Families of missing, murdered seek answers

Indigenous people left without justice in loved ones’ crimes, some of them for decades
Lee Pulaski
City Editor

More than three dozen people came together Sept. 7 at the Menominee Veterans Memorial in Keshena to continue to spread the message that Native Americans are disappearing and being murdered, but justice has vanished alongside the victims.

For Elise Corn, justice has been an elusive prey for more than 35 years. Her mother, Rae Tourtillott, with the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin, went missing in 1986; the body was found the following year. Finding Tourtillott’s killer, however, has been more difficult.

“Her case is still cold,” Corn said at the remembrance ceremony. “There is nothing that has come about. They did reopen her case in 2019, but we still have not heard anything from FBI agents or anything from law enforcement.”

Corn noted that there are plenty of rumors wafting through the reservation, and it’s with the knowledge that other families are suffering with the horrific losses of their loved ones that she knows answers need to be found. It is why programs like the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women — which has expanded to all Native Americans and Indigenous people, regardless of gender — are trying to grow and spread the word about a tragedy rarely talked about.

“This is a movement that needs to be done, because future families in this state should not have to be going through all of this,” Corn said, noting she was just a baby when her mother disappeared. “When you see all these other cases that are not Indigenous, and they’re getting solved right away, things need to change. I don’t see that in my mom’s case, but I hope for it.”

The pain is not less for those whose loved ones were taken recently. Justin Dickenson, with the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians, went missing on Feb. 11, and the 36-year-old man has not been found.

Family member Camay Lyons said she knows there are people out there who know something, but they’ve kept silent.

“That’s the hardest thing, knowing that people can live their day-to-day lives knowing that his family is struggling and wondering when he’s going to justice, knowing that his children are crying for him and not understanding that he’s not coming home,” Lyons said.

She added that his four children started school this month, and he was not there to share in the joy. Lyons noted that Dickenson made an effort to be a part of the activities his children were involved with.

Answers in the Dickenson case are also non-existent, according to Lyons.

“We don’t hear a lot from the police department,” she said. “I’m not sure if that’s because the investigation is still open. I wish there was a better communication line between us.”

Doreen Nahwahquaw, mother of Robert Lyons, has been in that same limbo for five years as she’s waited for justice for her son. Lyons was last seen in June 2017 riding around the Menominee reservation on an all-terrain vehicle. The vehicle was found, but Lyons has not.

“Not knowing is the hardest thing,” Nahwahquaw said. “I pray for everybody to get some kind of answer that helps.”

Katelyn Kelley’s is another case that has gone cold. Kelley was last seen in Keshena around County Road VV and Silver Canoe Road in June 2020. Her remains were found on the reservation in March 2021, but her killer has not.

For Kelley’s mother-in-law, Marla Mahkimetas, the hardest thing is to hear her 4-year-old grandson continue to ask for his mother, knowing that Kelley will never be coming back. Makhimetas also prays for Kelley’s mother and father to find some peace.

“I know it’s horrific to not know, to know that something tragic happened to your baby,” Makhimetas said.

Mahkimetas believes that Kelley and the other missing and murdered Indigenous people are with them in spirit, doing their part to find justice. Mahkimetas told those in attendance, “Katelyn does visit.” However, that justice is not coming for Native American families, and Mahkimetas feels the Federal Bureau of Investigation and tribal police departments need to held accountable for a lack of effort.

“I really think we need to make our justice department, our FBI, held accountable and have them share the information that they can share,” Mahkimetas said. “I’ve met with the FBI, and I’ve pressured them. I’ve met with the tribal (police) with frustration, deep frustration, that they’re not doing enough.”

Mahkimetas said the FBI agents handling Kelley’s case appear to not have the expertise to investigate murders, and they don’t even know what the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women movement is all about, even though task forces have formed at the state and federal levels.

“We should be allowed to have a private eye, a skilled and specialized private eye, to work with our families on their cases, if that’s what they really want,” Mahkimetas said. “On paper, the legislation looks really good, but that’s not enough.”