‘That’s all I want is closure’: Family hopes increased reward leads to answers about missing Meskwaki woman

Published: Jul. 12, 2020 at 10:03 PM CDT
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MESKWAKI SETTLEMENT, Iowa (KCRG) - The T-shirts that Rita Papakee’s family members have made over the last five years — many of them worn at marches and events to bring awareness to missing and murdered Indigenous women — all bear a similar plea: to bring Rita home.

“I keep praying, every day, every night, that she gets found,” Papakee’s mother, Iris Roberts, said.

No one has seen or heard from Papakee since she left the Meskwaki Bingo Casino Hotel on the Meskwaki Settlement near Tama on Jan. 16, 2015, when she was 41 years old.

“I don’t think that it gets any easier,” Papakee’s cousin Oliviah Walker said. “Every year, I think, it’s just more heartache that we don’t know what happened.”

Walker and Roberts described Papakee as a daughter, mother, cousin, and aunt who valued her family and cherished its youngest members.

“She always used to have parties for the kids on holidays, and she would make popcorn balls or caramel apples,” Roberts said, adding that her daughter was especially known for her signature snickerdoodle cake.

Papakee’s family wants to believe 2020 is the year they will know what happened to her more than five years ago.

“We’re always going to be looking for her until we can put her to rest, and we’re just hopeful that this is going to be the year that there’s a breakthrough in the case,” Walker said.

Part of the reason behind that renewed hope is the thought that the people who know what happened might now be more willing to come forward.

Last week, the Meskwaki Tribal Council voted to increase the reward for information about Papakee’s disappearance from $50,000 to $75,000.

Meskwaki Nation Police Chief Jacob Molitor said his department is still getting tips, even within the last six months, for the case, it’s described as “arguably the most important, most concerning, and most time extensive case” in department history.

“It’s led to some new people and new places, and the more we can build off that,” Molitor said. “But obviously, we don’t have Rita. That’s what we need.”

Police believe only a “select few people” have the information they need. Anyone with a tip to share with police is asked to call or text the MNPD tip line at 641-481-0840.

“I can’t imagine living with kind of secret and that guilt all these years,” Walker said. “My hope is that somebody who’s connected, who knows — even if it’s a small rumor, we just want people to come forward with as many tips as possible because it could just be one little thing that could break open the case.”

Papakee’s family said those people keeping that information to themselves is keeping them from honoring Papakee and following the Meskwaki Nation’s cultural protocol.

“There’s traditions that need to be taken care of when a person passes away, and we have not been able to do any of those things for her,” Walker said.

Until they can do that, Papakee’s family said they will keep fighting to bring her home.

“That’s all I want is closure, to be able to do what we have to do for her,” Roberts said.

“We just hope that whoever knows will come forward, will think about what it would mean for our family to be able to put this to rest,” Walker added.

Copyright 2020 KCRG. All rights reserved.

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