Into the Unknown: Arnold Archambeau & Ruby Bruguier

This month on Into the Unknown, we explore one of the weirdest cases I've ever read about. The disappearance of Arnold Archambeau and his girlfriend, Ruby Bruguier, was strange enough in the beginning. They and their passenger, Ruby's cousin Tracy Dion, had been drinking and were in a serious car accident. But that was only the beginning. And when Arnold's body was found months later, the mystery surrounding the new parents' disappearance only deepened.

This case starts out sounding like a run-of-the-mill disappearance, but then things take a hard left and get...weird. Buckle up for this one.

Some of the content in this post may disturb or upset sensitive readers. I do not post graphic pictures, but websites found by following links in this post may. Reader discretion is advised.

Arnold Archambeau and Ruby Bruguier were high school sweethearts looking for some fun on the night of December 11th, 1992. All young parents need to unwind once in a while, and Ruby's cousin Tracy Dion's father babysat their daughter Erika while the couple and Tracy went out. They stopped in to his house at 6 a.m. on December 12th, and shortly after they left, were involved in the car accident that would set off the mystery to come.

THE HISTORY: Arnold, Ruby, and Tracy were all Yankton Sioux Native Americans. The tribe is based in Wagner, South Dakota, and is the only Dakota/Lakota tribe based in the state. They have retained their traditional government despite the Indian Reorganization Act, which they opposed and do not conform to.

Lake Andes, South Dakota is the county seat of Charles Mix County, and is less than 20 miles from the tribal seat of Wagner. Lake Andes is a small town, with just over 1500 people in it as of 2017. An annual pow wow is held there every August, and Fish Days, a local festival, is held the first weekend in June. A small historic city, two of its most prominent buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places, the courthouse and the Engel Hotel, which was built in 1910.

Nearly one-third of the population of Lake Andes lives under the poverty line, and of the population that is under the age of 18, that percentage jumps to a touch over 40%. This is quite different from the county as a whole, which only has about 18% of people below the poverty line, which makes the area around Lake Andes profoundly affected by low income.

The tribe does own casinos in Lake Andes and Pickstown and other major employers are government agencies like the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Indian Health Service, and the Marty Indian School 16 miles away in Marty, South Dakota.

Much of the area is rural, and I can only imagine there's not much for a bunch of young people to do when they want to get out and unwind. 

THE VICTIMS: Arnold Archambeau was 20 years old the night of the accident, Ruby was 19 and Tracy was 17.

In photographs, Ruby and Arnold look like a happy couple, and like all of us at that age, all three were young and full of promise.

On the night of the accident, Ruby, Arnold, and Tracy left Tracy's home and came upon an intersection not far from the Yankton Reservation. Tracy remembers that she wasn't looking out the windshield but Arnold said there wasn't anyone coming, then she heard the car spinning out from the stop sign. The car pulled away from the stop sign, but went out of control almost immediately and wound up in the ditch by the road.

Roads were icy that night, and it's likely Arnold simply lost control of the car when accelerating through the intersection. Police believe no other vehicles were involved in the accident, and don't know why or how the car got into the ditch.

Tracy recalls being upside down in the car. She could hear Ruby saying, "Oh my God, oh my God," as she struck the car over and over. Arnold may have been thrown from the car and wasn't in the vehicle when Tracy looked for him. The passenger door opened and Ruby wriggled out through the small space left in the crushed passenger window. The door closed, and Tracy didn't hear anything else. Arnold and Ruby didn't try to help Tracy escape, and when help finally arrived and got her out of the car, she was alone. Arnold and Ruby had left her, it seemed, in the freezing weather, in a wrecked car.

And this, believe it or not, is only the beginning.

THE INVESTIGATION: Police arrived not long after the accident occurred and searched the area thoroughly. walking the ditch lines and beyond to look for Arnold and Ruby, but found nothing. A nearby railroad track was searched, as was a lake police thought the two could have fled toward. Leads were few and far between, and initially the only information anyone had was Tracy Dion's testimony about what happened in the accident.

No trace of the couple was found in any of the searches, and though police and family members didn't give up, the case of this strange accident didn't move forward until spring thaw almost four months later. Then-Deputy Bill Youngstrom received the call that someone had spotted a body in the ditch where the accident occurred.

75 feet from the accident scene was Ruby Bruguier's body, lying exposed in the spring air. She was in terrible condition, unrecognizable by sight, and had to be identified by a tattoo. The police department decided to pump out the ditch to see if Arnold was also there, and around noon the next day, his body was also recovered. He was in far better condition than Ruby, easily recognizable, but there were a few odd things Youngstrom noticed. Ruby's glasses and shoes were missing, but she was wearing the clothes she went missing in the night of the accident. As for Arnold's clothes, no one is sure what he was wearing that night so the ones he had on when he was found might or might not be the same. I also find no mention of any of his articles of clothing or accessories being missing, so we have to assume that everything he'd disappeared in was found with him.

Autopsies determined they both died of exposure, but couldn't pin down their time of death (which I will get into a little more later on in the AFTERMATH section).

And now, we'll talk about a couple of small odd things, and a little science to go with them. A tuft of hair was found in the ditch along with the bodies, and at the time it was determined to be Ruby's. Since then, hair evidence is no longer trusted the way it once was, so take that with a grain of salt. It might have been hers, it might not have. NOTE: I do not mean hair evidence as in DNA taken from hair root bulbs, which is definitive. I am speaking here of visual comparison of hairs. The most that can be said about two hairs is that they are consistent or not consistent. Ruby being in the state she was in, her hair may have simply fallen from her head in the wind so it should not be assumed that the hairs were pulled from her scalp, either.

The next odd thing is a set of keys that Arnold was found with. One vehicle key and a pair of house keys were in his pocket when he was found. Deputy Youngstrom never found what those keys fit. Even years later, he kept them and tried them in every vehicle and doorknob he came across, but as far as I can tell he never figured it out.

The last weird thing is a statement by an unidentified woman. She claimed to see Arnold, accompanied by three other people, on New Years Eve 1992, almost three weeks after the car accident. The witness took a polygraph exam and passed. Polygraphs (also known as 'lie detector tests') are not admissible as evidence in most courts in the United States, though they can give police a direction to go with their investigation. It is possible she lied and beat the test, or she believed the man she saw was Arnold, and in that case she would not have a negative physiological reaction to telling her story, as she believed she was telling the truth.

THE SUSPECTS: None. There are two persons of interest that police were looking for at the time. Two unidentified men were seen nearby just before the bodies were recovered. They've never been identified or located. The men were driving a dark-colored Chevy Blazer-type vehicle, but no other details have been made public. These men are not accused of any crime, but they might have information police need to solve this case.

THE AFTERMATH: In 1999, after seven years of investigation, the FBI closed the case, citing a lack of evidence that any crime had been committed. Some officers believe it was an accident, but there are some who still believe Ruby and Arnold were killed (or died of their injuries from the accident) elsewhere and were dumped back at the crash site later.

Right now, I'm going to speculate a little with you, in part because I want to and in part because otherwise, this is one hell of a short case, and Ruby and Arnold deserve better. I'm also going to throw some science at you, because I'm an anthropology/autopsy/dead people nerd and know stuff. And, because this is just speculation and I'm not a scientist in any way, shape, or form, don't come at me if I am wrong.

It's not unusual for inebriated people involved in an accident to flee the scene, afraid they will be hit with DUI or OWI charges or charges related to injury or death of any passengers. Those charges are serious, and because all three people involved were also underage, could have come with hefty fines and jail time. Ruby and Arnold had a small child, they could have been afraid of what would happen to her if they were both incarcerated. And we all know that alcohol loosens inhibitions and under its influence, people do things they would not normally do. Leaving the scene of an accident is a crime, and a stupid thing to do, and in the light of day we all know that. But, through beer goggles, it might make perfect sense.

We also must not forget hypothermia. Hypothermia hits hard and fast in temperatures as low as they were that morning, around 26 degrees, and the early signs include confusion and lack of coordination. Alcohol can fool you into thinking you're warmer than you are by dilating capillaries and increasing blood flow at the surface of your skin. This effect also makes you lose body heat faster, and to top it off your natural shiver response may be dulled by alcohol. This makes the threat of death from hypothermia very real after this accident.

As for the inconsistent decomposition, that's an odd one but not terribly weird if you dig a little into how decomposition works. It stands to reason that two people who died on the same day, around the same time, should be in the same physical state when they are found, if they are found at the same time. That is, if both bodies were out there the same amount of time, in the same weather conditions. Ruby and Arnold were not found in the same conditions, though, and that could be the key to understanding why their bodies were in such drastically different condition. Arnold was found in freezing water, which changes things, as it can help preserve bodies (WARNING: graphic photos) and could explain why Arnold was in much better condition than Ruby, who was found exposed to the elements, potentially for a full four months at that point. What this means is that she had nothing protecting her body from spring thaw's higher temperatures while Arnold had the water around him, which was still likely much colder than the air. This will also make it nearly impossible to determine time or even date of death in both cases. Ruby's because her state of decomposition destroyed a lot of potential evidence, and Arnold because his body was preserved well, but in water, which may have washed anything away. And with no insect infiltration, another method of determining time of death goes out the window.

Some inconsistency there makes sense, but it still begs one big question: if they were both in that ditch the whole time, why were they not found the night of the accident? This is one question I can't answer. Youngstrom himself walked that ditch multiple times, right where the bodies were, and others who searched or were just in the area never saw a sign that Ruby and Arnold were there. If they died the night of the accident, where were they in the meantime? According to the Farmer's Almanac, it was a nice day, with highs in the upper 40s and no precipitation, so I see no reason why, if they were there, no one saw them.

Could Tracy have been mistaken, or lied to cover up, trying to help keep Arnold and Ruby out of trouble? I suppose it's possible, but I don't like to comment on anyone's character. Drunk people say stuff that isn't true all the time. I don't know how much any of them had to drink, so it's completely possible she was sober or sobering up at the time and clear-headed enough to have a good recall of what happened. Her story as far as I'm aware hasn't changed from day one, and she has nothing to gain after all these years from keeping up the lie. I have no choice but to think as if what she says is the truth, especially because there isn't anyone to dispute her story. 

Ruby's father, Quentin, died in 2001. In his interview with Unsolved Mysteries, he was convinced the couple died elsewhere and were brought back to that ditch before they were found.

THE CONCLUSION: Due to the passage of time and in a circumstance that is frustratingly common when it comes to cases involving Native Americans, there is little information available about Arnold and Ruby. Most of the information I can find comes from Unsolved Mysteries episodes featuring the case. These are a great resource, and now that they're available on Amazon Prime, Hulu, and other streaming services, they're readily available to new audiences, but they originally aired in 1995 and the updates-added episodes don't contain anything new.

Ultimately, I don't know what happened to Arnold and Ruby, but have offered some of my own thoughts and speculations as to the evidence at hand. In my opinion, the case is definitely odd but most of what happened is explainable thanks to the science of decomposition and how weather affects bodies after death. But there are still a couple strange details that don't add up. REMINDER: I am not a professional investigator nor do I have an education in investigation or forensic science. My opinion is just that, an opinion.

I hope that if someone out there knows anything about this case, they come forward. There's a woman who never got to know her parents because of whatever happened in the early morning hours of December 12th, 1992. She deserves answers, and so does everyone else who has waited so long to get them

If you have any information about the deaths of Arnold Archambeau and Ruby Bruguier, please contact the Yankton Sioux Tribal Police at 605-487-7500. You can also submit a tip through the Unsolved Mysteries website HERE.


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