High levels of calcium carbonate give the water of Havasu Creek a blue-green color that changes in intensity throughout the day as the sun arcs across the steep canyon. Beneath Havasu Falls, the mineral precipitates onto rocks, creating smooth soaking pools that soothe the sore leg muscles of hikers. As many as 30,000 tourists visit the falls every year, bringing the tribe approximately $2.5 million in income generated from a $35 reservation entrance fee, camping and motel revenue, sales in the Supai café and store, and pack-animal rental. Even so, Supai, population 500 or so, is an impoverished community where most of the housing is prefabricated and in need of repair. Many homes have broken windows that are boarded up, as does the Havasupai tribal office. Gang graffiti suffices for public art. There are no paved roads in the town, and horses remain a primary means of transportation. Recently, some tribe members have begun driving all-terrain vehicles on the village’s dirt paths, triggering complaints to the tribal council from traditionalists.
Many yards also serve as corrals that hold an array of horses and mules tied to posts. The village square features a wood-frame café that offers burgers, Mexican dishes and fry bread. Across the plaza is a post office where the mail comes and goes by mule. Next door is a pricey grocery, where a box of Ritz crackers goes for $7 because of the high cost of transportation into the canyon.
One of the main Supai pastimes is watching the reservation helicopter land and take off from the dirt helipad next to the plaza. The helicopter flies dozens of times a day, four days a week, shattering the canyon’s silence as it ferries mostly Havasupai in and out. Tourists can use the helicopter for $85, each way; backpacks fly one-way for $20.
Many visitors stay at the 24-room Havasupai Lodge, where Tomomi Hanamure registered but did not return on the night of May 8, 2006. A maid discovered her belongings the next morning, and BIA police and the Coconino County sheriff’s office began a search. More than 40 officers and volunteers from six police agencies and an Arizona Department of Public Safety helicopter scanned the canyon and combed the underbrush along Havasu Creek for days, to no effect.
On May 13, a Havasupai tribe member notified Coconino County detectives about a body submerged in a pool in Havasu Creek, about a mile north of the village. Members of an FBI dive team recovered personal items belonging to Hanamure, and two days later, the body was confirmed as Hanamure’s. But the extraordinarily vicious nature of the crime was not generally revealed until July, when an autopsy report was made public.
According to the report, Hanamure had been stabbed nine times on the right side of her neck and eight times on the left. She was stabbed one time through the top of her skull, once in the back of the neck, three times in her left flank, and twice in her back. Her right ear was nicked, and her scalp sliced. She had defensive wounds on her hands. Some of the stab wounds were as much as 3 inches deep; several would have been fatal by themselves.
Immediately after Hanamure’s body was found, the Havasupai Tribal Council banned news media from the canyon. Japanese television film crews were denied landing rights at the reservation’s helipad in Supai. As a publicity-control measure, the tribe’s news blackout strategy largely worked, particularly in the U.S. The murder briefly generated headlines when the FBI posted a $5,000 reward for information related to the killing on July 11. But by late July, the slaying was steadily receding into the media background, attention having shifted to Nicolas Cage and Jessica Biel, who were in Supai filming scenes for the movie Next.
The case didn’t garner more press attention until December, after the reservation’s prime tourist season, when a federal grand jury returned a five-count indictment charging Randy Wescogame with murder, kidnapping and robbery. Once again, the Havasupai Tribal Council declared the reservation off-limits to the media, this time for a 10-day mourning period. “If media representatives violate the mourning period policy, they will be immediately detained by BIA Police, escorted off the Reservation, and film, recordings and notes will be subject to confiscation,” the tribe announced on its Web site.