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Arrest in Aquash case leads to more questions

DENVER, Colo. - One man has been arrested and a grand jury indictment was issued for another in the 1975 death of Anna Mae Pictou-Aquash, a member of the Mi'Kmaq tribe of Canada.

One person named as having kidnapped Anna Mae Pictou-Aquash, a long-time AIM member and activist who was active on the Pine Ridge Reservation during the tumultuous period of time from 1973 to 1975, was arrested. Arlo Looking Cloud, 49, a homeless man from Denver was arrested on March 29 and an indictment was issued against John Boy Graham Patton who lives somewhere in Canada.

Looking Cloud entered an innocent plea in Denver. Patton has yet to be arrested

Public and court documents verify that Looking Cloud, Patton and a third person not named in the indictments came to Oglala in June of 1976 to remove Pictou-Aquash from the home of Troy Lynn Yellow Wood.

U.S. Attorney Jim McMahon in South Dakota said the indictments were supposed to be sealed, yet he confirmed the indictment of Patton after it had been made public by a Colorado news organization. He would not say whether more indictments were forthcoming. But there is much speculation that other indictments will follow.

Pictou-Aquash's frozen body was found on the Pine Ridge Reservation in February 1976. She was last seen in the fall of 1975 after having left a home in Denver and then appeared at various locations in Rapid City, S.D. Looking Cloud was said to be a member of AIM at Oglala in 1975.

Pictou-Aquash's death is still shrouded in controversy and more questions than ever have arisen since the indictments. Many people knew her and were close to her during the AIM occupation in 1973 and in Oglala at the Jumping Bull Camp in 1975; there are many theories about her death.

Jean Day, now executive director of education for the Ho-Chunk Nation in Wisconsin, said she hoped the right people would be arrested and tried. She did not want to see a wholesale arrest just to cover up more issues. Day was part of the AIM inner circle during the occupation and knew Aquash as a friend.

She said there were many questions about this latest flurry of activity, some people that had never been called before were called recently or were trying to be reached by authorities.

"I asked, why are they doing this now, it's been almost 30 years, said Day. "I said, something's brewing, why are they doing this now? I'm glad they have done something. I just want to make sure they have the right person.

"Annie Mae believed in what she was doing and it took many years for me to believe that that was really her. And in accepting that I had to accept the fact that she was murdered."

For many still today, the questions remain. Was Pictou-Aquash a government informant who infiltrated the heart of the AIM, or was she eliminated by government officials because she knew who the informants were? Or was she an unlucky victim of a time of violence and paranoia?

The Aquash case has been the subject of a book and many magazine articles. Several grand juries have come and gone in the 28 years since the murder. In a 1999 interview with some members of the Native American Journalists Association, Richard Two Elk, allegedly told his version of what he alleged was the full story. Two Elk allegedly told the journalists the perpetrators were Patton and Looking Elk. One, Patton, Two Elk said, was the triggerman, while Looking Cloud stood by. Looking Cloud, an Oglala, is Two Elk's brother, he said.

But there is a lot of controversy surrounding that NAJA interview. The story and similar ones have made the rounds for years. If the names Two Elk used were actually members of the hit group, then why had there been no arrests until now? These names and others have been bantered about for a few years.

Pictou-Aquash had earlier fingered an informant who was trusted to become the head of AIM security at Wounded Knee in 1973, Doug Durham. Durham later admitted to his role as an FBI operative and was banished from AIM.

"Why now, why 27 years later? I think they are still attempting to discredit AIM," said Vernon Bellecourt, an AIM spokesman who supported the standoff at Wounded Knee in 1973 and emerged in a top leadership position. "I can only speculate for myself, but we still have a huge profile and there are so many people making public accusations."

The FBI created a climate of terror and the Pine Ridge tribal GOONS had weapons paid for by the FBI. Many people died and justice has not been interested so far, Bellecourt said.

Russell Means, AIM activist and actor, said the authorities have known for years the names of the people who removed Aquash from Denver and took her to South Dakota.

"The names have been known since it happened. Thank God it finally happened. I commend the grand jury," Means said.

There have been four grand juries that probed the circumstances of the death of Aquash over the years. A most recent one, held in January prompted the indictments.

"I testified at the fourth one. I believe my testimony was part of it," Means said.

In front of the news media on April 3, Means again named other higher ups in the AIM leadership circle as the guilty ones who ordered Pictou-Aquash's execution. (There is a great amount of speculation going on about the story and concern that a hearsay frenzy of "released" names may ensue. Indian Country Today chooses not to release names of people not actually charged with crimes.)

Pictou-Aquash's body was found on the north edge of the Pine Ridge Reservation by a local rancher. After an autopsy at the coroners' office in Gordon, Neb. it was determined the unknown person had died from exposure and the body was buried in a grave labeled Jane Doe.

Bellecourt said he got a call from Anna Mae's sister asking where she was. After some phone calls, it was determined that the Jane Doe may be Aquash. Lawyers intervened and the body was exhumed to find that the hands were missing. The body was later identified as that of Aquash, based on fingerprints from the hands the FBI removed from the body, the FBI claimed.

A second autopsy by a different pathologist determined Aquash had died from a gunshot wound in the back of the head.

Bellecourt said that a proper identification could have been made by two FBI agents, David Price and William Woods at the time. He said the two agents picked Aquash up, had talked to her and they could have identified her. But yet, she was identified as a Jane Doe and her hands cut off.

He also said that FBI agents were seen coming and going at the first coroner's office while the body was still there.

Bellecourt also speculated that it may be difficult to convince Canada to extradite Patton, because the country was duped into returning Leonard Peltier to the United States to face murder charges based on false testimony.

Myrtle Poor Bear submitted perjured testimony against Peltier that allowed for his extradition.

"Does anybody really know if the feds have the right people or not? There are some people out there who do know."

Day asks the question and answers with another: with so many people going public over the years with names and accusations, why hasn't something been done about the Pictou-Aquash murder by now.

Like so many, Day has her theory.

"You know what my theory is? My theory is that whoever was a part of that group, one of those people is the true informant. And the reason they couldn't bring out those indictments is because they would have to indict that person too. And the truth would come out.

"If it's the person I think it was - that person was so close to us. That person knew a lot that was going on, who we were, who we were with." Day did not submit a name.

"I'm looking at this not just for Annie Mae, but for the big picture. What truly was going on during that time and even into the shootout in Oglala and other things that led up to it," Day said.

She also wants to know where insinuations that Pictou-Aquash was an informant came from. She said it didn't come from the AIM members, but most likely came from the COINTELPRO that was going on at the time.

The COINTELPRO was an organization formed by the FBI in the 1960s to infiltrate and disrupt social and political movements. AIM members have claimed for years that the organization was a victim of COINTELPRO.

"(At the time) they wanted to get at somebody that was somewhat higher up. They tried it with the leadership that was somewhat higher up, it didn't work so they went down the line to Annie Mae, and what better to go after someone that wasn't an American citizen.

"You didn't know who the hell you could trust at that time," Day said.