48 Hours: Buried Secrets of Las Vegas

Sex, Drugs, Greed and the Biggest Murder Mystery in Las Vegas History

It's been more than a decade since gambling tycoon Ted Binion was found dead in his Las Vegas home, but the questions still remain: how did he die, and where is all his money? "48 Hours Mystery" correspondent Peter Van Sant reports.

Sandy Murphy's wedding day has all the trappings of Orange County, Calif., privilege. But her route to a walk down the aisle has been as twisted as anyone could imagine.

When asked how she would describe herself to people she has never met, Sandy replied, "I would just say, 'Hi, my name's Sandy. And I'm in Laguna and I'm an art dealer. Come see me.'"

When asked how she would describe the life that she's led, she told "48 Hours Mystery" correspondent Peter Van Sant, "Umm, well, it wasn't an easy one that's for sure."

Sandy grew up in southern California, the adored only daughter of a hard-working family. She says she was always a natural competitor.

"I went to high school and I played, I think, three sports my freshman year," she said.

Sandy worked for a local car dealer, all the while looking for the bet of a lifetime. Her sense of adventure brought Sandy to Las Vegas.

"I was 21 and I had never been on a vacation away from my parents," she said.

Glenn Puit, a former Las Vegas newspaper man turned true-crime author, would come to know all about Sandy's soon-to-be legendary Las Vegas jaunt.

"She's got a great personality. She's as sweet as can be," Puit told Van Sant. "When you sit and talk with her, her eyes will melt you."

Those eyes first lit up the Las Vegas Strip when Sandy and a girlfriend hit town in 1995, with a wad of cash and visions of a good time.

"For the trip I just brought, like, whatever my budget was. I think it was like $15,000 at the time… Well, we went to gamble. And we lost it all like in the first hour," she told Van Sant of their time at the blackjack table.

Sandy was busted and desperate for cash to last for the rest of the trip. That's when the girlfriend she was traveling with suggested they try selling some of the custom lingerie she made. Together they headed over to one of Sin City's most famous strip clubs.

"We just went in and asked the bouncer if we could sell all of our lingerie. And if it was OK if I put it on and modeled it," Sandy explained. "I was wearing a Dallas Cowboy outfit… And that's how I met Ted."

Ted. His first name was all Sandy knew about the memorable man she met that night at Cheetah's; a man who couldn't take his eyes off of her.

"And then he became more flirtatious throughout the night. And, you know, Ted's the kind of guy that's like larger than life and when he's in the room you just want to be close to him," she said.

Sandy was attracted to the "very sexy" man with the big personality.

But Ted wasn't just a sexy guy with a big personality. He was Ted Binion. His family business was the legendary Horseshoe - one of the most famous casinos in the world. Ted was Vegas royalty - the son of Benny Binion, one of the town's original icons.

No one has more Vegas in his DNA than Wayne Newton, the singer, actor and icon known as "Mr. Las Vegas" who grew up with everyone from Sinatra to Elvis. But long before Newton sang "Danke Schoen," Benny Binion was already a notorious outlaw and Las Vegas pioneer.

"Benny Binion's place was right across the street from where I spent five years at the Fremont Hotel," Newton explained. "And Benny Binion was a legend then."

Benny Binion was legendary enough to make it onto CBS News in 1981.

"I never did own no stock. I don't own nothing I don't control," he said with a smile.

Peter Van Sant tours the legendary casino
Photos: Binion's Horseshoe

It all began in Texas where Benny controlled the largest illegal gambling operation in Dallas. He had a serious reputation even then. Nicknamed "Cowboy," Benny admitted killing two men himself.

"I hear about that organized crime, but I don't really know a damn thing about it," he said in the 1981 interview.

In 1946, the Dallas district attorney vowed to shut him down. Benny stuffed a suitcase with $2 million and headed for what was then a sleepy desert town: Las Vegas.

"The founding fathers of Las Vegas - Benny Binion certainly headed up that group," said Newton.

Vegas was a paradise of legal gambling and Benny became king.

"It wasn't a matter that you didn't cross Benny Binion," Newton explained with a laugh. "It was a matter that it never crossed your mind to cross Benny Binion."

Benny had built a goldmine with Binion's Horseshoe. He also invented the now-famous World Series of Poker. His casino's trademark: $2 steaks, free booze and no-limit betting.

For Becky Binion Behnen, her brothers, Ted and Jack, and her sisters, Barbara and Brenda, it was a life of splendor, action and outlaws. That was the extraordinary bit of Americana - the one-of-a kind story - that Ted Binion was part of.

But on that fateful night at Cheetah's, as Sandy Murphy danced for Benny Binion's millionaire son, she had no idea she'd just hit the jackpot.

"I was from Califiornia, completely clueless," said Sandy, who claimed she knew nothing about the legacy of Benny Binion's son, Ted - the mysterious man she was dancing for.

Following Sandy's dance for Ted at Cheetah's, she said, "He was very persistent and extremely, like, relentless. We just started dating every single day."

The girl who'd come to Vegas for a week, was soon living at Ted's beautiful home with its huge, rambling backyard located just minutes off the Strip. "He just said he liked me because I was different."

But for Sandy, at least, it wasn't quite love at first sight.

"Oh no, it was lust at first sight," she said with a laugh.

"And when did it turn into love for you?"

"Probably about six months into the relationship."

"What was it about Ted that you loved?"

"I just loved his carefree spirit. And he was a very nice person."

But from the get-go, Becky wasn't taking the bet that it was Ted's spirit that Sandy really loved.

"I mean he was 50-something years old. She was a 23-year-old girl," Becky said. "What would she see in a 50-something-year-old man except his bankroll?"

But there was something else Sandy would soon discover about Ted; something even more powerful than his multimillion-dollar bankroll.

According to Puit, "Teddy was a hardcore heroin addict."

"He would just get high everyday, all day long," said Sandy.
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