in mid-70s slaying stirs Indian community
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
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
"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.
"there will be a minimum of five more, at least, and maybe
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
From Kyle to Denver
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
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."
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
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
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."
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
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
"That was my
experience in the 13 years I worked on the reservation," he
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
"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
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.
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
Argus Leader reporter
Kevin Dobbs and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Reach Peter Harriman at 575-3615 or firstname.lastname@example.org.