inflicted wounds. “Authorities described the wounds as superficial cuts on his arms,” the Review-Journal’s reporters noted, perhaps with the intention of emphasizing that Telles was not so tough when he wasn’t (allegedly) stabbing their 69-year-old colleague. Further “shade” may have been implicit in authorities’ decision to release photos depicting a straw hat and sneakers, which they say were found on Telles’ property, and which had been ineptly cut into very large pieces:
That is the most half-assed alleged destruction of evidence I have ever seen.
Yes, the large remaining chunk of shoe even still has (what appears to be) blood on it!
How many days after he allegedly committed this crime was Telles’ property searched?
This was the best he could (allegedly) do in four days?
The Review-Journal’s writeup of the evidence against Telles also seems to suggest that the entire murder took place in full view of a surveillance camera. Police additionally say that DNA found under German’s fingernails was “consistent with” Telles’ DNA.
So this was all (allegedly) done in retaliation for German’s articles?
Police have not commented on Telles’ motive, but German’s newspaper notes that he “had recently filed public records requests for emails and text messages between Telles and three other county officials,” including the woman with whom he was alleged to be having an affair. So further personally damaging reporting could have been forthcoming.
Does this whole situation remind you of the monologue that Frances McDormand, in character as Marge Gunderson, delivers at the conclusion of the film Fargo?
It does. “And for what?” she asks a character who’s killed several people. “For a little bit of money? There’s more to life than a little money, you know.” (Telles’ alleged motivations can’t quite be reduced to “money,” but appear to have been just as petty and selfish.)
“Don’tcha know that? And here ya are, and it’s a beautiful day,” she continues.
“Well,” says McDormand as Gunderson, after a pause. “I just don’t understand it.”