MOBRIDGE, S.D. – In tiny Mobridge, South Dakota, the unraveling of a annihilation abstruseness threatens to bisect the association forth ancestral lines. Sixteen years ago, Candace Rough Surface, a adolescent Native-American woman, was raped and killed, her anatomy begin alfresco town. One of the two white men accused of the abomination is from a prominent, admired family.
Few in this South Dakota boondocks assume able to escape the controversy. Alike the bounded Catholic priest, the Rev. Richard Ortmeier, whose accustomed Native-American name is Chasing Cloud, hasn’t
managed to breach neutral.
It all started with the baffling annihilation of Candace Rough Surface. In 1980, the 18-year-old Lakota woman was beaten, raped, attempt to death, afresh chained abaft a auto truck, abject through a acreage and dumped by the Missouri River. For added than 15 years, no arrest was made.
But aftermost October, the abstruseness began to breach aback accuse were brought adjoin two white men: James Stroh and Nicholas Scherr, a affiliate of a admired Mobridge ancestors and brother of above Olympics wrestlers Bill and Jim Scherr.
Today, the case threatens to bisect the contest here, the way the Missouri River splits the mostly white agriculture boondocks from the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.
It took a blowzy annulment and affidavit by Stroh, 30, Scherr’s cousin, to accord law admiral the breach they had approved for all those years.
Stroh had confided his allotment in the annihilation to his wife. Aback the annulment grew advancing aftermost fall, his mother-in-law contacted authorities and told them his secret.
Soon, Stroh was offered a deal: He would face bargain accuse if he testified adjoin Scherr, 31.
Authorities taped a blast chat amid Scherr and Stroh, in which Scherr allegedly accepted abetment in the killing.
A night on the town
Until Stroh agreed to cooperate, not abundant was accepted about Candace Rough Surface’s activities that summer night.
Candace was the second-youngest of 12 children. She was not absorbed in school, but was not abashed to work. She captivated advantageous jobs until her death. She got abundant as a jailbait and gave bearing to a son, Homer Eagle, now 17.
Her ancestors said she had gone to a bar, Joker’s Wild, which catered to 18-year-olds – such as herself – who could afresh accurately booze low-alcohol beer.
According to Stroh, Rough Surface approached him and added teen-age males bashed and attractive for . The leash of teenagers – Rough Surface, Stroh and Scherr – went to a affair in the bivouac home of agronomical duke Steve Sheldon arctic of Mobridge. Though Rough Surface rebuffed animal advances at the party, the three larboard calm in Scherr’s auto truck, according to Stroh.
Stroh said that Rough Surface, began aggressive Scherr and hitting Stroh. He said Scherr collection into a adjacent affirmation and chock-full the truck. Then, Stroh said, his accessory abject her alfresco and began advance her.
Stroh said the two cousins took turns raping the terrified, bawl woman afore cutting her alert in the aback and three times abaft her appropriate ear. Then, so as not to blood-soaked the truck, they chained Rough Surface abaft it and abject her through a acreage acreage to a Missouri River inlet, breadth they dumped her body.
The Missouri yields a secret
Nine months later, on May 19, 1981, Sheldon – the agronomical duke and affair host – came aloft the ashen charcoal of Rough Surface, apparent by the abbreviating amnion of the Missouri River.
Sheriff James Spiry said Scherr’s name came up in the antecedent investigation. But he said authorities got aberrate on addition advance that angry out to be a asleep end.
In barter for his cooperation, Stroh faces a best 25 years in bastille on accuse of assassination and assault.
Scherr’s attorney, Reed A. Rasmussen of Aberdeen, S.D., hinted that the aegis will be congenital about weaknesses in Stroh’s credibility. Under Rasmussen’s questioning, Stroh accepted in the Nov. 6 audition to anamnesis lapses and biologic and booze use starting at age 12.
Scherr was able to accession $200,000 band and is now active in Mobridge and alive as a agent mechanic.
Shock on both sides
In Mobridge and alike on the adjoining reservation, Stroh’s annual of the abomination affronted atheism and shock.
“It makes a actuality anticipate how bad white bodies abhorrence Indians,” said Morris Yellow, the victim’s brother-in-law. “I’ll go to my grave cerebration that.”
Kyle Jensen, a white man who knows Scherr, echoed the sentiments of abounding in town: “I couldn’t accept it. I would accept never estimated it in a actor years.”
Father Ortmeier became bound in the altercation on a contempo Sunday, aback he gave Scherr’s mother his signature on a petition. The certificate asked for her son’s absolution from bastille awaiting the April 22 trial.
More than 100 townsfolk, best of them white, active the petition, and it addled a raw assumption with Native Americans, who
saw a ancestral motive and what they alarm a “just-an-Indian” mentality at assignment abaft the address and allocution in boondocks that the case should be alone because the annihilation happened so continued ago.
“That’s what absolutely aloft the ire of the Indian people,” says Phyllis Young, the Lakota administrator of the Standing Rock Gaming Commission. “That’s what we’ve been abashed of, because in South Dakota, it’s all appropriate to annihilate an Indian.”
“If this was an Indian man, he’d be adapted by now,” says Rob Renville, a Native American who is vocational-education advisor on the reservation.
Old attitudes run deep
One does not accept to aberrate far off Capital Street in Mobridge to acquisition examples of the “just-an-Indian” mentality at work.
“These Indians, they annihilate anniversary added all the time anyway,” said a white shopkeeper during a contempo interview. “If they don’t, they get bashed and benumb to death. It’s affectionate of an accustomed thing.” The shopkeeper feared accepting his name published, because his comments ability drive abroad his Native-American customers.
In such an atmosphere, breadth Native Americans abhorrence that amends will not be done, abnormally if an all-white board is seated.
They formed a Amends For Candace Committee on the vast, 2.3 million-acre reservation, home to 6,200 mostly-Sioux Indians. In December, 300 bodies marched from the Rough Surface home in Kenel, S.D. to the annihilation site.
At one point, the accumulation advised acclimation a avoid of Mobridge’s merchants. But the accumulation absitively they were too abased on the town, the capital bartering commune in a 60-mile radius.
Alberta Rough Surface, now 71, the victim’s mother, and added ancestors associates say they endorse the campaigns on Candace’s behalf, but don’t appetite to accord to a abasement in chase relations.
“People in this boondocks assume to anticipate that aloof because somebody’s Indian, they don’t affliction about family,” said Clara Rough Surface, the victim’s earlier sister. “We’re not aggravating to accession a ruckus. We aloof appetite amends for Candace.”
The ancestors wonders whether racist attitudes or bounded backroom played a role in derailing the aboriginal investigation. They agenda that Stroh told several bodies about the killing, and that several added bodies in boondocks abounding the boyish bubbler affair that anon preceded the murder.
Sheriff Spiry, who is white, believes Scherr is guilty. But he, too, fears the aftereffect may go addition way.
“In the aback of law enforcement’s apperception is, `Supposing they cull addition O.J.?’ ” Spiry said, apropos to the absolution of O.J. Simpson by a mostly African-American jury.
“Then we’ll see trouble,” Spiry predicts.
Separate and unequal
The breach amid the contest is abnormally cutting to locals, because for years whites and Native Americans accept shopped at the aforementioned stores, formed ancillary by ancillary and affiliated one another.
But the contest are not equal. Native Americans own few businesses and advise in none of the nontribal accessible schools, alike those breadth best acceptance are Lakota. Native Americans accuse of actuality tailed like thieves in stores, of accepting agitation accepting assassin for jobs, and of cheap analysis in general.
Whites accuse about accepted alcoholism, abomination and dawdling on the reservation. And those problems are unmistakable: Catch unemployment is 60 percent, accessible abandonment is accessible to atom on the austere streets of the catch boondocks of McLaughlin, and the majority of Walworth County Bastille inmates are Native American.
Many whites in boondocks anguish about Scherr’s adventitious to get a fair balloon and are determined in their aegis of him.
“I don’t anticipate it’s activity to be a fair balloon myself,” said Tim Quenzer, a acquaintance of Scherr. “Because of all the write-ups in the papers, everybody’s got him bedevilled afore he’s alike tried.” Scherr’s bang-up at Central Agent Sales, Ronald Unterseher, was amid those who active the arguable petition.
“I active that and I’d assurance it again, because I anticipate he’s innocent,” said Unterseher. Aback asked whether Scherr will get a fair trial, Unterseher smiled hardly and said: “Sure, O.J. got a fair trial.”
Copyright (c) 1996 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.
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