Son’s unsolved death haunts family 20 years later

By Andrea J. Cook
Rapid City, South Dakota (AP) October 2010

It has been 20 years since his body was found in Rapid Creek. For the family of Irving Audiss Jr. and local authorities, his death remains an unsolved mystery.

“He was a good guy,” said Francis Audiss, recalling the eldest of her eight children.

Francis and Irving Audiss Sr. can vividly recall the morning a Pennington County sheriff’s deputy brought them the news that their son was dead, but Francis remembers little of the following week.

Irving Audiss Jr.’s body was found in the creek behind a tennis court on the morning of Oct. 15, 1990. The Rapid City police file on his death is still open, his case considered an unsolved death investigation.

Audiss died several years before a string of deaths along the creek in the late 1990s.

“Irving Audiss’ death bore some similarities, but it was dissimilar in several ways,” said Chris Grant, retired Rapid City chief of detectives.

“The case was investigated,” Grant said. “Dozens of people were interviewed and many of them re-interviewed. We were simply unable to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion at the time.”

An autopsy could not confirm a cause of death, according to Capt. Deb Cady, who recently reviewed the Audiss file. A department investigator revisited the “cold-case” file as the anniversary of his death approached.

What investigators do know is that Audiss was drinking heavily that night, and so were many of the people he was with, which might have hindered the investigation, Grant said.

Her son was not perfect, his mother said. Francis Audiss spoke frankly about it recently while sitting in the cozy kitchen of the Audiss home in the Lakota Homes housing development. It is the same house the couple occupied when their son died. Children and grandchildren wander in and out of the comfortable home, much like they did two decades ago. Married 53 years, the couple has raised all of their children in Rapid City.

Whatever his imperfections, Irving was her first born. The pain of his loss is always with her.

Irving attended North Junior High School but never went on to high school.

“At that time, there was a lot of prejudice,” said his mother, who grew up on Rosebud Indian Reservation. “He got in a lot of fights for being Indian.”

The half-Lakota youth was an avid baseball player who crossed real or imagined racial barriers to play ball, said his sister, Bridget Shorb. In team photos, Audiss stands out as the only Native American on North’s team. “He loved baseball so much.”

After quitting school, Audiss learned bricklaying in the Job Corps. When sober, he was a hard worker who often worked at the same company as his father, a truck driver.

“I miss him,” the slender, stooped Irving Audiss Sr. said. His son is never far from the elder Audiss’ thoughts.

Nor is he far from his sibling’s thoughts.

“So many loved and adored him,” Paulette Isabel said of her big brother. Audiss was a good mechanic who often repaired neighbors’ cars for little more than a thank you, she said.

More than 500 people attended his funeral at the Mother Butler Center, including former teachers from North.

“He was a good brother who tried to protect the girls,” Isabel said.

Audiss was the father of two little boys who grew up without their father. He was a talented artist and a kind, good friend. But his drinking got the best of him, his mother said.

“I don’t know what his pain was,” said Bridget Shorb, who was 10 years younger than her brother. She remembers “there was a lot of drinking.”

There were also happy, sober times between paychecks, when Audiss worked hard every day and spent time with family members.

The Audiss family stays focused on the good memories, but the questions are always there: What happened? Why did it happen? Why won’t someone at least tell them something?

Many of Audiss’ friends are gone. Others are showing the effects of lives equally as tormented by drugs and alcohol.

Shorb and Isabel have watched their parents carry the burden of their son’s death for a long time. If for no other reason than to give them peace, they pray that someone who knows something will eventually come forward or at least make a phone call.

Investigators know that Audiss was ejected from a neighborhood bar in North Rapid because he was intoxicated.

He was a big man – 6-feet, 2-inches tall, weighing 220 pounds – and he had been placed in the creek. There also is evidence that he was involved in some kind of a fight that night, Grant said.

“These things, as well as other evidence, suggest that the case is homicidal in nature,” Grant said.

There is another possibility: Something might have happened to Irving before he was placed in the creek that was not a deliberate act.

“For the sake of the family, we need someone – whoever has that information – to simply come forward and tell us what happened,” Grant said.

Investigators never give up on unsolved cases, Grant said. Rapid City has only a handful of unsolved deaths on file.

“All of us involved fully understand families of those who are lost are left with the pain of their loss, the unanswered questions and the lack of closure,” Grant said. “And we want to bring every one of these cases to resolution.”