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The Silent Execution of Anna Mae
CBC - The
Fifth Estate - Transcript
November 08, 2000 at 02:22 PM
Host: Anna Maria Tremonti, INT
ANNA MARIA TREMONTI: Good evening and welcome to the fifth estate. Tonight
we journey back in time to explore a twenty-five-year-old mystery: how a
Canadian woman was swept up in one of the most turbulent chapters of
American history, dragged into a whirlpool of politics and paranoia, and in
the end was coldly murdered as punishment for something she didn't do.
In the Canada of today, with Burnt Church and Oka, the Assembly of First
Nations and land claims, it's hard to recall a time when aboriginal issues
weren't on the front pages. But back in the early seventies, when a Nova
Scotia woman named Anna Mae Pictou eagerly joined the newborn American
Indian Movement, or AIM, the idea of native action, native power, was new,
heady and dangerous. It was a time of violent protests and stern government
reaction, from the civil rights and anti-Vietnam-war movements to the Black
Panthers and others including AIM. Anna Mae was an amazing woman, equal
parts charisma and abrasion, intelligence and impulse. Above all courageous,
perhaps to a fatal fault.
Despite many investigations, no one has ever been charged with her murder.
Tonight we'll unravel the dramatic events that led to her death, and we'll
confront the man, a Canadian, who most people connected with the case
believe was the one who held the gun that killed her.
The unforgiving Badlands of South Dakota.
AUDIOTAPE of Anna Mae Aquash: They are accusing me of a number of things
that I have not done, and they said so many things to me that I know I
haven't done that I just stood there, because I just....
TREMONTI: It is here on an Indian reservation that a thirty-year-old
Canadian woman knows she is about to die. She lay mortally wounded for
hours, maybe even days, before the Badlands took her. Her corpse was
undiscovered for two months, and then the whispering began, the names of her
killers. The whispers have since grown louder, but in twenty-five years
there have been no arrests.
BOB EKIFEE (first native ever to become a U.S. Marshall): She was murdered
TREMONTI: So they just marched her up. It was like an execution.
EKIFEE: It was an execution. It wasn't like and execution. It was an
execution. They executed her. She didn't have a chance.
TREMONTI: Bob Ekifee was the first native ever to become a U.S. Marshall.
Six years ago he decided to jumpstart a lagging investigation into the death
of Anna Mae Pictou Aquash.
(to Mr. Ekifee) Are the people responsible for her death, do you think
they're still alive?
EKIFEE: Oh, I know they're alive.
TREMONTI: And they know who they are.
TREMONTI: Do they know you're looking for them?
EKIFEE: Oh yeah, they know. They know we know. I think they're just
wondering why we ain't coming to get them.
TREMONTI: She had come to call this arid reservation her home, a very long
way from her roots in the Maritimes.
AUDIOTAPE: My name is Anna Mae Pictou.
What tribe are you from?
I'm from the Mic-Mac tribe, that's in Nova Scotia, Canada.
TREMONTI: She grew up on the Pictou Landing Reserve in the days when the
term Mic-Mac was still used to describe the Migmaw [sp?] tribe. Her sister
Mary Laford still lives nearby.
MARY LAFORD (Anna Mae's sister): We had one of those beautiful little homes
with nothing in it except a shell.
TREMONTI: Not a lot of furniture.
LAFORD: No, we didn't have none at all. We didn't even have electricity, but
that was our home.
TREMONTI: The girls slept on the floor in the bedroom; they were oblivious
to their hardships, scheming up adventures. Anna Mae was the impulsive one,
once daring her sister to ride on a wild horse.
LAFORD: She jumped on the back of the horse, and off...the horse just took
off. And she was holding on by the hair. Oh, I was just petrified for her,
but she come back, the horse walking back with her on the back still. And
she was only like nine years old then. Strong, very strong girl, physically
TREMONTI: When she was thirteen, their stepfather died. Soon after, their
mother left a note saying she wasn't coming back. By seventeen, Anna Mae,
like her sisters and so many other Migmaw before them, was heading south to
the factories of Boston. She married and had two daughters. Debbie and
Denise Maloney were still young when their parents split up.
DEBBIE MALONEY (Anna Mae's daughter): I remember how often that she told me
that she loved me, and I remember her as a person having a sense of humour.
DENISE MALONEY (Anna Mae's daughter): I remember her being very progressive,
always had ideas on how to fix things, always ideas on what to do next.
TREMONTI: They recall a warm but disorganized existence with their mother.
DENISE: My mom took us everywhere with her. There was a sense of normalcy in
all of this, that this was our life, that we didn't know what it was like,
you know, to have a house and to have anything, what most people would
consider to be a regular life that you saw on television and read about in
TREMONTI: Now a single mom with two young girls, Anna Mae was ambitious. She
went back to school, she won a scholarship, and threw herself into community
work. And then she discovered the American Indian Movement, AIM. Remember,
this was a time of exhilarating and startling social unrest, from Vietnam
war protests to civil rights to the Black Panthers.
Native Americans, rediscovering long suppressed traditional values, and
outraged over centuries of exploitation thought they too could harness the
passion of the streets. Anna Mae, the spirited girl from Nova Scotia, had
found her calling.
Nineteen seventy-two, Washington D.C. The trail of broken treaties: a
demonstration against treaty violations turns confrontational, native
protestors occupy the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Anna Mae brings her girls,
introducing them to the risks of opposing authority.
DENISE: She handed us a plastic bag with a wet towel in it, and told us that
if she wasn't with us, which she was pretty much most of the time, that if
we saw men come into the door with masks on, that we were to take these
towels and put them over our mouths. At the time we didn't understand the
concept; we know now it was for tear gas.
TREMONTI: The occupation was a turning point for the government. It was then
that the FBI branded the American Indian Movement an extremist organization.
And then came this: an explosive clash between natives and police outside
the courthouse in Custer, South Dakota. The frenzy lasted less than an hour,
but it drew an impenetrable line between the U.S. government and the
American Indian Movement. And on both sides it solidified the reputation of
DENNIS BANKS (founder of AIM - news clip): The government just backed down
on that six-o'clock thing.
TREMONTI: Dennis Banks was a founder of AIM: charismatic and committed,
BANKS: I think when we first stood up and we started speaking against the
politics of American politics, I think that set us on a collision course
with the FBI. And I think the FBI was...they wanted to fight, they wanted a
big fight with us.
TREMONTI: The real confrontation took place here, in the majestic and brutal
Badlands of South Dakota. Here among the grassy flats and hidden valleys is
the impoverished Pine Ridge Reservation. Pine Ridge is the home of Wounded
Knee, where three hundred Sioux--they called themselves Lakota [sp?]--were
massacred by the U.S. cavalry in the late 1800s, and where hundreds of
natives would return to make a stand in 1973.
They arrived under cover of night, a string of headlights against the
darkened prairie, in what began as an attempt to remove a corrupt tribal
chief from office. Even more showed up in daylight, mobilized from across
the continent. They were expecting a fight. They took over the one prominent
building: the church. They were surrounded by the National Guard, the FBI,
the tribal police. The siege would last seventy-one days. Anna Mae Pictou,
impulsive, outspoken, couldn't resist. Within days she and her boyfriend,
Nogishag Aquash [sp?], crept into Wounded Knee, anxious to make their mark.
BANKS: We needed someone to help in the kitchen, and I asked her if she'd
help out. And she says, Yes, I will, Dennis, she says, but I don't want to
get stuck in the kitchen. She says, I came out here, she says, to fight.
TREMONTI: The daredevil who rode wild ponies now easily slipped through
police lines, smuggling supplies. Organizers noticed this gutsy Canadian,
oblivious to risk, and soon Anna Mae took on tasks involving greater trust.
Her daughter Denise Maloney remembers her mother smuggling more than food.
DENISE: She had lifted up the trunk and I had looked, and she lifted up the
corner of the blanket and I could see some guns in there, some arms of some
sort. I wouldn't know what they were, I just saw guns. And she said that she
was taking them in.
TREMONTI (to Mr. Banks): Would she have been entrusted at that point to
maybe smuggle arms in as well?
BANKS: Oh, yes, absolutely. She was probably the most trusted, as far
as...if we were to give out levels of security clearances, Anna Mae probably
would have received the highest level of all.
TREMONTI: Wounded Knee involved more than politics and gun running.
Traditional ceremonies were performed for the first time in years, even a
traditional marriage: Anna Mae and Nogishag were united under the banner of
resistance, weaving their personal lives into the wider cause. She became
Anna Mae Aquash.
RUSSELL MEANS (AIM leader, news clip, on telephone): You're going to have to
kill us, and here at Wounded Knee is where it's going to have to happen.
TREMONTI: But despite the bravado of Russell Means, one of AIM's leaders,
they would lose this one to the government.
MEANS: Here in South Dakota they prosecuted over 160 cases. They brought in
three federal judges from other states, and in a two- or three-week period,
they went through over 160 cases. A hundred and sixty cases. Federal
felonies of Indian people. I mean, it was a damn production of Indians going
TREMONTI: Among those rounded up was Anna Mae. Still she was never charged.
That would happen again and again, enough to prompt some activists to ask
what she was really up to. But for the time being, she continued to move up
the ranks and closer to the key players at Pine Ridge. She became friends
with another outside who had joined them, Candy Hamilton. She remembers Anna
Mae charming most everyone.
CANDY HAMILTON (AIM supporter): It was really the women who were getting
everything done here. They were the ones who kept the community together,
and Anna Mae could sit and quilt with them, she would go to the town with
them, so that if anybody in town harassed them, you know, she would stand up
for them--because she had a mouth on her when she needed one.
TREMONTI: But she was also very much on the inside with the men.
HAMILTON: Oh, yes, yes.
TREMONTI (to Mr. Banks): We've been told that you had a love affair with her
once. Is that true?
BANKS: I don't know. I don't know if I could say that that was a love
affair. If I was to marry somebody and if I had a chance to choose who I
wanted to spend the rest of my life with, I would have chosen Anna Mae.
TREMONTI: At the time, Dennis Banks was already married to a woman barely
out of her teens. Kamuk [sp?] Banks and Anna Mae were close friends, a
friendship so strong that once the affair was public, even a devastated
Kamuk would eventually forgive her.
KAMUK BANKS (wife of Dennis Banks): I mean, when you care about somebody as
a best friend, you don't just immediately stop caring about that person. You
become angry with them because of what had happened between them. But I'm
not the kind of person that can carry that over, you know.
TREMONTI: But the affair with Dennis Banks would complicate the rest of her
life. Anna Mae had joined the inner circle suddenly, at a time of arrests,
paranoia, when fear of FBI informants was rampant. She was attracting
attention. Some people began to wonder: was she a snitch?
HAMILTON: I don' t know of anybody that didn't at some point get called an
informer. I did, I know plenty of other people who did. It was never
pleasant, it was scary.
TREMONTI: But with Anna Mae it just kept escalating.
HAMILTON: It stuck longer with her than with many others.
TREMONTI: Troy Lynn Yellowwood [sp?] said the rumours soon became threats.
Anna Mae told her of a chilling encounter.
TROY LYNN YELLOWWOOD ([sp?] friend of Anna Mae): Somebody that he had
considered a close friend had gotten drunk and held a gun to her head, and
that he said, Anna Mae, everybody's saying that you're giving us up and that
everywhere you go somebody's arrested. She told him, If you believe that
about me, then I give you permission to pull the trigger.
TREMONTI: When we come back, accusations and confessions.
DOUGLASS DURHAM (news clip): ...For approximately two years, I was a paid
VOICE-OVER ANNOUNCER: And now we return to the fifth estate.
TREMONTI: The American Indian Movement was growing more militant and more
desperate. The FBI had unleashed a secret unit which, to this day, it
continues to deny, called CoInTelPro, a counter-intelligence operation it
had used successfully against the Black Panthers. The FBI used informants
and operatives to try to destabilize AIM, and it used a tactic called
snitch-jacketing, where an FBI plant would convince loyal AIM activists to
suspect another loyal activist of being a snitch.
PAUL DEMAINE ([sp?], journalist): The informants were there.
TREMONTI: Paul Demaine is a journalist who has followed every lead in the
case of Anna Mae, gathering hundreds of FBI documents that reveal its
activities during that time.
DEMAINE: There was surveillance and information of all sorts, intimate
knowledge of things that were going on within the movement.
TREMONTI: Indeed, FBI files document a staggering array of surveillance and
infiltration efforts. The FBI still doesn't officially talk about it, but
Norman Zagrossi [sp?], who once supervised the agency's regional
surveillance of AIM out of Washington, is now a private citizen. He agreed
to give the fifth estate a glimpse into its operations.
NORMAN ZAGROSSI (once supervised FBI's regional surveillance of AIM): Our
pursuit was information, develop informants that could give us information,
and if they did, figure out how we could protect them, keep them operating
in the environment that they were in so that we could develop more
TREMONTI: Was it ever seen as a terrorist organization?
ZAGROSSI: There were some who believed that it had a terrorism potential.
TREMONTI: At the time of Wounded Knee, a man named Doug Durham joined the
movement. The FBI had put him there.
DOUGLASS DURHAM (news clip, FBI informant): For approximately two years I
was a paid FBI operative, operating in the American Indian Movement at the
TREMONTI: Before he was found out, Durham provided security for Dennis
(to Mr. Banks) Did you feel betrayed by him, by Durham?
BANKS: I felt betrayed, yes, I did. Here was a guy that jokingly would tell
me he wanted to kill somebody. He says, you know, I ought to just go kill
that person myself. Give me the word, Banks, I'll go do it. But he was
trying to entrap me, you know.
TREMONTI: Durham's success was shattering proof just how vulnerable AIM was
to FBI infiltration, and AIM knew it. There was growing paranoia, and the
FBI fed that with its snitch-jacketing technique. Anna Mae was a perfect
target. Like Durham, she was from the outside--she was from Canada. And like
him, she had quickly penetrated the inner circle. Remember too she never
seemed to be charged with any crimes; other activists were growing wary of
BANKS: There was people who postured and said things like, Well, maybe Doug
Durham and Anna Mae were some kind of a team that infiltrated at the top
TREMONTI: The mistrust ran so deep that the leadership group decided to
check out Anna Mae. Few are willing to talk about this today, but Bob
Robideau [sp?] was one of Dennis Banks' bodyguards.
BOB ROBIDEAU (one of Dennis Banks' bodyguards): I met her under
not-too-pleasant circumstances. My cousin Leonard told me that we were going
for a ride in a car.
TREMONTI: Robideau was with Leonard Peltier [sp?], a symbol of the movement
who has spent the last twenty-four years in jail.
ROBIDEAU: We were going to take Anna Mae Aquash and question her because
some people in the movement felt that she was an informant. We took Anna Mae
by car away from camp, and stopped the car, and Leonard and Anna Mae walked
away from the car and over a little hill.
TREMONTI: Leonard Peltier has always denied an interrogation occurred. So
has Dennis Banks.
(to Mr. Banks) Did you ever think that she was an informant?
TREMONTI: Was she ever questioned about that, being an informant, by
BANKS: She wasn't questioned by me.
TREMONTI: What about Leonard? Did he ever?
BANKS: Oh, no, I don't...I don't...no, I mean, I don't believe he did. I
don't believe that.
ROBIDEAU: We both solidly trusted Anna Mae.
KAMUK BANKS: They didn't trust her. I...they didn't trust her.
TREMONTI: Kamuk Banks, who has never spoken publicly about the inner
workings of AIM has a particular reason for remembering that incident.
KAMUK BANKS: I knew that she had been questioned, which was in the same time
I had learned about her relationship. I learned about her relationship maybe
the day before, with Dennis, and I was very upset with her. Then the next
day I had heard that she had been interrogated.
TREMONTI: This was all playing out amid internal strife on Pine Ridge. The
reservation was awash in weapons, the FBI had armed native opponents of AIM
and, it's believed, even supplied guns to AIM to entrap its members. Over
four years there were sixty murders.
ZAGROSSI: Once we got on the reservation, the weaponry that the Indians had
was equal to or greater than what we had in the FBI.
TREMONTI: And what did you have?
ZAGROSSI: Well, we had pistols and rifles and shotguns. You know, I didn't
even have an automatic weapon, you know, we didn't carry automatic weapons.
TREMONTI: Did they?
ZAGROSSI: Yes, yeah.
TREMONTI: Did they have a lot of them?
TREMONTI: And then the inevitable shoot-out: June 26, 1975. Two FBI agents
radio back as they chase a suspected thief on to the reservation. It's
unclear who begins to shoot. Gunfire crackles across the grasslands, one
native is killed, two agents are dead. Bob Robideau and Leonard Peltier are
there; they join others in a frantic dash for the hills. The territory
swarms with agents, and in a flash, FBI supervisor Norman Zagrossi is
dispatched from Washington. The FBI wants the shooters who killed two of
ZAGROSSI: We had a high level of stress on the part of the agents that were
conducting the investigation, because we didn't know if someone else was
going to get killed. There was some agents that felt that, you know, they
had to get revenge or they had to get even.
TREMONTI: Next on the fifth estate, Anna Mae becomes a fugitive.
: The FBI were going to kill us--that was our feelings.
VOICE-OVER ANNOUNCER: And now we return to the fifth estate.
TREMONTI: The shoot-out at Pine Ridge had left two FBI agents dead. The
ensuing manhunt was massive. Anna Mae Aquash wasn't even there that day, but
the FBI knew how close she was to the leadership group, and they added her
to the list of suspects. Anna Mae joined the fugitives.
MEANS: The FBI were going to kill us--that was our feelings. And I told Anna
Mae the same thing, so she was fully aware that by being a part of our
group, that she was putting her life in jeopardy. And she understood that
TREMONTI: Anna Mae briefly slipped across the Canadian border to see her
girls. It was as if she knew they'd never be together again.
DEBBIE MALONEY: I just remember the entire time she just kept on telling me
how much I, you know, I was always her baby and how much she loved me. And
having fun with her, her being funny and joking around.
DENISE MALONEY: It was just a couple of days, I remember. It was very short,
and then we never saw her again.
TREMONTI: And you know she was on the run.
DEBBIE: Yes, because we were told that were not to speak of her coming to
visit. And even after the fact, we were not to tell anybody that we had seen
TREMONTI: She could have stayed safely in Canada, but she was drawn back to
the Badlands and the cause that meant so much.
MEANS: The plan was to go to a safe area, gather enough arms and ammunition,
and go back to Pine Ridge and have a war.
TREMONTI: But the FBI was way ahead of the warriors. It descended on their
new hiding spot and easily picked them up in a dawn raid. Anna Mae was
sleeping in a tent. She recounted the events to Candy Hamilton, who recorded
AUDIOTAPE (Anna Mae Aquash): ...and then I heard someone say, Let's just cut
open the tents. When I walked out I saw two FBI agents standing there with
M-16s, and pistols.
TREMONTI: Shortly after that raid, the FBI let Anna Mae go, again without
being charged. Yet again, the outsider escaped the law. The shadow of doubt
grew longer, darker.
KAMUK BANKS: So people suspected her once again because it was like, OK,
everybody's arrested and they're still in jail--now why is she out?
TREMONTI: What did you think?
KAMUK BANKS: What, that was she an informant? No. No. I knew her too well
and I trusted my judgement.
TREMONTI: The FBI was closing in on key suspects, and everyone was looking
over their shoulder. Dennis Banks and Leonard Peltier knew the FBI was on
their tail, and preoccupied with snitch-jackets and informers, told only a
select few about their movements.
ROBIDEAU: So Leonard, I said, only one person, we've got to contain it to
one person. You know, Kamuk will know and so will Anna Mae. Anna Mae's got
to be our courier, she's.... I think that's it, that time, I think that's
when whatever rumour there was about Anna Mae, I think began to take shape
TREMONTI: What did Leonard and Dennis think?
KAMUK BANKS: I think that they didn't trust her. They would have never
allowed somebody to travel with us without good reason, and I think that
they both at that time believed that maybe she was an informant in some
capacity. She wouldn't have been with us otherwise. She wouldn't have been
TREMONTI: Then why....
KAMUK BANKS: I think that maybe they wanted to keep an eye on her.
TREMONTI: Clearly someone else had been talking to the FBI. A month before
Anna Mae was to die, she was secretly traveling in a motor home with Dennis
and Kamuk Banks and Leonard Peltier. Behind them, a car loaded with
dynamite. The police moved in. There was a firefight. They were after
Peltier. Much later they'd extradite him from Canada and convict him of
killing the two FBI agents.
ZAGROSSI: We knew it was traveling and we knew that he was in it. I don't
remember how we had that information.
TREMONTI: Would that have been informants?
ZAGROSSI: I don't think so, but it could have been. We didn't get a lot of
good information from informants on this case. It came late and it helped,
OK. Ultimately it helped and it may have been the thing that turned the tide
TREMONTI: Kamuk Banks and Anna Mae Aquash spent the next few nights in the
same jail cell. While there Anna Mae wrote a letter to a trusted friend,
John Trudell, telling him she'd seen evidence of real informers.
JOHN TRUDELL (Anna Mae's friend): This agent had taken her to his office and
he got called out of the room, and she was standing there. And she could see
these papers on the desk talking about informants A and B, and that being
how they got tripped up, through these informants A and B. And she wanted to
warn me about that.
BANKS: At that particular point the suspicion about who informant A or
informant B is is cast upon Anna Mae. There are people who definitively at
that point think that the only person that could have turned that motor home
in was Anna Mae.
TREMONTI: Do you remember the A-B informants? Do you remember them existing?
ZAGROSSI: I remember the informants. They exist. I remember the best
informant we ever had. He was a friend of mine, OK. There's no question in
my mind, Anna Mae Aquash would be alive today if they did not believe that
she was an FBI informant.
TREMONTI: Was she?
ZAGROSSI: She was not an FBI informant. Definitely was not.
TREMONTI: If she had been, you would know?
ZAGROSSI: If she had been, I would have known and I'd have been very happy
about it, and she probably would...maybe...she wouldn't have been killed
because we would have protected her.
TREMONTI: When we come back, guilt and innocence blur, and twenty-five years
later, the fifth estate finds the man alleged to have pulled the trigger: a
VOICE-OVER ANNOUNCER: And now we return to the fifth estate.
EKIFEE: They walked her up here across the fence to the edge of this bank.
TREMONTI: Bob Ekifee, the first native to become a U.S. Marshall, now within
Indian Affairs, is repeatedly drawn to the spot where Anna Mae's body was
found. He understands what led to her death.
EKIFEE: She was brought here by members of the American Indian Movement, and
she was executed right on top of this hill. She was shot in the back of the
head, fell over the bank, and then laid where she was found, and basically
left to die. And I feel that it was a result of paranoia amongst people
within the American Indian Movement that she was an informant.
TREMONTI: Journalist Paul Demaine has followed every turn in this case:
twenty-five years, four grand juries, the involvement of three police
jurisdictions. And yet no one's made a move on a suspect. Demaine says the
pieces of the puzzle are there.
DEMAINE: The names have been thrown about for years, and surprisingly
enough, hundreds of people, frankly knew, these people in different capacity
knew about this for years. It didn't take me long to get the names. It
didn't take me long to run into friends and relatives of some of the
individuals who say, No, it's no big secret. They're the ones that abducted
and executed Anna Mae.
TREMONTI: AIM leader Russell Means agrees it's time to talk.
MEANS: Grand juries now have evidence on who killed her, who kidnapped her
and murdered her, who pulled the trigger. They have testimony, sworn
testimony, from the person who was there. They have all of this information;
no one arrested. No one arrested. And the FBI will continually tell you,
Well, we don't have any evidence that'll hold up. What? Arrest all the
TREMONTI: Enter Robert Pictou-Branscombe, a Migmaw from New Brunswick, a
former U.S. marine. He hadn't even heard of Anna Mae until ten years ago
when he discovered she was a distant cousin. He's now on a mission to find
and expose her murderers. Their names are out there, easy to find on the
Internet. Last year in Denver Pictou-Branscombe publicly named the three
people he says kidnapped and killed Anna Mae.
ROBERT PICTOU-BRANSCOMBE (cousin of Anna Mae): But the situation is this has
to come to a head.
TREMONTI: Branscombe tracked down one of the three people he's accused. When
he showed up at her home, we were with him. He didn't get very far.
BRANSCOMBE: Remember I'm Anna Mae's cousin. Remember?
: Oh, I don't even want to talk to you. Get out. Get out! Get out! Bullshit!
You and Russell Means. Get out! Get out! Get out!
TREMONTI: He found another alleged accomplice homeless and drunk on the
streets of Denver.
BRANSCOMBE: I just basically said, I'm Robert Pictou-Branscombe, and I want
to talk to you. And he says, Man, I'm in bad shape. I said, Yeah, I can see
you're in bad shape. And he got down on all fours and started to throw up,
you know, and shaking. And I helped him up and we sat there on the sidewalk
on the curb, gave him a cigarette, and we discussed that, you know, he's
going to be going to trial real soon.
TREMONTI: Of course there is no trial scheduled, and when people muse about
who pulled the trigger, they point an accusatory finger at one man. His name
is John Graham. The fifth estate found him in Vancouver. At first he was
wary of talking to us, but he says he's anxious to clear his name, to
silence the whispers. In the seventies he too was swept into the fervor of
the American Indian Movement. At Pine Ridge they called him John-Boy Patton.
He speaks of Anna Mae as a friend.
JOHN GRAHAM (alleged murderer of Anna Mae): Like, we were both from Canada,
so we clicked together, you know. And she had a lot of ideas and things when
she needed help or she wanted to do something, you know, like, she'd find
TREMONTI: But over the last ten years, the FBI, escorted by the RCMP, has
been finding John Graham, showing up on his doorstep.
GRAHAM: They said that I probably witnessed her killing, and I said, No, I
never. They offered me protection, immunity and change my identity and
TREMONTI: He refused, insisting he hadn't witnessed a thing. But they came
GRAHAM: This time now they're saying, Well, we know she was murdered, but
now we believe that she was kidnapped and we believe that she possibly,
probably was raped. And they offered me again to come and testify to the
grand jury against the AIM leadership. And I said, No, I won't do that, I
can't do that. And they said, Well, you're going to face all charges if you
don't turn over the AIM leadership.
TREMONTI: The mystery lingers, the case stubbornly unresolved. But it's
possible to trace the events leading to the execution. It's early December
1975 when Anna Mae is taken to the edge of a windswept ridge and shot. By
all accounts the final days of her life are chaotic, a mixture of fear and
defiance. The last time Kamuk Banks sees her they've been arrested, after
the motor home incident. Anna Mae is jailed in South Dakota and then
released on her own recognizance, told to show up in court the next day.
Instead, convinced she'll be imprisoned, she panics, and right under the
nose of the police, she walks out of her hotel and asks friends to take her
to Denver. It may be her biggest mistake. She walks away from the police
whom she doesn't trust but who might protect her, and toward the people who
will kill her. She ends up at a safe house in Denver. She's now anything but
safe. Somewhere a decision's been made: informant, snitch-jacket--the
suspicions harden. One day a group of AIM arrives at that safe house--Troy
Lynn Yellowwood's-- and takes her back to South Dakota.
YELLOWWOOD: She didn't want to go. She wasn't...she was afraid. She was
physically and emotionally shaken. She was the most upset I ever saw her.
MEANS: Troy Lynn called me from Denver and told me that Anna Mae had been at
her house and these people had come and taken her away as a prisoner.
TREMONTI: John Graham does put himself in the same car with Anna Mae on the
drive out of Denver, but he's careful not to say too much.
GRAHAM: No, she was not kidnapped from Denver. We left Denver together.
TREMONTI: Just the two of you.
GRAHAM: Well, that's all I'm going to say on that. Like, if other people
want to put themselves there, let them put themselves there.
TREMONTI: According to several accounts, she's taken to Rapid City, South
Dakota. A nasty interrogation ensues. A fiery Anna Mae refuses to be
EKIFEE: My understanding is that she's still handling the situation for
TREMONTI: Is she defiant?
EKIFEE: I've heard that she was defiant through all of this.
TREMONTI: Candy Hamilton is in an upstairs room and hears three women in the
midst of an inquisition, and then she makes a decision that haunts her to
this day. She doesn't intervene.
Part 2 / Conclusion:
HAMILTON: And it was just really hard to know what to do, but I'd never
dreamed that what happened would happen. I mean, people had been
interrogated before, people had been called informer before, and nothing
like that ever happened. And that was the last time I saw her. And I suppose
we could have just walked out and gone somewhere, I don't know. But I wish
we had tried.
TREMONTI: Shortly after that another decision is taken. Anna Mae is driven
into the Badlands. One of the three who has been named has given his account
of what happened next to John Trudell.
TRUDELL: (As told to Trudell by Arlo Looking Cloud)
They came out of that house and they got back in that car, and they
took Anna Mae out to where she was found. Parked alongside the road and
walked her out to where she was shot. John-Boy shot her and he said that she
was praying for her daughters.
TREMONTI: There was never a missing person's report, no friends tried to
find her. Her body was only discovered two months later by a farmer mending
fences. She was at first a Jane Doe; an FBI-sanctioned pathologist missed
the bullet hole in the back of her head and said she died of exposure. Still
unable to identify her, Norm Zagrossi ordered her hands chopped off.
ZAGROSSI: Our experts in Washington suggested and told us that the proper
procedure was to cut off the hands, put them in jars with formaldehyde and
send them to Washington, which we did.
TREMONTI: Had you ever ordered that before?
ZAGROSSI: I never had before, no. However, if I had to do it over again, I
probably would have done it differently because it seems a lot more cruel
now than it did at the time.
TREMONTI: It was a mutilation that even twenty-five years later outrages the
native community. But when the FBI fingerprinted the hands, they established
the victim was Anna Mae. Her family wanted her body exhumed; a second
autopsy with a different pathologist showed a bullet still lodged in her
head. Zagrossi knew it looked like an FBI cover-up attempt, and he angrily
phoned the first pathologist.
ZAGROSSI: I said, They found a bullet in her head. I said, Can you believe
that? You understand what that does to me? His only comment was, Well, Norm,
he said, we all miss 'em every now and then. And he went on to his dinner.
But you know, that didn't make us look good. It looked like we were
involved, it looked like we were trying to cover something up when in fact
DEBBIE: People said it was the FBI, people said it was AIM.
TREMONTI: What do you think?
DEBBIE: That's something I can't comment on.
TREMONTI: They buried Anna Mae a second time a proper traditional native
ceremony on a hill on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Her two sisters came from
Nova Scotia. AIM was in turmoil, and Mary Laford it as a very uneasy time.
LAFORD: I felt threatened when I went there, very threatened. Like, people
asking us questions, like, questions that I couldn't answer.
TREMONTI: Were they trying to figure out if she had told you anything?
TREMONTI: And the whispers continue to swirl, the accusation that someone in
the AIM leadership group ordered her death, maybe the man who was Anna Mae's
(to Mr. Banks) Twenty-five years later, so much speculation. One is that you
ordered her killed.
BANKS: That's...that would be an interesting speculation to say that I
ordered her death. No, I couldn't do that. I would have died with her.
TREMONTI: But someone decided she had to die, and someone else pulled the
trigger. The allegations lead back to the Canadian, John Graham.
(to Mr. Graham) Did you kill Anna Mae Aquash?
GRAHAM: No, I never. I wasn't there and I didn't witness it. And that's all
I can say about that.
TREMONTI: Anna Mae's daughters have their own little girls now. They want
them to know what really happened to their grandmother. So far they have no
DENISE: I'm not looking to take anybody, you know, any organization down.
I'm not looking to get involved in politics or anything like that. We're
looking at the basic fact that my mother was murdered by one person.
TREMONTI: If it was the FBI's intention to damage the American Indian
Movement, it succeeded. AIM has gone from a potent political force to an
organization that is as fragmented and as brittle as the fossilized lands on
which the movement first gained its strength.
EKIFEE: The American Indian Movement in a certain degree was eating itself
up anyway, because of where it was going at that time: revolutionary times,
guns, alcohol, drugs, dysfunctionalism in lot of different ways--that it was
going to play itself out.
TREMONTI: The jealousies, the fears, and suspicions which caused Anna Mae
her life seem distant now, and the people she called her friends live lives
far removed from those radical times. Dennis Banks, a founder of the
American Indian Movement, has a wild rice business in Minnesota. Kamuk
Banks, Anna Mae's best friend, now Kamuk Nichols, works as a casting agent
on movie sets. Candy Hamilton, who still regrets not having intervened that
fateful day, still lives on the reservation. Paul Demaine, the journalist
who may know the most about this case, considers the execution of Anna Mae
Pictou Aquash a travesty, a phenomenal loss.
DEMAINE: I can only imagine where Anna Mae would be today if she was still
alive. You know, tribal chairman, the chief of the Assembly of First
Nations, you know, a politician in Parliament. She would have been
somewhere. She would have been somewhere up there well-known, still active,
still in your face, still defiant, still teaching people, and still leading
the way and knocking down hurdles for indigenous people, and in particular
for indigenous women, because that's what she was about.
TREMONTI: That's our program for tonight. Now stay with the CBC for
DaVinci's Inquest. For everyone here at the fifth estate, good night.
Copyright Canadian Broadcasting Corp. 2000 All Rights Reserved.