By Patrick Springer and Chuck Haga, Forum Communications, Published July 14 2012
No justice yet for murdered Spirit Lake children
Their mother, Mena Shaw, decided to go to the home where she had lived with the children’s father. Some said the couple had recently separated; others that they recently had reconciled.
Immediately upon entering, the mother knew something was terribly wrong – witnesses would later describe areas inside the house as covered with blood, some of it in pools.
In one bedroom, small bloody handprints later were found on a wall a couple of feet above the floor.
The search ended when Shaw found the lifeless bodies of 9-year-old “Des” and “Baby Trav,” 6, under a mattress. Authorities said the children appeared to have been dead several days, slain by a knife or another cutting weapon.
The same day the bodies were found, May 21, 2011, the children’s father, Travis DuBois, was arrested and taken into custody. He pleaded guilty to public intoxication and reckless endangerment, according to a tribal prosecutor, and remains in jail serving sentences for those charges.
Now the search here on the Spirit Lake Nation is for answers to crimes that shook the community and have been cited as a grave example of endangered children on the reservation.
Almost 14 months later, nobody has been charged in connection with the siblings’ deaths, and people wait anxiously for investigators to produce results.
“It’s really sad that we have these two children murdered and who’s going to pay for it?” asked Cheryl Good Iron, a grandmother who resides in Fort Totten, expressing a common sentiment on this Dakota Sioux reservation. “Who’s going to be charged for it?”
Federal authorities insist that the investigation, jointly conducted by the FBI and Bureau of Indian Affairs police, has not stalled and remains on track.
“We’ve been working very hard on this case since the day it happened,” Timothy Purdon, the U.S. attorney for North Dakota, whose office would prosecute the case, said Friday.
“A great deal of forensic evidence has been gathered in the investigation,” Purdon said, “and some of that forensic evidence is still being processed.”
He would not say whether investigators collected DNA evidence, though he said it is standard procedure for the FBI to do so, and added: “The FBI and BIA have conducted numerous interviews.”
But Purdon declined to say whether DuBois is a suspect, or whether investigators have identified any suspects in the case. He said he understands the frustration at Spirit Lake, and the need for information, but can say little about an ongoing investigation.
The BIA declined to comment, deferring to the FBI. A spokesman for the FBI, agent Kyle Loven, was tight-lipped.
“We are looking into this,” he said. “It is an active investigation, and we are moving forward. I can’t give any details.”
Blood like spilled paint
Betty Jo Krenz was the Spirit Lake tribe’s child case worker on call the weekend the DuBois children’s bodies were found.
Her phone rang a few minutes before 4 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon. She rushed to the home in St. Michael, where police and ambulance crews already were on the scene.
Krenz was called in to take care of the mother’s other children – including a 4-year-old boy who was in the house when the bodies were found.
“They were really shaken,” she said of the mother’s several teenage daughters. “They were hysterical.”
Inside the house, Krenz saw a lot of blood, including areas that looked like a paint can had spilled.
“It was a brutal way to die,” she said. “The girls told me they fought hard. They watched their mom cradle those dead kids.”
The floors were strewn with empty bottles and clutter.
“It looked like there had been a three-day party or a frat house party,” Krenz said, adding that she’d heard that people had been in and out of the house before the bodies were found.
As neighbors began to gather outside the home, BIA and FBI investigators told Krenz, who no longer works for the tribe, to take the children to the nearby St. Michael recreation center, which has shower rooms.
There, she washed blood off the boy, and gathered the bloody clothing in plastic bags, which she gave to an aunt to be washed.
More than a year later, she hasn’t heard anything from investigators or prosecutors.
“There’s no closure for me,” Krenz said, “and I can’t imagine how the family feels.”
‘I want answers’
Travis DuBois, an army veteran who worked for the reservation’s fire department, does not have a reputation for violence. In state court, he has misdemeanor convictions for drunken driving and simple assault.
The tribal prosecutor said he was intoxicated when taken into custody.
Mena Shaw also has had a few scrapes with the law. Her record in state court includes misdemeanor convictions for possession of a controlled substance and drug paraphernalia.
Nothing has been heard publicly from DuBois since he was taken into custody. He has roughly served half of his consecutive sentences, which total two years and two months, for public intoxication and
Forum Communications reporters were unable to speak to DuBois last week in the Lake Region Corrections Facility, where he is being held.
His mother, Violet Robertson, said nobody on her side of the family has been interviewed by investigators. Her family is as bewildered as everyone else.
“We know nothing,” she said. “Maybe people think we do. We know nothing.”
The family can’t afford to hire a lawyer, and Robertson said she
didn’t know if her son has legal representation.
She last saw her two DuBois grandchildren just days before they were found dead. They were in a program at the Four Winds School.
Destiny, whose family said she loved school, had just completed third grade. Translated, her Dakota name was Many Stars Woman.
Travis Jr., who had been born premature and was small for his age, had finished first grade. His Dakota name was Walking Elk Boy. His uncle, Burton “B.J.” Robertson, thought of his diminutive nephew as a little warrior.
“I know in my heart I couldn’t believe my son would do something like this,” Violet Robertson said, her eyes welling with tears. “He took care of his kids.
“They’re saying he was a meth head. He didn’t do stuff like that. He worked.”
A friend gave her a piece of paper retrieved from the house, a note in large printed letters Robertson said was written in Destiny’s penmanship.
“My dad is the best dad and he will always be,” the note said, with a heart shape as a period. “The best dad.”
Robertson, like so many at Spirit Lake, is left wondering what happened in that home to those two children, and by whose hands.
“I want answers,” she said.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522