The MMIW movement has done more than shed light on the silent epidemic sweeping the nation. They have also worked hard to have legislation passed to curb the rate at which these crimes occur. This particular case sparked so much outrage and uproar that a bill was created in the name of the victim. Though it was a long, tough, uphill battle to get it passed, many rejoiced when in October 2020, Savanna's Act was signed into law. It couldn't reverse time and bring back the sweet, loving, young mother-to-be that lost her life. But what it could do was help many more Native American women and girls in the future.
According to her obituary, done by Boulger Funeral Home, Savanna Marie LaFontaine-Greywind was born on August 9, 1995, in Belcourt, North Dakota. She grew up with her parents, Norberta and Joe Greywind, in Fargo. It was in the spring of 2005 that the family pulled up roots and moved to Spirit Lake. She graduated high school in Warwick, North Dakota in 2013, and was able to earn her C.N.A. license a year later. Savanna started her career at a nursing home in Devils Lake before transferring to Evertide in Fargo in 2016.
Savanna had been with her high school sweetheart, Ashton Matheny, since their freshmen year. The two were deeply in love and planning for a family. For the young woman who was so devoted to family, this was something to be truly excited about. Savanna loved children and held a special place in her heart for all the children in her life. The same could be said about those she cared for at the nursing home she worked at.
It was the kids that her life revolved around, though. She helped to raise her niece and nephew and was very close with the two. She would've done anything in the world for those kids. Everything that she did was either for them or with them in mind. Just as big a part of her life was her grandparents, Clarence LaFontaine and Edward Greywind. Their bond was extremely close.
Her Dakota name was reported by The Guardian as "Where Thunder Finds Her." By all the details given in her obituary, we can clearly see what a warm, caring, kind person she was. She was a natural caregiver down to her core. This quality made her quite popular among the patients she cared for at work. There wasn't a soul she met that she didn't touch in her life.
When Savanna discovered she was pregnant, she and Ashton were ecstatic. Their plans were coming to fruition and their dreams about a family were coming true. With a career in a field that offers so many job prospects all over the county, Savanna was in a good position to start a family. C.N.A.s are always needed just about anywhere you go. Though they may not make the kind of pay that registered nurses do, they still make good money while being in an advantageous position to enroll in nursing school and do quite well.
According to the NY Daily News, 22-year-old Savanna was eight months pregnant with her baby girl on August 19, 2017, when she went missing. At the time, she was living with her parents and her brother in an apartment in Fargo. That day, she texted her mother and her boyfriend to tell them that she was going to walk upstairs to help a neighbor named Brooke Crews with a sewing project. Brooke said that she was in need of a model and asked if Savanna would help. Always willing to be of assistance, she said yes. Before she left to make the fateful walk up those stairs, she ordered a pizza to be delivered to her apartment for herself and her family.
There was much it would seem that Savanna didn't know about this neighbor. Brooke Crews lived with her boyfriend, William Hoehn. The couple's relationship had not been ideal for a while. If any of Brooke's later testimony can be believed, it would appear that she may have suffered from delusions of some sort. She somehow became convinced that her boyfriend wanted her to have a baby. In response, Brooke told him she was pregnant. The issue was that there was no baby. Regardless, she sold her lie by showing a faked pregnancy test and phony sonograms to William.
People reported on Brooke's court testimony, in which she admitted to lying about the pregnancy. She claimed in that testimony that William approached her to say he was aware of her lie. He said that while he knew she wasn't expecting, he had told others that she was. She would soon need to "produce a baby," as she told the court. Brooke stated that she was under the influence that she needed to come up with an infant as soon as possible and at any cost.
She continued on to tell the court that William had made a remark about Savanna one day after she was confronted about the false pregnancy. He made a comment about "that Greywind girl" being "really pregnant." Without saying a word or asking a single question, she assumed that this meant she was supposed to target Savanna for her baby. Soon after, she lured the sweet, helpful young woman up to her apartment with the intention of removing her baby from her womb before killing her. Savanna, never thinking anyone could be plotting something so terrible, walked right upstairs into a trap.
Eight days passed after she ascended that staircase with no word or trace of her. It only took little more than an hour before her family raised the alarm bells. She had just left to model for a sewing project. She hadn't even left the building. What could have possibly happened? They never could've guessed the tragic, horrifying fate that she suffered at the hands of the very neighbor she went to help.
According to her court testimony published by People, Brooke described the bloody aftermath of her transgression. She claimed that when she was unable to do what she thought William expected of her, she started a fight with Savanna. The argument boiled over until Brooke pushed her, causing her head to hit the bathroom sink. The only problem with this story is that the medical examiner that performed the autopsy found no evidence of head trauma. What she said happened next we know for certain took place. She said that as Savanna drifted in and out of consciousness, she grabbed a carpenter's knife and cut the baby from her womb.
When William returned home from work later that day, he found Brooke cradling Savanna's daughter as the sweet baby's mother lay bleeding out in the bathroom. He asked if she was dead, to which Brooke claimed to have replied, "I don't know. Please help me." He left the room to get a length of rope and returned, wrapping it around Savanna's neck. Pulling as tightly as he could, he strangled what life was left in her out. When he was done, he coldly said, "If she wasn't dead before, she is now." They quickly got to work, cleaning the mess and hiding the body before anyone came looking.
When police arrived at the building, they naturally checked Brooke and William's apartment first. Since that was the last known place she had gone, maybe they knew something. When they walked inside to search the premises, they found nothing of note. Surprisingly, though that apartment had just earlier been the scene of an unspeakable crime, there was nothing on the surface to suggest so. Little did the responding officers know, Savanna's body was hidden inside their bathroom closet during that search and the one that followed later that day. Her innocent baby girl was hidden underneath a pile of blankets on the bed beside William.
The next couple of days for Brooke and William were consumed by gruesome tasks meant to cover their tracks. The following day, August 20, William hollowed out an old dresser for the purpose of discreetly moving her body. They wrapped her in towels and plastic, duct-taping the makeshift wrapping before laying her in the dresser. In the early morning hours of August 21, William carried the dresser down the stairs, right past her family's apartment, and out the door. Once he'd loaded it into the back of his Jeep Cherokee, he drove off to dump it in the Red River, a known dumping ground for bodies in the area.
During the eight days it took for Savanna to be found, friends and family of her's did not think that the police were doing much to find her. Mind you, they walked right into the killer's apartment twice on the same day she was murdered and never found her body hidden the closet. You would think closets would be the first place you'd check when searching for a person. When she was finally found, it was by kayakers coming down the same tributary that just a few years earlier a 15-year-old girl named Tina Fontaine had been found. Much like Tina, Savanna was also found wrapped in plastic. The Red River has become so known for body dumping that since the discovery of Tina Fontaine, it's become almost routine to drag the river once someone has gone missing.
Once her body was found it didn't take much for police to piece together what had happened. When they initially picked Brooke up for the murder, she claimed that Savanna had left her baby with her before vanishing into thin air. Seeing as how she was still eight months pregnant with no signs of labor when she left that day, this is extremely unlikely. She would've had to have given birth in that apartment and been able to get up and walk out afterward. That is just not possible. Once she was arrested, Brooke's story began to change into what was heard on the witness stand during her trial. Able to help fill in some blanks was the cellmate William was assigned after his arrest.
His former cellmate in the Cass County Jail he was held in before his trial testified to details William divulged behind bars. While he had admitted to disposing of Savanna's body himself, he was adamant that he took no part in her murder. When it came time for him to face the music, William Hoehn pleaded guilty to two lesser charges of kidnapping and providing false information during the investigation. Brooke Crews was aptly issued a life sentence for her heinous act.
Though this story is devastating and atrocious, there is one silver lining. Savanna's daughter survived the makeshift, amateur C-section that brought her into this world. Raised by her dedicated and loving father, she will always know who her mother was. A beautiful, loving, caring, kind-hearted woman that would've done anything for anyone in need.
Unfortunately, it was her admirable nature that Brooke would take advantage of. Whether it was delusions or her own selfish wants that led her to this act, there is still an innocent little girl that will grow up without her mother because of it. Her life sentence will give her more than enough time to ponder the reasons as to why she did what she did. As for Savanna's family, they push forward for the sake of her daughter. Savanna's Act, established in her name, will also go a long way towards helping many other Indigenous women and girls. The woman that touched every life she walked into can continue to do so, even after her death. Though this story did meet with justice and a surviving victim, not all are so lucky. That is what I'm left to remember as I look at the long list of names I still have left to cover in this ongoing series.