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Security Video Helps Catch Person Responsible for Two-Spirited Woman's New Year's Murder
Authorities had to investigate the possible motive behind why trans native Jamie Wounded Arrow was found stabbed to death in her Sioux Falls apartment.
Police feared a killer had a head start when 28-year-old Jamie Lee Wounded Arrow was found stabbed to death in her Sioux Falls apartment.
Wounded Arrow was a trans woman raised on the Pine Ridge Reservation in the southern part of South Dakota. She was of the Oglala Lakota tribe, where trans people identify as Two-Spirited, a term used to describe non-gender-conforming indigenous peoples and part of the greater LGBTQ+ community.
Wounded Arrow, the youngest of eight children, had an “unbreakable” bond with her mother, according to her sister, Brenda Wounded Arrow. But living as a Two-Spirit didn’t come without its challenges, and she later turned to substance and alcohol abuse as a means of coping with high school bullying.
“There were some struggles that Jamie had, and those are the things I think Jamie used as a coping mechanism for that,” the sister told Final Moments, airing Sundays at 7/6c on Oxygen. “But, as time went on, Jamie started to find herself in a positive way.”
At 26, Wounded Arrow moved from the reservation to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where she found an apartment and joined a support group for the Two-Spirited community. She also began treatment for her sobriety, and by 2016, she celebrated two years sober.
Friend Erick Taylor, who’d met Wounded Arrow through the support group, was the last known person in touch with Wounded Arrow on December 31, 2016. That night, Wounded Arrow retired early for New Year’s Eve, though she and Taylor made plans to grab a meal after the new year, Taylor told Final Moments.
Shortly before the world rang in 2017, Wounded Arrow posted a meme of cartoon character Marge Simpson sleeping through the celebrations onto her Facebook page at 11:08 p.m. Days went by without any further contact with friends and acquaintances, which wasn’t especially odd to those who knew her best.
But on January 6, 2017, a tenant contacted the building manager after detecting the smell of decomposition from Wounded Arrow's apartment.
Officers with the Sioux Falls Police Department responded to the scene, where they found the bedroom in disarray and covered in blood, according to Detective Tim Bakke. Former State’s Attorney Heather Knox told Final Moments the closet doors had been broken from the hinges.
“In the closet, it was Jamie on her back,” said Bakke. “She’d been secreted in that closet. Her shirt was pulled up, and I could see what appeared to be stab wounds to the chest.”
A postmortem examination revealed seven stab wounds formed when the victim still had her top on, according to Bakke. It was believed the shirt was moved in the process of placing the victim inside the closet.
Sioux Falls police investigate Wounded Arrow’s final moments
Wounded Arrow’s phone and purse were missing from the residence, though whoever killed the victim left the murder weapon — a bloody kitchen knife — at the crime scene. Authorities believed Wounded Arrow had been dead for nearly a week, which gave the suspected killer a head start.
Investigators canvassed the apartment complex, where about 1,000 people lived. Speaking with neighbors proved fruitless, but security cameras installed in the building gave a glimmer of hope.
“You have to watch every second of it because you don’t know what’s going to be missed,” said S.A. Knox.
Video showed Wounded Arrow arriving at the apartment around 8:30 p.m. on New Year’s Eve. According to Knox, a hooded individual appeared around 3:30 a.m. on Jan. 1, 2017. The subject left the building about two minutes later and reappeared another one to two minutes after that.
The hooded individual then went downstairs toward Wounded Arrow’s residence, the only person to appear on camera during the purported window of time someone murdered Wounded Arrow.
“The suspect knocked on the door for a significant amount of time, received no response,” Det. Bakke told Final Moments. “He walked out, walked around the apartment complex, banged on her window, woke her up… he came back in, and she let him in the house.”
Bakke determined it was “highly unlikely” that the suspect was a stranger.
The unknown person left about one hour and 10 minutes later, wearing a sweatshirt and pants that didn’t match the same outfit he was seen wearing when initially arriving at the complex, according to S.A. Knox. The hoodie which the suspected killer wore had the words “Peabody Energy” on the front, and it appeared to be covered in blood.
The subject was then captured walking to a wooded area near the residence. He threw several indistinguishable items into a ravine, where police later found Wounded Arrow’s clutch purse. There was no money inside, but the victim’s bank cards and identification remained.
A Look Into Possible Motives
Police wondered if robbery was a motive, despite Wounded Arrow’s debit card still in her purse. To cover all their tracks, investigators looked into Wounded Arrow’s background, which included a history of substance abuse and criminal drug charges.
One drug-related conviction previously landed Wounded Arrow in a Sioux Falls halfway house called The Arch, where the victim began her drug recovery.
A look at Wounded Arrow’s cell phone records showed two calls placed after the stabbing. The first was to a wrong number, police learned, and the second was to a woman who claimed she received the call from her boyfriend, Joshua LeClaire.
The girlfriend claimed she and LeClaire argued earlier on New Year’s Eve.
“They had argued, he was drunk, and he had left the house, and he did not have a phone,” Bakke told Final Moments. “She was wondering whose phone he was using to call her.”
Police learned LeClaire was a Native also from the Pine Ridge Reservation, where Wounded Arrow once lived. He was paroled in 2016 after serving time for a 2011 burglary and had met Wounded Arrow while staying at The Arch. At the time of Wounded Arrow’s murder, there was a warrant out for LeClaire’s arrest due to his subsequent absconding.
LeClaire and Wounded Arrow were also Facebook friends.
“We know that they had some communication, though we’re not sure of the extent of their relationship and what it all entailed,” said Knox.
Police issued a B.O.L.O. alert for their new prime suspect, and eventually, a friend told officers that he was with LeClaire in the early morning hours of New Year’s Day. The friend claimed he saw LeClaire in “a bloody sweatshirt” and that he watched the suspect discard the attire in a construction site dumpster, according to Knox.
Police chased the lead and found the blood-soaked sweatshirt, which matched the one worn by the suspected killer in the apartment complex security footage.
The Arrest of Joshua LeClaire
On Jan. 8, 2017 — two days after Wounded Arrow’s murder — local police responded to a report of an intoxicated individual. At the time, the disorderly man gave a fake name, though it wasn’t long before patrol officers identified the individual as Joshua LeClaire.
“Joshua had a significant laceration on his palm,” Det. Bakke observed, which was consistent with what a perpetrator might have after a stabbing.
Bakke said that during his interview with the suspect, LeClaire never denied knowing Wounded Arrow, nor did he deny being at the victim’s residence on the night of the murder. “He simply used the excuse that he was blackout drunk and could only remember bits and pieces of why he was there and what had happened during the interaction,” Bakke continued.
LeClaire confessed to stabbing Wounded Arrow to death after the pair allegedly argued over a pair of shoes. Later, the blood on the suspect’s sweatshirt matched to LeClaire and Wounded Arrow, which factored into LeClaire being charged with first-degree murder.
Still, authorities remained uncertain about LeClaire’s possible motive. They believed Wounded Arrow’s identity as a trans individual might have possibly driven LeClaire to kill, making it a potential hate crime. Still, there wasn’t enough evidence to support the theory.
“In my opinion, the brutality of the crime certainly indicated that Joshua knew Jamie and that he was motivated by some sense of hatred, even if not necessarily based on her status as a trans woman,” Knox told Final Moments. “We don’t know if he made advances toward her that were rejected or a drunken fight of some sort… just the viciousness of the attack signaled to me that there was something deeper beyond just a casual acquaintanceship.”
Loved ones seek closure in the case
LeClaire pleaded guilty to the crime, but in a shocking move — during the pre-sentencing phase of trial — the defendant claimed Wounded Arrow pulled the knife after LeClaire rebuffed his advances and that LeClaire stabbed her to death in self-defense.
However, according to prosecutors, the account was inconsistent with the evidence, which included Wounded Arrow being the only one with defense wounds.
“I don’t believe it to be true in any way, shape, or form,” said Bakke. “I believe that’s a person who’s at the end of the road and is about to be sentenced.”
A judge rejected claims of self-defense, and on June 26, 2018, Joshua LeClaire was sentenced to 65 years behind bars.
Although the sentence brought a sense of relief to some, Wounded Arrow’s sister, Brenda Wounded Arrow, described the heartache of having to repeatedly break the news to their mother, who then lived with dementia. Today, loved ones are still unclear about the motive behind LeClaire’s actions.
“People who go through this, you have to have strength within yourself to continue on, to live your life also, to live for them,” Brenda Wounded Arrow concluded.
Memories of Wounded Arrow continue to live on through friends like Erick Taylor.
“I really miss seeing how happy she was when she started accomplishing some of her goals,” said Taylor. “A sense of happiness. ‘Yes, I did it.’”
Tune in to all-new episodes of Final Moments, available to watch Sundays at 7/6c on Oxygen.