Rapid Creek in Rapid City, South Dakota. Photo: Jeffrey Beall

Tim Giago: Families of murdered men still waiting for closure

Notes from Indian Country
Families of murdered men still waiting for closure

It started in May of 1998 when bodies began to show up in Rapid City Creek. Of the eight bodies discovered six were Native Americans, and all were homeless men. I will keep writing about this every year until these deaths are resolved.

All in all in the years 1998 to December of 2000, there were 11 unexplained deaths in Rapid City, most of them involving Indians or homeless men.

There was Ben Long Wolf, age 36, George Hatton, age 56, Allen Hough, age 42, Royce Yellow Hawk, age 26, Randell Two Crow, age 48, Lauren Two Bulls, age 33, Dirk Bartling, age 44, Arthur Chamberlain, age 45, Timothy Bull Bear Sr., age 47, Lonnie Isham, age 43, and Wilbur G. Johnson, age 41.

Four of the Native American victims were found face down in Rapid Creek. Native Americans have pondered this strange set of circumstances since 1998 and wondered why none of the deaths have been solved.

Tim Giago. Photo courtesy Native Sun News Today

In an article appearing in the Rapid City Journal in June of 2009, Pennington County Sheriff Don Holloway said every lead was investigated. But because so many deaths happened in a short time and then stopped; Holloway doesn’t believe they were all accidental.

Stacy Low Dog, a Lakota lady who helped organize patrols of volunteers along the creek back then to improve safety said she believes the deaths were caused by foul play. She said most rumors in the Indian community at the time puts the blame on young white people who harassed the homeless along the creek. She said one of her cousins told her he escaped after some white boys grabbed him and held his head under water.

A few years ago when I inquired about the progress in solving these unexplained deaths Captain James Johus of the Criminal Investigations Division responded with, “The Rapid City Police Department and the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office worked several investigations that were additionally reviewed by the staff at Mid-States Organized Crime Information Center and the FBI. After these thorough reviews there was nothing identified to indicate these were criminal events. Therefore they are not categorized as being ‘unsolved’ deaths.” What are they then?

All of the families including those of Lauren Two Bulls and Timothy Bull Bear, Sr., still mourn the deaths of their family members. There has never been closure in their lives. Their families still contact me after all of these years asking about justice.

In the State of South Dakota with a 12 percent Native American population it is amazing that 35 percent of the men and women serving time in the state prison are Native American. In the Pennington Jail in Rapid City probably 80 percent of those incarcerated are Native Americans. How many Native American police officers are serving on the Rapid City Police Department or on the Pennington County Sheriff’s Department?

Back in 1998, 1999 and 2000 something happened to cause the deaths of so many homeless and Native American men. Was it all a colossal set of circumstances? Surely all Rapid Citians, Native and non-Native can agree that these mysterious deaths or murders must be resolved. Was the forensic evidence collected back then saved? Did the victims have water in their lungs or bruises on the back of the necks or shoulders suggesting they had been forcibly held under water?

It is time we got answers to these questions and these cold cases re-opened. The families of the victims badly need closure.

Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota born, raised and educated on the Pine Ridge Reservation and is the founder of the Native American Journalists Association. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard with the Class of 1991. He can be reached at najournalist1@gmail.com

Note: Content © Tim Giago

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