The shadow of the stratosphere: death and drugs in Las Vegas

By Burl Barer

The incongruity of the Stratosphere’s impressive tower, taller than the Eiffel, twice the size of Seattle’s famed Space Needle, reaching for the stars on that block of Las Vegas Blvd. is not lost on tourists.

Those who stray from the bright lights and bell-ringing jackpots of the Stratosphere step into a dark side of Las Vegas as seductive as a showgirl and as destructive as an individual’s personal demons.

A short walk from the Stratosphere’s impressive opulence was, in the late 1990’s and early 200’s, the less impressive yet exceptionally popular Oasis Motel. Attracting people of all income levels and lifestyles, the Oasis advertised hourly rates, adult movies and fantasy rooms

TV star David Strickland (Suddenly Susan) arrived in Las Vegas in March of 1999, the same weekend his first film, Forces of Nature, was the number one box office hit in America. With a $35,000 a week television paycheck, he could easily afford the Stratosphere’s finest suite. Strickland’s plans did not include the Stratosphere.

Crossing Las Vegas Blvd at St Louis, he walked less than a block from the Strat to the Oasis Motel, checking into room #4 for less than sixty minutes. The handsome actor returned a few hours later, rented room # 20 for $58, and picked up some Coor’s Light at the nearby 7-11 before locking the motel room door behind him.

“At or near dawn,” reported Los Angeles Times journalist Thomas Carney, “Strickland, having finished the six-pack and, with great precision, arranged the empty bottles in a straight line on the floor, laid his wallet and pager on the bedside table, stripped the top sheet from the bed, fastened it around his neck and, climbing onto a chair in his jeans, khaki shirt and high-top running shoes, tied the other end to the single narrow but sturdy beam running across the low ceiling of room 20 and kicked away the chair.”

"He just went in and didn't come out," said Oasis employee Cheri Alvarez. “When he didn’t check out on time, I went to his room to wake him up. I was horrified when I found his body.”

“Dead bodies at the Oasis are not something that happens once every hundred years,” says lifetime Las Vegas resident and FSSW Michelle “Micki” Ramiriz. “I woke up next to a dead body at the Oasis one morning. Me and this guy – a customer – checked into the motel as, you know, boyfriend and girlfriend, and we had sex a few times and fell asleep. When I woke up in the morning, he was dead. I’m not saying that I fucked him to death or anything, ‘cause he was alive when I fell asleep, but he sure was dead the last time I saw him.”

Ramiriz didn’t notify housekeeping of her unpleasant discovery.

 “I just gathered up my stuff and got out as quickly and quietly as I could. Good thing that Strickland, that actor guy, was alone when he killed himself. I mean, if I had been there, I would have tried to stop him, but if you can’t and he does that while your there, that would be awful. He’d be dead, I’d be freaked out, and the cops would probably blame me, sayin’ I drove him to suicide ‘cause I gave bad head or something. Although, I could disprove that in a court of law if I had too.”

 “I can’t imagine living anywhere where I couldn’t look up and see the Stratosphere,” she comments looking up, “The Stratosphere tower is my reference point for everything in my life, for what that’s worth. I know where I am, who I am, and what my life is about as long as I’m in the shadow of the Stratosphere.”

I sat down with Micki for the first time since 2004 in 2009,  and had her once again tell me about the justifiable homicide death of her husband, her brain tumor, the seizures, and the crack smoking that keeps her from falling apart. She is remarkably well spoken, affable, funny, personable and pleasant. You can't always hear my questions, but her answers speak for themselves. You will be able to understand the subject matter soon enough. she is remarkably kind, and doctors are rather surprised that she's still around – they gave her two years to live several years ago. She keeps smoking, awaiting what she terms her "personal D Day."  Whatever problems you have in your life, whatever you're dealing with, I assure you that Micki probably has had it more difficult than most of us, and despite her "dead end" situation, she remains a person of surprisingly remarkable "strength" — although not in the way most people may define it.  So, I invite you to take a half hour or so, sit back, and enter the world of   friend Micki. Just click this link and listen. 

Update  January 14th, 2020

Micki and I are still alive despite both of us having knocked on heaven’s door in the past couple years.  She is sleeping at a friend’s apartment on Twain, but she is back under the shadow of the Strat every waking hour of her day.   Her phone was disconnected when I arrived in Las Vegas, but I left a message for her with the bartender at the Aztec. Sure enough, we reunited by midnight.

Here is photographic evidence that Micki and I are real people, diverse in backgrounds, upbringing and professions who formed a common platonic bond 2002-2004 in Las Vegas, Nevada when we shared a small apartment at the former St. Louis Manner in the Shadow of the Stratosphere, now called “The Strat.”

Copyright 2011/2020 by Burl Barer, All Rights Reserved. No portion of this may be reproduced or published without specific permission.

Burl Barer is an Edgar-award winning and Anthony-award nominated true crime writer.

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