The U.S. Department of Justice is seeking information on two unsolved suspected murders of Native Americans from Towaoc, on the Ute Mountain Ute reservation.
In a news release March 17, the FBI requested public assistance in solving the disappearance and suspected murder of Odell Vest in 2000 and the disappearance and murder of Avery Whiteskunk in 2004.
The cases were prioritized for renewed investigation in response to the November 2019 launch of the National Strategy to Address Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons by the Department of Justice.
The Denver and Durango offices of the FBI reviewed several cold cases of missing person and homicides on the two reservations in Southwest Colorado. Investigators determined that the Vest and Whiteskunk deaths were “potentially solvable cases, so we are seeking the community’s support in providing new investigative leads,” the news release said.
The FBI is offering up to a $10,000 reward for any information directly leading to the arrest and conviction of any individual responsible for either of the alleged murders.
“With your help and the public’s assistance, we can solve crimes and keep our community safe,” the news release said.
According to the FBI, Vest was last seen July 10-11, 2000 in a residence on Lafayette Street in Towaoc, where a house party was taking place.
Vest, was 21 when he went missing. He was not known to travel and did not have a driver’s license. He is described as 5 feet, 11 inches tall, and 250 pounds, with black hair.
Whiteskunk was last seen by his family members on Jan. 30, 2004, in Towaoc, according to the FBI news release. The next day, the family filed a missing person’s report with the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
On March 19, 2004, Whiteskunk’s body was recovered on the northern edge of Ute Mountain Ute Reservation, near County Road G in Montezuma County. An autopsy determined the cause of death was homicide, according to the FBI. A family member said he had been shot above the neck with a shotgun, according to a 2007 Denver Post article. Whiteskunk, 41, was from Towaoc. He is the brother of Ute Mountain Ute Tribal Councilman Selwyn Whiteskunk.
“FBI agents assigned to offices near tribal land are committed to ensuring the community’s safety and security in and around the reservation,” said FBI Denver Special Agent in Charge Michael Schneider. “Our success relies on collaboration with our tribal law enforcement agencies, and the community providing valuable tips.”
The FBI said the publication of the Seeking Information poster provides the opportunity to remind the community of the agency’s commitment to solve these crimes “and bring closure” to Mr. Vest’s family and Mr. Whiteskunk’s family.
To report information about these two crimes, contact the FBI’s Denver Field Office at (303) 629-7171, or submit a tip online at tips.fbi.gov Tips can also be reported to an FBI office or the nearest American Embassy or Consulate.