2008 Great Plains Symposium:
Death, Murder, and Mayhem
Cold Case Great Plains:
Exploring an Unsolved Dakota Indian
Embassy Suites Hotel,
April 19, 2008
The telling of this true story began, for me, in
the summer of 2007 while I was traipsing about east central Nebraska into the Sandhills along Highway 91. By pure happenstance, I stumbled across one of the most cloistered, troubled, and enigmatic men I have
ever met. Larry Lentz shared with me, over the course of only a half-hour or
so as we stood outside of his abode, the concatenated tale of his life. I could
write much about Larry, and indeed, I already have. But what I will share today is the story, not of Larry, but of his wife and daughter. This is a story of violence and, I hope, one day, healing
for those who knew these two women.
Late in the day on March 25, 1987, Grand Forks, North Dakota police were summoned to the University Square Apartments,
a low-income housing development in the northwest part of the city, after residents complained of a bad odor coming from a
second floor apartment. Upon entering the unit, police stepped over a pile of
local newspapers - which had been shoved under the door - and searched the apartment.
What they found was gruesome.
Pamela Lentz, 21, the daughter of Larry and Dorothy, was found strangled to death in her bedroom. Pamela was an undergraduate student at North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton, North Dakota
and had been visiting her mother at her Grand Forks apartment.
In the other bedroom, police discovered the bloody body of her mother. Dorothy
Lentz, 56, had been stabbed repeatedly, throat slit, and then strangled. A search
of the premises revealed only a few dollars and a tape recorder were stolen. The
only other item missing was Pamela’s 1974 green Ford pickup truck, which police believed the killer took.
Immediately, police began their investigation, interviewing friends and neighbors, and a nationwide bulletin was soon
issued for Keith Bishop, and Alonzo Canto Davila, the last two people known to have seen the victims the night of March 20th. Bishop was Pamela Lentz’s boyfriend, while Davila was a relation by marriage.
Pamela’s truck was last seen by the landlord on the morning of March 21st where he also saw Bishop. The vehicle, driven by Bishop, was
finally located in Fergus Falls, Minnesota on March 28th, where the man was arrested on an unrelated probation
violation for burglary in Clay County, Minnesota. There, Bishop served a 120-day
sentence beginning April 3rd and was released on August 7th.
Both Bishop and Davila were questioned, but at the time, Grand Forks Police Chief Chester Paschke said neither man
was a suspect.
Then, on Tuesday, August 10th, 1987, Grand Forks police charged Bishop, a Waubun, Minnesota native, with
two counts of murder as Class AA felonies, and a day later the suspect turned himself in.
Under North Dakota law, a Class AA felony is the most serious charge, punishable by a maximum of life in prison and
minimum of 30 years should Bishop be convicted. Grand Forks State’s Attorney
James Odegard felt they had enough evidence to convict the Native American Bishop for the two crimes. What followed, though, was a story few could have ever imagined.
Now, the victims were both Lakota Standing Rock Sioux. Dorothy Lentz,
born Dorothy Cadotte in 1930, was a respected and well-liked educator pursuing her doctoral dissertation in English at the
University of North Dakota, where she taught multidisciplinary Dakota Language classes.
She grew up in Wakpala, South Dakota, inside the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, situated along a wide expanse of
the Missouri River in the heart of the Great Plains. Although not an activist
in the political sense, Dorothy was very active both in the Standing Rock Community and in the larger white culture. She willingly served in various administrative positions in both North and South
Dakota, including the Standing Rock Community Planning Board, Head Start, and United Tribes, as well as teaching in both public
schools and colleges before pursuing her PhD. Dorothy lectured routinely on
Indian history and culture in the Grand Forks public schools.
The location of the present-day Standing Rock reservation is the birthplace of the legendary Sitting Bull, the Sioux
chieftain who defeated General George Armstrong Custer along the Little Big Horn River in 1876. The name “Lakota”
means “friend” or “ally,” while the word “Sioux” itself is a shortened version of the
original Ojibwa name for the Lakota, “Nadouwesou.” It was this culture
in which Dorothy was raised, and pride in her Native American heritage drove her in all that she did. Dorothy Lentz believed in bringing together white and Indian cultures.
Pamela Lentz, her daughter, was born in 1966 in Oxnard, California. She,
her mother, and father, Larry Lentz, moved to Pine Ridge, South Dakota when Pamela was a baby, and lived much of her life
with her paternal grandparents in Illinois before returning to graduate in Grand Forks.
Pamela attended college in Spearfish, South Dakota, joined the U.S. Navy in 1985, then went back to college in Wahpeton,
The loss of these two Lakota women was a shock to the community. Dorothy
was dedicated to helping others and found, through education, a perfect outlet. Dorothy
herself was class valedictorian when she graduated high school in Wakpala, in 1949, teaching at a variety of schools in the
Dakotas and in California. At the memorial service given for both women, a hundred
people filed into the Native American Cultural Center, where they heard songs and stories in the Dakota language. Dr. Art Raymond, director of Indian Program Development at UND, led the service. Raymond, a Dakota Sioux Indian himself, celebrated the life of these two women, asking them to “Pray
for us, that the people will live.”
At the October 6th arraignment hearing, Keith Bishop pled not guilty.
Defense Attorney Kevin Spaeth contended that the evidence was purely circumstantial, and State’s Attorney James
Odegard agreed. The State still had not found the weapon used to stab the elder
Lentz, and no other physical evidence linked the accused to the crimes. The
bodies of the victims were so badly decomposed, that coroners were unable to place the time of death any closer than 48 hours. It would be, therefore, the testimony of witnesses and circumstantial evidence that
would prove the prosecution’s case.
Testimony at the hearing revealed Pamela and Bishop were dating and sharing an apartment in Wahpeton. Lentz was three months pregnant with Bishop’s child, and the couple had come to Grand Forks for
the weekend of March 20th and 21st to inform Pamela’s mother and friends of the news. Bishop, the Lentz women, and several friends met at McGuire’s Bar in downtown Grand Forks, where
an argument between Keith and Pamela ensured. The motive for the crime, according
to investigators, was that Lentz was pressuring Bishop to marry her, and after the bar had closed, Bishop strangled his girlfriend
in her bed, then stabbed and strangled Dorothy to eliminate the only other witness.
After a delay for a psychiatric evaluation and to give a defense investigator time to follow-up on leads, a preliminary
hearing was held on January 27, 1988 and a trial date was set for April 5th.
District Judge Kirk Smith found the accused competent to stand trial.
Then, on March 25th, one year after police discovered the Lentz women’s bodies, the first twist in
the case was about to take place. The defense filed a motion in court requesting
an omnibus hearing. Such a hearing, though not without legal precedence,
was unheard of in Grand Forks up to this time. The prosecutor explained to reporters
that, “from an evidentiary standpoint,” the “omnibus hearing is a step beyond a preliminary hearing.” In effect, said Odegard, “it’s kind of a mini-trial.”
Three days later at the requested hearing, Spaeth claimed that a legal investigator uncovered evidence that Dorothy
Lentz was seen at about 9 p.m. the day after police alleged that she died. Witnesses, whom police did not interview, reported seeing Pamela’s pickup truck
in a hit-and-run accident in the parking lot of the low-income apartments on the night of Saturday, March 21st. Furthermore, Bishop had left on a bus for California the evening of March 21st
after selling the stolen cassette player to a friend in Fergus Falls. Bishop
returned the following week, where he was arrested for the unrelated parole violation.
It was the defense’ contention that his client could not have possibly killed the women because he was no where
near the area when the Lentz women were last seen alive.
Judge Smith, though, allowed no witness testimony at the omnibus hearing, so Spaeth submitted a packet of materials
to the court for the prosecution to review. The defense filed a motion asking
Smith to dismiss charges, but the judge declined the motion at a July 6th hearing, even though Spaeth claimed that
at least two people had threatened to kill Dorothy, one telling her, “Someday they’re going to find you and Pam
dead.” Yet the prosecution said Bishop’s own friends described him
as “a very nervous man . . . continuously checking if he was being followed” shortly after arriving home from
his California trip. Eventually, the judge set a trial date for August 9th.
In the interim period, witnesses began speaking out in opposition to Spaeth’s claim that Dorothy and Pamela were
seen alive on the night of March 21st, the day after the murders were supposed to have occurred. Wendy Patterson, mother of one of three adolescent girls who had spent the night in the apartment just
above Lentz, told reporters that the girls were mistaken about the date and time they had seen Dorothy. Yet the defense continued to nurture doubts as to the identity of the real killer.
On August 9th, 1988, Day 1 of the trial
began. Attorneys for both sides questioned potential jurors as to possible prejudices
against Indians, alcohol, and the legal system. The following day, a 12-member
jury was finally selected, and opening arguments began August 11th.
The prosecution asserted that on the night of March 20th, 1987, Keith and Pamela were at the bar when an
argument ensued over Bishop’s drinking and womanizing. When the two returned
to Dorothy’s apartment about 2 a.m., the argument escalated, and an intoxicated Bishop strangled the mother of his unborn
child. When Bishop came to his senses, Odegard asserted, he realized that he
had to kill Dorothy because she would have known what he had done. Afterward,
Bishop rifled through Dorothy’s purse for cash, stole the tape player, took Pamela’s truck, and fled the next
day on a bus to California.
The prosecution’s case seemed logical.
On Day 4 of testimony, however, the defense pressed Grand Forks’ police about apparent lapses in the investigation. Lieutenant Floyd Bye testified that death threat leads were investigated but that
the parties involved had alibis for the night of March 20th. No one,
though, had checked alibis for the night of March 21st, the day defense attorney Spaeth asserts the Lentzes were
murdered. Since coroners could not pinpoint the exact day and time of death
due to decomposition of the bodies, the defense tried to cast doubt among jurors.
Furthermore, the pile of newspapers at Dorothy’s
door were never collected, casting further speculation as to the time of death. Prosecutors
said the March 21st paper, delivered about 6 a.m. that morning, sat on the floor, but the defense challenged that
claim. Those newspapers, Spaeth said, were critical in establishing the exact
timeframe of the murder, and police failed to do that.
In addition, investigators neither dusted the doorknob
to the apartment for fingerprints nor analyzed all of the knives at the residence to determine if any were used to stab Dorothy.
When Spaeth asked a police witness if he knew that
three teenage girls had seen the Lentz women the night after the women were allegedly
killed, the officer said the girls “are mistaken.” Yet Spaeth pressed
“If they saw Dorothy and Pam on the night of
the 21st, my client couldn’t possibly have committed the murders, isn’t that right?” Spaeth asked.
“If they actually did see them,” the
lieutenant answered, “Mr. Bishop would be out of here in a hurry.”
Day 5 of the trial featured testimony from friends of the deceased who had accompanied the victims to the bar the alleged
night of the murders. One friend of Dorothy testified that last year on March
20th, she and Dorothy went to McGuire’s Bar where they later met Pamela and Keith and played bingo. At 1 a.m. when the bar closed, she, Dorothy, and three other friends went back to
Dorothy’s apartment to eat and listen to music. By the time they left
Dorothy’s apartment, Keith and Pamela had not yet returned.
Another friend testified that Pamela picked her and her sister up about 11 p.m. on March 20th and went to
the bar where Dorothy and Bishop already were. Pamela had announced her pregnancy
to them and was very happy. She was anxious for her friends to meet Keith, but when they arrived at McGuire’s Bar, Bishop
“He was drunk . . . talking to this other woman, hugging her,” the
witness said. Pamela was “shocked” and “devastated”
by his behavior.
After the bar had closed, Bishop was obnoxious, “swearing at passersby” and “making obscene gestures.” When they arrived at a friend’s house, he urinated in front of them.
Finally, around 2:30 p.m., Lentz and Bishop headed to Dorothy’s apartment.
Despite the damning testimony, four prosecution witnesses testified that Keith Bishop was “a gentle person incapable
of violence” and were “shocked” to learn of his arrest.
Next on the stand came Fonda Knutson, Bishop’s friend in Fergus Falls to whom he had sold the stolen tape player. Knutson testified that Bishop only seemed nervous because she had mentioned someone
Bishop didn’t. When the prosecutor pressed her about Bishop’s demeanor,
she grew hostile, changing her story about the tape recorder and how she came to learn of the murders.
But when two more female friends of Bishop took the stand, both said that upon his return from California on March
27th, Bishop “was nervous, looking out the windows.”
After a break in the proceedings, Day 6 of the trial resumed, and one witness after another testified how Keith and
Pamela had argued at the bar. One witness explained how upset Pamela was because
Bishop was flirting with other women and was very belligerent, and yet another witness told of how despondent Bishop had gradually
become over the pregnancy.
Then, another Pamela, Pam Wilkes from St. Paul, Minnesota, testified that she, too, was dating Bishop at the time Pamela
had become pregnant and was still seeing him after news of the murders broke. Wilkes
said Bishop had become very quiet late in March at the time of the murders, telling her he “had a lot” on his
Yet the most controversial testimony came from Wendy Patterson, Dorothy Lentzes’ upstairs neighbor. Patterson testified that her daughter had a slumber party the night of March 20th, 1987, not
March 21st as the defense claimed. The
defense cross-examined Patterson, attempting to undermine the credibility of
the witness. Spaeth’s defense hinged upon the testimony of the girls,
and it was crucial that jurors find doubt in the mother’s testimony.
Then, police Sergeant Art Sanborn took the stand
and said that the girls recollection of events was not “as good” as the mother’s.
at that age like to exaggerate things,” Sanborn continued. “They
get things mixed up.”
On Day 7 of the trial, the testimony of the three
teenage girls served only to cloud the prosecution’s timeline. Kimberly
Grossman, 14, slept over at the Patterson apartment the night of March 21st.
Grossman testified that at about 9:15 p.m. that night, a nervous Dorothy came upstairs to use the phone. About 9:30 p.m., Grossman heard screams from the Lentz apartment just below, and again when Pamela entered
the building about 15 minutes later. Afterward, the girl said, she saw Lentz’s
green pickup truck hit a car in the parking lot.
Still, the other girls could only corroborate parts
of Grossman’s testimony. One said she heard screams around 11 p.m., not
9:30, while Patterson’s daughter didn’t recall hearing anything at all.
One did, however, witness the accident, but in previous testimony, it was discovered that it was a black pickup owned
by someone else, not Pamela’s green one.
Additionally, Wendy Patterson said the girls never
mentioned the screams until after the bodies were found. She stated that no
one used the phone March 20th, the alleged night of the murders.
Still, when Grossman’s mother was asked whether
she believed her daughter’s account of events, she replied that her daughter had a “great memory” and “would
Then, Ross Rolshoven, the defense team’s investigator,
took the stand. He testified that Patterson told him the defendant was guilty
and that she would do nothing to help Bishop’s case. Moreover, Rolshoven
claimed that Patterson refused to let her daughter tell police what she heard and saw that weekend, and claimed that alcohol
may have impaired Patterson’s own memory of event and that the girls were telling the truth.
In response, Patterson admitted to drinking the night
of March 20th but denied the other accusations.
Then came Day 8 of the trial. Keith Bishop himself testified on his own behalf. He cried
on the witness stand and said that when he left Dorothy’s apartment in the early morning hours of March 21st,
both women were still alive.
“We talked about me leaving,” said Bishop. “They didn’t think I should go.”
But he wanted to get to California soon so he could
hunt for a job. He admitted that on his way out, he swiped the tape player for
money. He didn’t think Dorothy would assume he took it.
Bishop drove Pamela’s truck back to Wahpeton,
sold the tape player, then got on a bus for California. He said he returned
from California one week later because he didn’t like it there.
Bishop admitted to having an affair and had even
planned to move with his lover, Pam Wilken, to Florida in early March of 1987, but Wilken backed out. He claimed that the argument in the bar was not over his womanizing or drinking but was, instead,
about Pamela drinking while being pregnant.
“I didn’t want anything to go wrong with
her being pregnant,” Keith explained.
Bishop testified that he and Pamela were looking
forward to being parents, although another girlfriend had given birth to his child just weeks before in December of 1986.
The prosecution, though, sought holes in Bishop’s
testimony. After Bishop admitted that he to contacted Wilkes instead of Lentz
when he returned from California, Odegard asserted that Bishop did not call the victim because he already knew she was dead.
On Day 9 of testimony, Keith Bishop’s probation
officer, Gerald Hellen, took the stand and charged that Keith was “dangerous when drunk” and a “man who
used women.” Bishop was a powerful wrestler in school and used to brag
about bruising his opponents whenever he grabbed them. Furthermore, he
said Bishop admitted to having two personalities – “one when he drank and one when he was sober.” Hellen testified that Bishop had undergone alcohol treatment twice and that a letter from an Alcoholics
Anonymous counselor alleged Bishop was “out of control” and “dangerous.”
When cross-examined by the defense, however, Hellen
admitted that he knew of no acts of violence ever perpetrated by the accused.
In closing arguments on Day 10, prosecutors admitted their case against the defendant was circumstantial but told jurors
the “totality” of the evidence can lead to only one “logical conclusion – that Keith Bishop is guilty
as charged.” Odegard claimed the argument and drinking on the night of
March 20th “triggered that other personality,” compelling Bishop to murder both his girlfriend and
her mother. He pointed out that both women had failed to keep numerous social
engagements and that friends who knocked on their door March 21st and all weekend received no response.
“Why wasn’t the door answered, the engagements kept?” he inquired.
“ . . . the answer is obvious. They were dead.”
Still, defense attorney Spaeth contended that conflicting testimony and police ineptitude caused plenty of reasonable
doubts. He went on to assert that it was indeed Dorothy who was the intended
victim for she was stabbed and had her throat slit before being strangled to death.
“You can’t make a murder . . . out of the fact that they didn’t answer the door,” Spaeth argued. “People who are guilty don’t turn themselves in. They leave.”
At the end of this final day of testimony and closing arguments, the case went to the jury for deliberation. Yet the twists and turns were not yet over . . .
After two days of deliberation, the jury deadlocked, and Judge Smith ordered a new trial. Spaeth, however, was immediately contacted by 10 of the 12 jurors who were concerned about what had occurred
during deliberation. The only juror to holdout for a guilty verdict had originally
voted to acquit. But when jurors
discussed the testimony and evidence further, Juror Robert Clausen, switched his vote, informing the others that he had “conducted
his own investigation of the case, including visiting the scene of the crime.”
Fellow jurors said that Clausen was determined to deadlock the proceedings, regardless of how anyone voted.
Thus, on September 6th, Spaeth filed a motion for acquittal, but the request was denied. This hearing was the first to be covered by the media after the North Dakota Supreme Court voted to allow
cameras in the courtroom September 1st, 1988. Smith was incensed
by the fact that jurors violated rules of procedure which prohibit them from disclosing the “mental processes”
of their deliberation.
“A unanimous verdict is just that,” said Judge Smith. “Anything
less than 12 is not a verdict.”
Eventually, a new trial date was set for Keith Bishop, January 17th, 1989.
The North Dakota Supreme Court denied a defense request to replace the judge, but Judge Smith did approve, finally,
a change of venue from Grand Forks to Jamestown, North Dakota, due to “prejudicial pretrial publicity” caused,
in part, by both the media’s coverage and Spaeth’s release of the juror affidavits to the media.
Then, after another trial delay, on February 9th, 1989, prosecutors dropped charges against Keith Bishop,
citing, publicly, a lack of evidence to warrant a retrial. Upon release from
18 months of incarceration, Bishop left immediately for his home in Waubun, Minnesota.
Yet the decision to drop all charges came behind the scenes when Bishop refused to make any plea deal with prosecutors.
Although the long ordeal was over for Bishop’s advocates, his problems continued.
On December 28th, 1989, Bishop was charged with the brutal assault and aggravated robbery of a Fergus Falls
homeowner. He pled guilty in a plea bargain and received a 6-year sentence.
No one I contacted or spoke to during the course of my research was able to help me track down the former accused,
and some felt Bishop had moved out of state altogether. Dr. Hunter Gray, a retired
professor at UND, assures me that most of the Sioux Indian community felt the police had their man, but it was the adept performance
of Defense Attorney Kevin Spaeth that freed Bishop.
The spirits of Dorothy and Pamela Lentz may reside, now, with their Sioux ancestors, original inhabitants and stewards
of the Great Plains. But in my way of thinking, they will always be alive as
long as their tale is told.