Missing five years: The search continues for Rita Papakee
Meskwaki Settlement, January 2020 – The Rita Papakee missing person investigation has been arguably the most important, most concerning, and most time extensive case in the history of the Meskwaki Nation Police Department (MNPD). Understanding its significance, officers involved continue to be troubled that the case has not yet been solved.
As department members continue to build relationships with the community and the Rita Papakee family, they seek to find new leads to uncover the truth. They encourage the people who know what happened to Papakee to speak up.
Chief of Police Jacob Molitor stated, “With this case update, I am finding a balance between providing relevant information to the community and maintaining the integrity of the investigation. At this point, thousands of hours have been spent on the case between the FBI, DCI, MNPD and other area agencies who have collected and shared information with us. We take this case very seriously. Rita’s family and the community deserve answers, but unfortunately many questions remain.”
Molitor, who was hired by the MNPD in 2012, noted Detective Kimberly Schwartz was the officer initially assigned to the case. He took over as case officer in October 2016, and remained so until May 2019, when he began duties as Chief of Police. Today, the case officer is Officer Levio Simcox. Officer Simcox is working on the case concurrently with the FBI.
Molitor expanded, “There were many complications with the case including the timing of the missing person’s report which took place weeks after Rita initially went missing. It is known that she was alive on January 16, 2015, because she was seen leaving the Meskwaki Bingo Casino Hotel. It was not unlike Rita to go a few weeks at a time without talking to her family. An initial missing person’s report was not filed until February 18, 2015. We investigated as far back as possible through our own records to determine if there were any past motives or threats to kill Rita, but no records of any such threats were found.”
Following the initial report on February 18, 2015, the MNPD began to post missing person fliers and reached out to other agencies to assist with the case. During the month that followed, the Iowa Air Patrol was contacted and a massive search was performed. Additionally, community members gathered and large volunteer search parties occurred.
As time went on smaller searches were also completed. Included in the areas searched were; wells, pig farms, stretches of highway, structures, fields, dirt piles, areas of water and under bridges. In May 2019, the family, with the help of the Meskwaki Tribal Council and MNPD, contracted with Sahnish Scouts, a non-profit organization specializing in search and recovery efforts, to lead a week and a half search of various places across the Settlement and Tama County.
Over the years, the MNPD has responded to frequent calls of suspicious items located in the woods and other areas that might have belonged to Papakee, as well as numerous tips on her whereabouts. They conducted countless hours’ worth of interviews in and outside of our immediate area but as of today, details are allusive.
Molitor clarified, “To release the specific details of an active investigation such as this would highly compromise the investigation. The reason for withholding specific information is to be able to verify information from individuals later. The release of information in the case would be harmful to the investigation. When the day comes and we find Rita, we will need to be able to corroborate the information we have received. We cannot do that if the information is widely known.”
Based on the information discovered and released by the department, Molitor believes that there are only a select few people that have the information they are all looking for in regards to her whereabouts. Although disheartened that the exact details have not yet come to light, he believes the department is one solid tip away from locating her.
“In my time as detective,” Molitor explained, “I put an extra emphasis on showing my face within the community. The goal is to build trust and to increase our chances of receiving critical information from people in regards to the disappearance of Rita, as well as information involved in other cases.”
He continued, “This disappearance has, without a doubt, caused a toll and burden on the minds and lives of Rita’s family and the community. All we can ask for is that the community continues to put faith in our on-going investigation, keep the conversation about Rita alive, and provide any and all tips so that we can pursue them to the best of our abilities.”
Molitor’s recommendation to the tribe going forward is to continue to build and support the MNPD. His plan is to build staffing to the point where the department has detectives that can solely focus on investigations without needing to respond to patrol officer calls for service. He also envisions a time when the department can support the work of a cold case officer if needed.
“We believe that just one tip could open this investigation wide-open. We
just do not know when that day will come. Hopefully, for the sake of the family and the community, it will be sooner than later. We plead to the community for information about this case. Thank you in advance for your assistance.”