This is Kaysera Stops Pretty Places, an 18 year old member of the Crow Nation in Montana. Kaysera was close to her high school graduation and had a life full of family, friends, and love. Here are some things her family and friends had to say about her:
“She’s very loved. She mattered. Her life was worth everything. She was so young and beautiful. She had so much ahead of her. So much potential." – Her grandmother, Yolanda Fraser *
“Kaysera was very athletic. She participated in many sports including cross country, track, basketball, wrestling, and football. In high school she participated in swing choir, speech and drama club, and performed in several school theatre productions. She dreamed of being an actress and performer. aysera was very giving and she took to rescuing stray animals. She had many friends and with her kind heart she was beloved by many who knew her. She was a hard worker wherever she was employed and intended to work as soon as she was able to be an independent adult. She adored and cared for her little sister...and always included her sister in her future aspirations and plans. Kaysera is known for her warm, kindhearted personality and loved to laugh, dance, sing, and entertain her friends. Kaysera participated in Sundance from the age of 14." – from the obituary compiled by her family
As we will see later, her family has been very outspoken about how her case has been handled and listening to their raw voices, it is impossible to miss the devastation that Kaysera’s absence has wrought.
On August 24th, 2019, Kaysera didn’t come home. At that time, she lived with her grandmother Yolanda Fraser in Hardin, Montana. The next day, August 25th, Kaysera had plans to meet up with her mom so the two could travel to North Dakota to visit relatives, but she never arrived. Even more worryingly, the normally social-media active Kaysera hadn’t posted anything or gotten in touch with anyone since the 24th.
Growing increasingly more concerned, her family reported her missing on August 27th. Then, on August 29th, her body was discovered by a jogger in the backyard of a home belonging to a man named Steven Schaff. Tragically, her family wasn’t notified that her body had been found and identified until September 11th. Between August 27th and September 11th her family had hope she could still be alive.
From that point on the family says contact between them, investigators, and the county coroner, was limited. Initially it sounded like the coroner and investigators felt the death was not suspicious and had her body cremated. After a memorial march in September, County Attorney Jay Harris formed The Big Horn County Missing/Murdered Persons Task Force, which now regards Kaysera’s death as suspicious, and will take over her investigation.
Kaysera’s family has consistently maintained that she was a victim of homicide and their case is compelling.
“The reason we think it’s a homicide; the site is visible on an active neighborhood…There is high pedestrian and vehicle traffic going through that area. If the body was badly decomposed, it would be noticeable. Her body would have had to have been moved there the night before. Where her body was found the grass was still green there, there was no blood or anything left on that spot.” - Yolanda Fraser **
We agree. Especially since the question of whether Steve Schaff was gone the entire time she was missing, or just the day she was found, is unanswered. Also, if her body was so visible that a jogger in the morning was able to spot the body, her placement must have been relatively obvious. It is possible that there were no joggers the previous day, but still strange.
Also, previously healthy eighteen-year-olds don’t just suddenly die of natural causes in someone’s backyard wood pile.
And finally, the Billings Gazette tweeted that her body was found wrapped in plastic, but we have not seen that corroborated anywhere, and the family is unsure if this is true.
We have supplied a 2015 Google Maps image of where she was found in the above photos so you can see for yourself how open the area was.
Not much is known about Steven Schaff, the owner of the home where Kaysera was found. He was out of town when her body was discovered and was told about the situation by his son. He claimed in September that authorities haven’t given him much information about the investigation.
Remember this guy? The Big Horn County Coroner who didn’t feel it was his problem to tell Henny Scott’s family her cause of death? And let them find it out via newspapers? And had ethics violations in 2003? (Our profile here: https://www.patreon.com/posts/31177855)
Well, Terry Bullis cremated Kaysera’s body. A body that is the subject of an open investigation. You know what cannot be exhumed and re-examined? Ashes. If it is found that Terry Bullis made a mistake, overlooked a piece of evidence, ran a test incorrectly, ANYTHING, it cannot be redone. How on earth is this an acceptable action in an open investigation? Going off of the family’s GoFundMe (listed later in this article if you want to donate), they did not want this cremation. Further, Bullis’ personal business, Bullis Mortuary, is the funeral home that hosted her funeral.
Further, we find it interesting that Terry Bullis is on the Montana Coroner’s Association Board of Directors as Secretary-Treasurer. Interesting, because Terry was found to be guilty in 2003 of withholding a body from a family until they paid for services they never requested. It has also been mentioned in the articles that covered this ethical lapse of Terry’s that it was standard practice for Terry to funnel money from his work as a coroner into his personal mortuary business. Odd that this is who the board would trust with their finances.
As a reminder, Bullis’ position as county coroner is an elected seat and will be up for re-election in 2022.
We got our Bachelor of Arts in Criminology, and one of the first things we learned is that what should be often isn’t. What we mean is that something may be obvious in an ethical or common-sense way, but may not be a true rule, law, or guideline that officials must follow. While everyone should be angry that Bullis cremated Kaysera, was he legally allowed to do so? We reached out to the Montana Board of Medical Examiners to find out what the guidelines are surrounding cremating the subject of an open investigation. If we hear back, we’ll update this profile with new information.
We can all agree, though, that cremation of a body in an open investigation feels far removed from best practices. Especially against the wishes of the victim’s family.
Dipping our toes into autopsy procedures, we realize there is a great deal we do not know. For example, what happens to the organs after “slices” are taken for tests? Do tests destroy the samples?
A couple more questions and considerations:
· A coroner is ultimately responsible for determining the cause of death
· Did Terry Bullis retain and preserve physical specimens from Kayera’s body, so that if a test needs to be re-done that is possible?
· If he did not properly retain physical specimens from Kayera’s autopsy, and if Kayera’s death is ultimately found to be a homicide (again, we think this is likely) we wonder what ramifications the cremation may have upon a trial. Can a defense team successfully argue that the cremation calls into question all of Terry’s tests if they cannot be redone or reexamined?
· How long is a body usually held before it is released to a family in an open investigation? What does it mean that Terry cremated Kaysera without her family’s consent?
· Why hasn’t he released a cause of death yet? Why did it take the County Attorney Jay Harris getting involved to make her death suspicious? Even if Kaysera had overdosed on drugs (there has been no speculation surrounding this, we just suggest it as an option of why she would suddenly have passed away if she was not murdered) wouldn’t that have come up early in the autopsy test results? Or have caused organ failure/damage that is obvious?
The more questions that come to mind, the more aggravating it is that we now can only go off of Terry Bullis’ notes, reports, and words as he has utterly destroyed Kaysera’s body.
As we know, the first 24 to 48 hours are crucial in finding a missing person. Thinking back to Henny Scott’s case, it is probable that had investigators assisted her family in searching for her, she could have survived. Here again, when Kaysera’s family reported her missing, investigators were reluctant to take it seriously as she had runaway in the past.
While that may make sense initially (are they understaffed? Under-budgeted? Poorly trained?), it makes less sense when you consider:
· Kaysera was found dead
· Kaysera’s family had so little faith in the handling of the investigation that they have started a GoFundMe page to raise reward money and have been drumming up lists of witnesses for investigators to interview. The family should not have to take on the burden of the investigation. Their GoFundMe page is here: https://www.gofundme.com/f/justice-for-kaysera
· Children and adults who have a history of running away are still at risk when they suddenly go missing (also, did Kaysera’s disappearance this time differ from her previous attempts to runaway?)
· Montana is under national scrutiny currently for the way their governmental institutions have ignored native American women that have gone missing or have been murdered. Kaysera, it has been widely reported, is the 27th indigenous woman to go missing/have been murdered in Big Horn County alone.
Again, like in Henny Scott’s case, even if local authorities searched for Kaysera and were unable to find her, they still would have been able to say that they tried their best. Instead, they’ve left themselves open to rightful scrutiny and questions. Why even have the option to report a missing person if the only people the police will search for fit the model of a “perfect” victim? Wouldn’t authorities want to change their national perception? They must know that in today’s increased awareness of an ongoing epidemic of violence against indigenous people, they will be under more scrutiny. This may be a naïve understanding of the issue, and likely is, but there is such a clear point in this process where police continually fail to protect those they serve. Yes, there are jurisdictional issues at play between counties, cities, FBI, and the BIA. But it seems that some of these tragic cases could have a different outcome if the police took these missing persons reports seriously.
· Was Kaysera’s family charged for the funerary services at Terry Bullis’ funeral home?
· What was Steven Schaff’s timeline? How old is his son? Does anyone else live in their home? Since this is an open investigation that actually might go somewhere, we won’t pry. But these questions do come to mind.
· Would Terry Bullis have gone to the crime scene to collect evidence? Or is it already bagged by officers? According to some sources it is a coroner’s responsibility to collect forensic evidence at the scene of a crime. If Terry Bullis felt this wasn’t a homicide (which his behavior indicates) would he have done his due diligence?
As this case is now being investigated by a newly formed task force, we are hopeful that Kaysera’s family will find closure, answers, and justice. As this case develops, we will post updates.
To learn more about the Crow Nation in Montana, please visit their webpage: http://www.crow-nsn.gov/
To Learn More About Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women:
· National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (Canada) https://www.mmiwg-ffada.ca/
· Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women USA https://mmiwusa.org/
· CBC’s database on MMIWG (Canada) https://www.cbc.ca/missingandmurdered/
· Justice for Native Women (USA and Canada) http://www.justicefornativewomen.com/
· The REDress Project (Canada) http://www.redressproject.org/?page_id=43
· Melanie Bartel, an indigenous artist in Canada. Check out her work! https://www.melaniebartelart.com/justine-cochrane.html
· Missing and Murdered (Canadian Podcast) https://www.cbc.ca/mediacentre/program/missing-and-murdered
· Desi Rodriguez-Lonebear (American activist based out of Montana, United States) https://twitter.com/native4data
**quote taken from this article: https://www.bighorncountynews.com/content/%E2%80%98she-should-be-school%E2%80%99