Possible murder weapon surprise discovery at Indian colony
There's been no lack of disturbing discoveries at the clean up of the Winnemucca Indian Colony, but one could hold the key to a 20-year-old murder mystery and the root of the colony's troubles.
Tons of trash were waiting for Bob McNichols' crew as they began their work. Abandoned vehicles, makeshift dwellings, derelict trailers and recreational vehicles and in and around them drug paraphernalia and--incredibly literally barrels of human waste.
All of it was visible evidence of the lawless chaos at the colony during a decade and a half when federal authorities recognized no legitimate government there.
The disfunction that produced this mess began in February of 2000 with the murder of the colony's tribal chairman.
Sixty-six-year-old Glenn Wasson, a decorated World War II veteran, was in the midst of a dispute with his Vice Chairman William Bills, telling council members Bills had been writing questionable checks on the colony's account. Moreover, he had discovered Bills wasn't even a Native American, but a Filipino who had been adopted by a tribal member.
Wasson signaled that he would seek Bills' dismissal not only from the council but the tribe.
But 10 days later Wasson was dead, his bloody body found at the front door of the colony's administration building.
Local law enforcement couldn't enter the colony and the nearest federal authorities were hours away.
In the view of Wasson's supporters that slow response came to characterize the attitude of the FBI and Bureau of Indian Affairs that followed.
"At the early stage the FBI mentioned that Glenn Wasson had committed suicide," says present Tribal Chair Judy Rojo.. "He was attacked from the back and stabbed 13 times and left for dead."
Bills--who said he was in California at the time--took over, but the federal government withdrew its recognition.
The tribe's revenue source--a smoke shop--continued to operate. To date, no one seems to know where its profits went, but there's little evidence it made it back to the people.
McNichols and his crew knew this history as they began their work this spring.
"One of the guys came over and said 'Hey, we found the murder weapon.' And I said 'Yeah right.'"
He went to take a look. It was a large Bowie knife near a burn pile, underneath some rocks.
"It was in an area where it had cobblestones and rocks piled around like it had been hidden."
McNichols called the Tribal attorney who called the FBI and received no answer.
There had been a shooting at the colony and his crew was pulling out, not wanting to leave it behind, he says he collected it in a plastic bag and took it with him.
Repeated attempts to get someone at the BIA or FBI to take possession went nowhere.
"I called the FBI three times. They said they'd have someone call me back. They never did."
Finally, the FBI office in Elko agreed to open the case. The knife was picked up and sent off for analysis.
"We'll probably never hear the results of that test, says McNichols, "but at least they promised they'll look at it, so I'm happy about that."
In fact, as intriguing as this discovery is, whether it holds any evidence is unknown.
Rojo says there are people living at the colony who say they know, but they aren't talking.
"They say everyone here knows, but I'll never tell you. They just decide to keep it among themselves and leave it as is."