Arrest in mid-70s slaying stirs Indian community
Peter Harriman
, Argus Leader
03 APRIL 2003

Some Native American leaders had lost trust in FBI and hope case would be solved

Denver police have arrested a man in a 27-year-old murder case that is a dominant symbol of the chaotic violence that swept the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation after the 1973 American Indian Movement takeover at Wounded Knee.

Arlo Looking Cloud, 49, pleaded not guilty Monday in federal court in Denver to a charge of first-degree murder in the kidnapping and slaying of Anna Mae Pictou-Aquash. He was arrested last week in Denver.

The frozen body of 30-year-old Pictou-Aquash was found with a gunshot wound to the head in February 1976 near Wanblee on the Pine Ridge reservation. Pictou-Aquash disappeared in late 1975 from a Denver home where she had been staying.

"It is gratifying that the fourth grand jury to be called in this case is finally acting upon what police procedure is all about and ordered the arrest of one of the principals in the kidnapping and death of Anna Mae," Russell Means said.

One of the most notable AIM figures from the 1970s, Means is a longstanding critic of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's effort to solve a case he says is at the center of a widespread conspiracy by the government to introduce spies into AIM and create paranoia among its leaders. That fear led some of them, he said, to order Pictou-Aquash killed.

"It took four grand juries to begin to get the wheels of justice to turn," Means said. "Because of that, we will finally find out who the FBI has been covering up."

Federal authorities have repeatedly denied any involvement.

A hearing is scheduled for today in Denver to determine whether Looking Cloud should be brought to South Dakota to face charges. If convicted, he would face a mandatory sentence of life in prison.

U.S. Attorney Jim McMahon said the indictment came out of the Rapid City district. It was sealed after the grand jury met in March and, he said, that precludes him from commenting on the arrest. Similarly, he said, he is unable to confirm whether more arrests are planned.

Means suggests "there will be a minimum of five more, at least, and maybe more."

Pictou-Aquash, according to witness accounts, was kidnapped by two or three individuals from the Denver home of Troy Lynn Yellow Wood in December 1975. She is thought to have been killed soon after by a gunshot to the head. Her body was discovered Feb. 24, 1976, by Roger Amiotte when he was checking fences on his ranch near Wanblee.

Pictou-Aquash, a member of Canada's Mi'kmaq Tribe, not only took part in the Wounded Knee occupation but was married during it. Her husband is deceased.

After Wounded Knee, she became caught up in intrigue that some Indian leaders, such as Means, contend was promulgated by the FBI in an effort to sow distrust in AIM and shatter it. A widely circulated story is that key AIM figures acted on that distrust and Pictou-Aquash was ordered assassinated because she was believed to be an FBI informant.

From Kyle to Denver

Vernon Bellecourt, international representative for AIM's Grand Governing Council, said of allegations that he and his brother Clyde ordered Pictou-Aquash murdered "nothing could be more outrageous." He said he knew Looking Cloud, "but I haven't seen him since the early 1970s."

"I think he comes from Pine Ridge and is an Oglala Lakota. As far as I know, he is not associated with AIM, and I do not know how much he ever was associated with AIM," he said.

Paul DeMain, editor of the bimonthly newspaper News From Indian Country, said Looking Cloud worked as a security guard at AIM events during the 1970s.

Richard Iron Cloud of Pine Ridge said Looking Cloud was a high school classmate of his in Kyle. At the time, Looking Cloud "didn't look like the murdering type, just a regular guy," he said.

After high school, Looking Cloud moved to Denver, according to Iron Cloud.

Bernice Bull Bear of Denver said she is Looking Cloud's cousin and grew up with him on the Pine Ridge reservation.

"He's a very good person. He's a very gentle man. The children like him and he's really good with my mother. He helps her. He's not a bad person," she said. "He's never harmed anybody around here."

Looking Cloud had been living homeless in Denver, she said.

Former AIM member Wilma Blacksmith said Wednesday that she had a romantic relationship with Looking Cloud in the early 1970s. She said news of his arrest in the case did not surprise her.

"I was just wondering when it would happen," she said.

Blacksmith, who lives on the Pine Ridge Reservation, said she also knew Pictou-Aquash. She described her as "a good person."

"There wasn't anybody who needed to be afraid of her," Blacksmith said. "She just voiced her opinion on behalf of the people."

After Amiotte found the frozen body of a young woman, an autopsy was conducted, and the late coroner W.O. Brown ruled she had died of exposure. He had the hands removed from the body and sent to the FBI in Washington, D.C., for identification.

"Were they really trying to identify her, or did they cut them off so she couldn't be identified?" Bellecourt asks.

After Pictou-Aquash was identified, her body was exhumed, and a second autopsy was conducted by Minneapolis pathologist Garry Peterson. He determined she had been shot in the head with a .38 caliber handgun. Brown then wrote that he had inadvertently overlooked the bullet wound.

The grisly circumstances of the murder, questions surrounding her disappearance and discovery of her body, the incorrect determination reached after the first autopsy and rumors that the killers were widely known among Pine Ridge residents and may have acted at the direction of AIM leaders have helped make the case a symbol for the tumult and distrust between Indians and the federal government at Pine Ridge in the 1970s. That Pictou-Aquash was generally considered a kind person and exemplary role model for young Lakota women has propelled a longstanding demand to see the murder solved.

Why so long?

While Means and Bellecourt clash on who ordered Pictou-Aquash murdered, they agree the FBI had a role in the circumstances leading to it and suppressed that role for decades.

"Why does it take the FBI 27 years?" Bellecourt asks of the Looking Cloud arrest.

He says Pictou-Aquash "was one of dozens of deaths directly connected to the FBI campaign, a campaign started in the Nixon White House. The FBI should have spent some of that time investigating themselves. They would have found they are connected to many of those deaths."

Don Wiley of Rapid City was an FBI agent working at Pine Ridge from 1967 to 1979. He said the investigation into Pictou-Aquash's murder got off to a slow start because "for a long time, nobody knew that she was murdered."

Eileen Janis of Pine Ridge has much the same recollection.

"She was friends with my mom. She would always come and visit my mom, and I knew her," Janis said. Before Pictou-Aquash disappeared, "she told my mom she was going somewhere but would be back to see her. She never came back."

FBI's Commitment

Wiley said the FBI agents assigned to the case made a concerted effort to solve it. "As it went on, it just came to a point where the leads didn't pan out anymore," he said. "People were not cooperating with the bureau."

He said a perception that the FBI has deliberately left dozens of Pine Ridge murders unsolved is incorrect. When the U.S. Civil Rights Commission met in Rapid City in 1999, Wiley said, the FBI provided information on the disposition of 67 murder cases.

"This is a problem on the reservation. They have a major crime occur. They go through the process of investigation and arrest, indictment. The case goes through the courts, and the outcome is hardly ever heard back on the reservation.

"That was my experience in the 13 years I worked on the reservation," he said.

Means said Pictou-Aquash's legacy is that "above all, she was a strong woman and dedicated to the human rights fight of women in Canada, the U.S., the Western Hemisphere."

Tribal officials in Pine Ridge on Wednesday were surprised that an arrest had finally been made.

"I figured it was put on a back shelf like so many other things here on Pine Ridge," said Craig Dillon, an Oglala tribal council member. "I'm really knocked back. I was so sure it would never be solved."

Another tribal council member, Lyle Jack, said he had heard Looking Cloud's name mentioned in connection with the investigation for years, but thought the murder would never be solved.

"Maybe it will give her family some rest, some peace," he said.

Pictou-Aquash's daughters released a statement saying they were pleased there had been an arrest. They said they were making contact with authorities in order to be part of the case.

"We have known for a long time that people have discussed amongst themselves the events that led up to her death, yet publicly have remained silent," wrote Denise Maloney Pictou of Ontario, Canada, and Debbie Maloney Pictou, who lives in Nova Scotia, Canada.

"We are inspired with the actions of those who choose to courageously stand on their own and honor our mother's spirit with truth and integrity."

Argus Leader reporter Kevin Dobbs and The Associated Press contributed to this report. Reach Peter Harriman at 575-3615 or


Reprinted as an historical reference document for nonprofit purposes under the Fair Use doctrine of international copyright law.