Vanished From the Airwaves: Where is Jodi Huisentruit?

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Source: EOnline.com

Viewers of KIMT-TV in Mason City, Iowa, may or may not have noticed the absence of anchor Jodi Huisentruit on the morning of June 27, 1995, but her co-workers certainly did. [1]

Jodi wasn’t the type to just skip out on work. So when Jodi still wasn’t on set when the cameras started rolling on the 6 o’clock morning news broadcast, KIMT-TV employees knew something was very wrong.

But they didn’t expect to still be wondering where Jodi is more than 25 years later.

Something is Amiss

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Jodi Huisentruit — Source: EOnline.com

Jodi Huisentruit typically showed up for work between the ungodly hours of three and four in the morning. Since it wasn’t entirely unlike her to get to the studio a bit late, no one was surprised when she didn’t come bounding through the door at 3 a.m., sharp.

Jodi and her assistant Amy Kuns had an unwritten rule: They would call each other if one of them didn’t arrive when they were supposed to.

So, with 4 a.m. fast approaching and Jodi still not present, Amy Kuns, the show’s producer, called Jodi at home.

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Amy Kuns — Source: FindJodi.com

Kuns said:

“Everything sounded normal, like I had just woken her up. ‘What time is it?’ She asked the question, so I told her, ‘Jodie it’s about 10 to four, you need to come into work.’ How much time is left to produce on the show? I mean, she was obviously thinking, she was aware, she just knew she had overslept and she had to get into work. I didn’t hear anything out of the ordinary. Nothing.”

Just before cameras started rolling at 6 a.m., Jodi was still absent, so Kuns called her for a second time. [5] The phone rang and rang but no one answered.

Amy was a little pissed. Jodi’s absence forced her to do the entire show by herself, which meant extra — and quick — planning and preparation at the last minute.

“I was halfway mad because I had to do all of this stuff all by myself, halfway worried because I thought, ‘What if she’s laying in her apartment building bleeding because she fell down and hit her head on the tub?’ You know, things like that.”

Even though Jodi missed her alarm from time to time, she wasn’t the type of person to play hooky. She adored her work. It was her show. [2]

Born Jodi Sue Huisentruit on June 5, 1968, to Imogene L. “Jane” (Anderson) and Maurice Huisentruit, Jodi grew up in Long Prairie, Minnesota. She knew her way around a golf course and was twice a member of the state championship high school golf team.

Jodi was the youngest of three girls. Sadly, her father died in 1982.

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Jodi with her mom, who passed away in 2014 — Source: FindJodi.com

After graduating from St. Cloud State University, Jodi briefly took a job at a television station in Alexandria before moving to Mason City to work at KIMT-TV, a CBS affiliate, where she was a morning and noon news anchor.

Blonde, beautiful, and bubbly, Jodi soon became a local celebrity, but there is often a darker side to fame. The possibility of being stalked was a concern for Jodi, as well as her family and friends.

It’s not uncommon for unhinged fans to become obsessed with news anchors. According to a Psychology Today article published in 2010, there are no hard-and-fast statistics on this (I couldn’t find any, either), but “female anchors and reporters can be expected to be targeted sooner or later.”

Stalking consultant Dr. Park Dietz told the publication:

“One in eight American women will be stalked in her lifetime. But for female news readers, it’s virtually a certainty. At any given time, she might be stalked by several at once and not even know it.”

Amy Johnson, Jodi’s former co-worker at KGAN-TV in Cedar Rapids, knows all too well how terrifying it can be to have an obsessed fan. [4] She had her own experience with a deranged viewer who made her fear for her life.

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Amy Johnson — Source: CBS 2 Iowa

She told CBS News of one such experience:

“One was an e-mail I got from out of state telling me that a sexual predator of sorts was following me in his car. That frightened me terribly. And another time would be, there was a mentally disturbed man who felt like he had to get to me to tell me that Channel 2 was broadcasting negative images over the airwaves that were killing his parents. That those negative images were coming from the Son of Sam.”

Leigh Geramanis, an evening anchor at KTTC in Rochester, Minn., had her own disturbing tale of a man who wrote to her and called her to make horrifying threats.

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Leigh Geramanis — Source: PR Newswire

“He had called and said that he was going to kidnap me and rape me and kill me and cut my body up and leave it in bags all over the countryside.”

Jodi herself was concerned that she had an overzealous follower. [5] She shared with Amy Kuns that she thought she had once been followed by a black truck while she was jogging, but it never happened again.

When Jodi didn’t arrive at work by the conclusion of the morning show, the station sent someone to her apartment to check on her. Kuns also phoned the Mason City Police to ask them to do a welfare check. [2]

Several officers arrived and what they found sent chills up their spines. There, scattered around her car, were a number of personal items: her purse, hairspray, hairdryer, and a pair of red high-heeled shoes. These were items that Jodi would have normally thrown in a tote bag and taken to work with her. The tote bag was not found at the scene.

Her car key was bent, suggesting she was attacked either while unlocking her car or trying to start the engine.

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One of Jodi’s red high-heeled shoes left in the parking lot of her apartment complex — Source: CBS News
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Jodi’s bent car key was found in the parking lot — Source: CBS News
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Drag marks near Jodi’s car — Source: CBS News
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Jodi’s hairdryer in the parking lot — Source: CBS News
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Jodi’s red Mazda Miata being towed away for further analysis — Source: CBS News

Drag marks could be seen pointing away from Jodi’s car. There were no eye witnesses to what was an obvious crime. However, several witnesses came forward and told the police they had seen a white van in the parking lot that morning with the motor running and its lights on.

Was Jodi dragged to the van?

So, how does someone get assaulted and kidnapped from a parking lot before sunrise and no one hears anything? Well, people did hear screaming, but nobody was overly concerned because there was a campground near the apartment complex and they chalked it up to noisy campers. [2]

Jodi’s landlord, however, told police that he heard two different male voices in the parking lot and then a muffled sound. [13]

A partial palm print was found on the outside of her car but the police were never able to match it to anyone. [2]

Special K-9 units were brought in to sniff out Jodi’s apartment complex and the banks of the nearby Winnebago River, but there was no sign of the young news anchor, who was beloved by many and had big plans for her future. [6]

Detectives swarmed the KIMT-TV newsroom, where they searched Jodi’s desk for any letters from obsessed viewers but found nothing.

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Investigators tear apart the KIMT-TV newsroom looking for evidence that Jodi had a stalker — Source: CBS News

By lunchtime, Jodi Huisentruit was the top news story, and she would remain in the news, though less and less, over the next two-plus decades.

Jodi’s friends and colleagues had the soul-crushing task of reporting on her disappearance, and made sure to feature her at least once in every broadcast for the next several months.

On July 1, the Mason City Police Department officially classified Jodi’s disappearance as an abduction.

Who Took Jodi?

Jodi was a kind, outgoing person. The sort of individual who would happily talk to anyone. But could that have been her undoing?

According to her friends, Jodi was naive and too trusting. In an interview with ABC’s Jim Axelrod, Jodi’s older sister, JoAnn Nathe, said that Jodi “definitely was too trusting,” adding that she worried Jodi was “too personable.”

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Jodi’s older sister, JoAnn Nathe — Source: Globe Gazette

She went on to tell Axelrod that her sister sometimes revealed too much about her day-to-day life.

Both JoAnn and Jodi’s friend Tammy Baker believe she was targeted by a stalker, most likely an obsessed fan. [7]

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Tammy Baker (L) with Jodi — Source: FindJodi.com

Baker said:

“I think some weirdo out there got an obsession with her and something bad happened.”

Nathe added:

“She was getting some strange phone calls and then that guy had been following her one day when she was out jogging. Who knows, he might have been innocent but she got very upset about it.”

On June 26, Jodi played in a charity golf tournament and complained about the odd phone calls, telling people that she was going to have to change her phone number or notify the police if they didn’t stop. [6]

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John Vansice being interviewed about Jodi’s disappearance — Source: FindJodi.com

According to author Beth Bednar, Jodi had been spending time with some sketchy people shortly before her abduction. [6] The fact that she was too trusting and a bit naive may have meant she didn’t even realize it.

Bednar said:

“At the time of her death, Jodi was hanging around with some unscrupulous people, and people who knew her often remarked that she lacked the ability to judge character and intent, all the while wearing her heart on her sleeve.”

Her kind heart and insistence on seeing the best in people may have made her a soft target.

One man, in particular, became a focus of investigators almost immediately and remains the primary person of interest to this day. John Vansice was 50 years old when Jodi vanished and the two had been spending a great deal of time together — so much so that many people who knew Jodi believe Vansice developed quite an infatuation with her.

Vansice had lived in the same apartment complex as Jodi at one point and always seemed to have more money and toys than his job as a corn seed salesman would have afforded him, including a $26,000 boat that he named “Jodi.”

Vansice voluntarily went to the police on June 27, 1995, and told them that he was the last person to see Jodi before she vanished. Vansice said that on the night of June 26, Jodi came over to his house to watch a video of her birthday party that they had attended together. [6]

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Jodi, Vansice, and friend Ani Kruse at Jodi’s 27th birthday party — Source: CBS News

Was he genuinely being helpful, or was he hoping to direct investigators’ sights on someone else?

Jodi and Vansice first met six months before Jodi disappeared. It’s unknown if Vansice ever expressed to Jodi that he had romantic feelings for her. It would seem so, as friends of Jodi say she made it clear to him that she just wanted to be friends.

Kuns said that on the morning of June 27, Vansice called the station to ask if Jodi had come to work. When Kuns said she had not, Vansice pressed her for more information, asking if Jodi was sick. Coincidence? It’s certainly weird.

Vansice also owned a van similar to the one seen by an eye witness parked in front of Jodi’s apartment just before her abduction on June 27.

A mutual friend of Jodi’s and Vansice’s, Ladonna Woodford, claims that Vansice was with her that morning and that she had formally been his alibi in front of investigators.

Friends of Jodi not only believe that Vansice had a soft spot for Jodi, but they think his feelings for her might have morphed into an unhealthy obssession. [6]

Speaking to CBS News, Jodi’s friend and co-worker at KIMT-TV, Robin Wolfram, interviewed Vansice after Jodi vanished. She said:

“When [Vansice] said ‘I named my boat after her,’ that’s when I said, ‘Ugh, that’s an obsession.’ … I remember holding on to the microphone and just feeling so ill at ease and thinking to myself, ‘I think he might’ve done it.’”

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Jodi with Robin Wolfram — Source: CBS News Minnesota

When Jodi met Vansice, he was going through a rough patch in his life. He was in the middle of a contentious divorce, and he’d had so many drunk driving arrests that he had been ordered to install a breathalyzer device in his van.

Some of Jodi’s friends say they don’t think that Vansice got the message that his romantic feelings for Jodi weren’t mutual. Either that, or he decided to ignore that message and pursue her even harder.

Wolfram told CBS News:

“I cautioned her… I said, ‘Jodi, there’s gonna come a point in time when he’s gonna want more.’”

Friend Staci Steinman added:

“When she told us he named his boat after her, we go, ‘OK, Jodi. This is a little much.’”

And pal Kim Feist interjected:

“That was our, like — Stop. I don’t know, something’s weird.”

But Jodi didn’t see it as odd and laughed off her friends’ concerns.

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John Vansice — Source: Globe Gazette

In February 2020, the Oxygen network aired a special about Jodi’s case called “Up and Vanished,” which is also the name of a popular true-crime podcast. [8] In the show, the video that John Vansice filmed of Jodi’s birthday party is seen publicly for the first time.

The producers called retired FBI profiler Jim Clemente, who apparently started his own investigation into the case years ago and shared it with the Mason City Police Department. Clemente, along with two other famed profilers, John Douglas and James Fitzgerald, watched the birthday party video and were struck by Vansice’s behavior both in front of and behind the camera.

Clemente said:

“Every time Jodi would dance or spend time with another guy, John would have laser focus on Jodi and whoever she was talking to. He had a really evil look in his eyes like he was really pissed off.”

He added:

“I actually put together a prosecutor report in which I build the case for John Vansice having committed this crime.”

In 2019, Vansice, now in his 70s, announced he had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of Alzheimer’s disease. [9] If he had anything to do with Jodi’s abduction and murder, time is running out for him to spill the beans.

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John Vansice, being interviewed here, has an aggressive form of Alzheimer’s disease — Source: KIMT-TV

Vansice has always maintained his innocence and has gone to great lengths to prove his innocence, as well. This may have backfired on him, however.

For example, Vansice didn’t wait for the police to interview him. [10] He approached them almost immediately after Jodi disappeared and told them that he was “the last person to see her alive.” Maybe he simply assumed the worst, but he didn’t do himself any favors by speaking about Jodi in the past-tense.

In 2017, Mason City Police executed a search warrant on two vehicles associated with Vansice. Details of the probable cause behind the search warrant — and its findings — were sealed.

It’s clear that Vansice remains a strong person of interest in the case. In October 2019, it was announced that those records would remain sealed through 2020. [11] As far as I can tell based on my research, the warrant remains sealed to this day.

It should go without saying, of course, that you can’t build a case against someone based on facial expressions at a birthday party. And it’s important to note that John Vansice was questioned multiple times by police but was never arrested. Furthermore:

  • Vansice passed a polygraph test shortly after Jodi vanished. [10]
  • Vansice readily offered his DNA to investigators.
  • Vansice would have had just 90 minutes to abduct and presumably murder Jodi, dispose of her body, and return to his home by 6 a.m.
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Tony Jackson — Source: FindJodi.com

Tony Jackson wasn’t originally linked to the Jodi Huisentruit case, but years after Jodi vanished, many started to wonder if he was behind the young news anchor’s demise.

In 1995, Tony Jackson was 21 years old. He is currently serving a life term at a prison in Rush City, Minnesota, for raping three women over the course of 18 days in 1997.

An anonymous source told KMSP News in 2015 that just before Jodi’s abduction, he became acquainted with Jackson through their girlfriends, who were close pals at the time.

After playing basketball with Jackson one day, the anonymous source claims that Jackson invited him out for a few drinks at a bar that Jackson knew was frequented by Jodi Huisentruit.

The source said:

“I always wondered, how would he even know that?”

The two men walked into the establishment and spotted Jodi sitting at the bar. Jackson allegedly walked up to her and started talking with her like they knew each other. The anonymous source was too far out of earshot to hear the conversation, however.

Jackson lived in Mason City at the time of Jodi’s disappearance and attended North Iowa Community College, where he developed an interest in broadcasting and even hosted his own student talk show.

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Tony Jackson — Source: FindJodi.com

The source assumed that Jackson wanted to talk to Jodi to get career advice. But years later, he started to wonder if Jackson was behind Jodi’s abduction.

“My gut tells me that he probably did it, after all the stuff he’s done since.”

Also in 2015, a witness came forward and said that on the morning of Jodi’s abduction, she almost got hit by a car that was speeding out of Jodi’s apartment complex. [12] The witness was a runner who always passed the complex around 4:30 a.m.

She said:

“I am coming up to the apartments and a car comes out really fast, and it nearly hits me and then I have to jump onto the sidewalk and its headlights were off as it was speeding out.”

And the night before Jodi was abducted, at the same time and place, that witness said an African-American man who looked to be in his teens was riding a bike outside the complex. He then started biking right beside the witness as she ran, which she found odd for that time of the morning.

Though Jackson said he was innocent when he was first interviewed and maintains his innocence today, he certainly made himself look guilty by writing a rap song about Jodi. [14]

When an investigative reporter spoke with one of Jackson’s former jail mates, he told her that Jackson admitted to him that he had abducted and killed an anchorwoman and penned a tune about the crime.

Jackson’s former jail mate said:

“He said ‘she’s a-stiffin’ around Tiffin in pileage of silage in a bylow, low below.’”

Tiffin is a town in Iowa, just a few hours south of Mason City. The investigative reporter headed there with law enforcement and cadaver dogs, but Jodi’s remains weren’t found.

On the “Up and Vanished” episode featuring Jodi’s case, it was stated that cadaver dogs hit on the scent of decomposition around the silo, but the dogs’ discovery didn’t lead to any new findings.

Police ruled Jackson out as a suspect, saying in a statement:

“After conducting a thorough investigation which included interviews, crime laboratory analysis, records review, and polygraph examination, Tony Jackson is not considered a viable suspect in the investigation.”

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Maria Ohl — Source: North Iowa Today

In September 2011, former Mason City Police Department officer Maria Ohl made an astonishing claim. She said she had received a tip from an informant who laid the blame for Jodi’s disappearance on multiple members of law enforcement.

Specifically, Ohl stated that Mason City officers, Lt. Frank Stearns and Lt. Ron Vande Weerd, and former Iowa Department of Criminal Investigation agent Bill Basler possibly had knowledge of what happened to Jodi.

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Lt. Frank Stearns — Source: Globe Gazette
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Lt. Ron Vande Weerd — Source: Globe Gazette
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Bill Basler — Source: Globe Gazette

Prior to making the accusations, Ohl was fired for allegedly violating protocol when handling evidence related to the case. However, she later sued and was awarded a $95,000 settlement.

Ohl accused Stearns, Vande Weerd, and Basler of having a direct hand in Jodi’s disappearance and of covering up what happened to her by failing to follow up on eads. [15]

Ohl said she originally received information about the police’s involvement and a possible coverup in 2007, and again in 2009. [16]

She said:

“All I want is for the truth to come out. I’m trying to get it out in the open so it won’t be a secret anymore. Never in a million years would I believe people would commit crimes they prosecute others on. It’s horrifically disturbing. They’re still working on the taxpayers’ dollar — the whistleblower was put on administrative leave and terminated.”

Ohl had plenty of reasons to want to implicate her fellow law enforcement officials. In 2010, she sued the Mason City Police Department alleging sex discrimination, religious discrimination, and retaliation via the Mason City Human Rights Commission.

In a deposition filed in federal district court, Ohl said she was the subject of ongoing harassment and discriminatory treatment because of her sex and denied training and promotion opportunities.

She further alleged that she was repeatedly subjected to inappropriate behavior including a male officer pointing a loaded gun at her head and pretending to pull the trigger, as well as several instances of lewd language and gestures.

The Mason City Police maybe have felt emboldened to mistreat Ohl because her church, Christian Fellowship Church, had filed a suit against the city, Chief Mike Lashbrook, and Lt. Logan Wernet.

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Mike Lashbrook — Source: North Iowa Today
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Lt. Logan Wernet — Source: Globe Gazette

The suit claimed that Lashbrook and Wernet made damaging remarks about the church that led to an IRS investigation into the church’s financial records. The church and its pastor, Rev. Shane Philpott, were cleared of any wrongdoing and the church was awarded an $85,000 settlement.

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Pastor Shane Philpott — Source: North Iowa Today

Nothing has ever come of Ohl’s allegations.

However, on New Year’s Eve 2019, vandals spray-painted a billboard that features Jodi’s photo and the question, “Someone knows something…Is it you?” [17]

In bright yellow spraypaint, directly below the text, someone wrote:

“Frank Stearns Machine Shed”

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Source: Radio Iowa

Cold case investigator Steve Ridge told KIMT-TV that the billboard was defaced by two individuals dressed in black who parked in the rear alley behind a tattoo parlor and used an aluminum ladder to climb up to the billboard at 11:30 p.m. on December 31, 2019.

Stearns, however, did not live in Mason City in 1995. That doesn’t exonerate him, but it does make it less likely that he was involved…

…But is there a shred of truth to this theory?

In June 2015, State Representative John Kooiker drafted a letter to the Mason City Mayor and Council with three pages worth of signatures from all 100 members of the Iowa House of Representatives calling for the 20th anniversary of Jodi’s disappearance to be recognized as “Jodi Huisentruit Day” in Mason City. [17]

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Rep. John Kooker — Source: KIWA Radio

His efforts went nowhere, and the reaction he got stunned him.

In December 2016, Kooiker fired off a scathing letter criticizing the Mayor and Council for stonewalling his efforts to bring attention to Jodi’s case.

The letter, which Kooiker sent to NWestIowa.com, reads:

It’s been a privilege to serve in the Iowa State House of Representatives to fill the ninth term of my good friend Dwayne Alons, who passed away shortly after winning the November 2014 election.

I quickly realized what a benefit it is to have such diversity in the Iowa Statehouse. We all bring our experiences, joys, sorrows, biases and ideas to the assembly. The combination of the aforementioned, multiplied by a factor of 100, forms one of the greatest legislative bodies on Earth.

As a member of the House Public Safety Committee, I was appalled at the number of cold cases in our state and the current lack of a cohesive effort to solve them. (Note: There used to be a cold case investigative team within the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation several years ago, but it had to be dissolved due to budget priorities.)

So why would a legislator from Sioux County be interested in cold cases? I have had four experiences which galvanized my interest, and three occurred prior to my time in the Legislature.

The first was the 1981 disappearance of Adam Walsh, age 6, in Florida. At the time my wife, Sherry, and I had four children age 7 and under.

The second was the disappearance of Jacob Wetterling from rural Minnesota in 1989. He was the same age as my son Ben who is now a successful CPA in Sioux City. The similarities in appearance between Ben and Jacob are striking. This could have happened to us.

The third was the disappearance of TV reporter Jodi Huisentruit in Mason City in 1995. She was 27 at the time of her disappearance. I remember this event clearly as it occurred on June 27, which is the day between my birthday and our anniversary.

My daughter Bonnie, a Spanish teacher and interpreter in Omaha, passed away at age 27 of cancer in 2007. The physical similarities between Bonnie and Jodi were striking. I have experienced the death of a daughter, but I can only imagine how hard it would be to have a child just disappear.

The fourth was something I learned while sitting next to state Rep. Mary Wolfe (D-Clinton) during my time in the Legislature. Her two sisters were murdered in Pennsylvania in 2014. Despite this pain in her life, Mary represents her constituents with passion and was very kind to my wife and me.

Three of the four tragedies cited above have been solved. In the spring of 2015 I was thinking of ways to draw attention to the high number of cold cases in Iowa. With the 20th anniversary of Jodi Huisentruit’s unsolved disappearance approaching, I saw an opportunity to augment the work being done by The REVIEW and other Iowa media in advancing the cause of solving this backlog of cold cases.

With the assistance of other legislators, I circulated a letter addressed to the city of Mason City asking them to recognize the 20th anniversary of Jodi’s disappearance and soliciting help in solving the case. All 100 state representatives signed the letter. I talked to one of Jodi’s sisters, and she had no objections.

Mason City area legislators offered to notify Mason City officials of the pending letter. That news elicited some rather strange reactions.

Chief Mike Lashbrook insisted that he did not want the letter to be sent to him or anybody else in Mason City.

Mayor Eric Bookmeyer complied and vouched for what a wonderful job the chief had been doing and that he was close to retirement so he did not need this issue to come before the public and sully his record. The mayor begged me to withdraw the letter and was worried about putting too much pressure on the chief.

I was even accused of meddling and not respecting local control. In particular, the mayor and the chief were upset at my plan to release it to the media. I proceeded to send the letter to the mayor and all six council members, but decided not to send it to the media. As far as I know, the letter was disregarded.

The chief’s mysterious reaction, manifested through the mayor, makes sense if the Mason City Police Department is mishandling this case. Indeed, I soon realized certain leads first filed in 2008 had been ignored for at least seven years.

I spoke with DCI director Jim Saunders. He explained that due to the complexity of this case, the Mason City Police Department was supposedly notifying Iowa DCI of all leads since 1995. But for reasons unknown, the Mason City Police Department concealed the 2008 leads from Iowa DCI until 2015.

Director Saunders assured me all leads would be investigated. However, I was also informed that under Iowa law, the local police department owns the case. DCI is only available to assist and does not have enough resources to do so.

In 2016, I hoped the new chief would be more receptive so I sent him a certified letter on April 26. He did not respond. On Sept. 7 I was in Mason City for a funeral. Chief Eric [Jeff] Brinkley was unavailable at the time so I visited with Lt. Logan Wernet, who conveyed my concerns to chief Brinkley. Chief Brinkley did not call me back.

I still have not received assurance that all leads are being investigated.

Without jeopardizing the leads in question, I will simply say the Mason City Police Department seems to have an dubious lack of interest in following up on leads that could shed the light of day on Jodi Huisentruit’s disappearance.

Generally, I would not describe myself as a person who is untrusting, but I have this gut feeling that something is being covered up in Mason City.

As in so many cold cases, eventually the case fades into oblivion for the public which is what the Mason City Police Department seems to be hoping for again. Sadly, the immediate family never forgets, and they continue to wonder what happened to their loved one.

I have 10 reasons for not seeking re-election in 2016: My 10 grandchildren who all live in Iowa. I want them to live in a state that cares about its citizens. It is my hope that the 87th Assembly and my colleagues and friends in both parties will continue the work of drawing attention to Iowa’s backlog of cold cases.

The investigative team at FindJodi.com reached out to Chief Lashbrook in 2015 for comment on the matter.

Lashbrook said:

“So far this letter has proven to be an unnecessary distraction for the Mason City Police Department, involving the expense of time and resources. The fact it has received such a mixed reaction (as you put it) from legislators, the City, Police Department, and particularly the family of Jodi Huisentruit makes me question its value.

It’s unfortunate that those seeking to promote this letter don’t respect the wishes of those who have a more personal interest in this tragic event.”

Mason City Mayor Eric Bookmeyer also penned a letter in which he agreed with Lashbrook.

“I concur with Chief Lashbrook. The MCPD is conducting an ongoing investigation and continues to coordinate with other law enforcement agencies. I fully support their position and their plans to respectfully mark the 20th anniversary of this tragic occurence.

Lastly, it was and still is my position that after reviewing the letter, consulting with the MCPD and the remaining Huisentruit family that an unintended precedence would likely be set and be disrespectful to other victims and their families. I do not believe there is a place for politicians or politics in this investigation.”

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Eric Bookmeyer — Source: Globe Gazette

Playing politics, though? Kooiker was retiring and not seeking reelection. Maybe, maybe not. But Jodi’s family was in agreement that Jodi Huisentruit Day should not move forward, calling the idea “tacky.”

Ah, but we’re not done with the high strangeness in this case just yet.

In 2008, a copy of Jodi Huisentruit’s journal was mailed to the Mason City Globe Gazette. [19]

The 84-page journal arrived in a large yellow envelope with no return address and a June 4 postmark canceled in Waterloo.

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Source: Sioux City Journal
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A photocopied section of Jodi Huisentruit’s journal — Source: Oxygen.com

Mason City Police were quite unhappy to receive the package because the original was confiscated as part of the initial investigation when Jodi went missing, leading investigators to believe that one of their own had leaked the documents.

And they were right…sort of. The sender turned out to be Cheryl Ellingson, wife of former Mason City Police Chief David Ellingson. [20] Chief Ellingson resigned in August 2006. Lashbrook said that Ellingson “inadvertently” took a copy of the journal when he was clearing out his office.

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David Ellingson — Source: Globe Gazette

Cheryl Ellingson was an employee of the Globe Gazette more than 20 years prior to her sending the copy of Jodi’s journal.

Ellingson’s motive has never been released.

Just a few months before Jodi was abducted, one of her friends, Billy Pruin, was shot and killed at his rural farm. [21]

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Billy Pruin and his daughter — Source: Iowa Cold Cases

By all accounts, Pruin had a lot to live for. He had proposed to his girlfriend, Gretchen Tusler, just days before he died in April 1995. On the fourth, he drove his pickup truck to Mason City to pick up a new tractor he purchased. He left his truck at Brakke Implement and drove the new tractor home.

No one could reach Pruin by phone that night.

The next day, a friend went to the farmhouse to check on Pruin and found the door ajar with Pruin’s keys still lodged in the outside lock. He called out to Pruin and received no answer, so he left.

The next morning, Pruin’s mother went to check on her son and found him dead in the living room. He had been shot in the chest and the slug from his .44 magnum had struck the ceiling fan and fallen to the kitchen floor.

Pruin’s death was initially ruled a suicide but was later changed to undetermined. His friends and family were adamant that Pruin would not have committed suicide — he had no reason to.

No identifiable prints were found on Pruin’s gun, which he reportedly had in his hand when he was found. Pruin’s hands were placed in paper bags, but if he had gunshot residue on his hands or his clothing, it was either never reported or the report went missing.

Friends and relatives of Jodi Huisentruit say she might have been investigating the circumstances surrounding his death.

Jodie’s friend, Lanee Good, believes Pruin was in a hurry to get into his house, as evidenced by his key still being lodged in the lock. For reasons we don’t understand, Pruin walked through the kitchen and into the dining room to retrieve his .44. Good believes the gun was discharged during a struggle.

When Peterson asked Deputy Lichman of the Cerro Gordo County Sheriff’s Department about the information in the report that he investigated, and if Good’s comment was ever given to Mason City Police, he said he wasn’t aware of the department ever receiving the information.

According to Pruin’s fiancee, Pruin was “afraid of something” in the weeks leading up to his death. [22]

There were a number of drug-related disappearances of key witnesses in several cases at the time, and Bednar speculated that Jodi had been pulled into them somehow.

Bednar also stated that a man Jodi had spent a lot of time with someone who was linked in first-person to five people who died mysteriously.

“Now, I’m not saying he did it, but I’m saying this person has been associated with five unresolved cases…”

In 2019, cold case investigator Steve Ridge got his hands on the last video showing Jodi Huisentruit alive. [23]

In the video, Jodi boarded a ski boat with two men she did not previously know the weekend before her disappearance.

Before the discovery of the video, it had been widely reported that Jodi spent that weekend skiing at Coralville Lake with John Vansice, Vansice’s son, and two of Jodi’s friends.

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Jodi Huisentruit — Source: Wilmar Radio

According to Ridge, Jodi met two young men with a Master Craft ski boat. Witnesses told Ridge that Vansice was clearly unhappy that Jodi left his boat to spend time with younger men, but he didn’t overreact or cause a scene.

While on the young men’s boat, Jodi and a friend were seen drinking, singing, and dancing on top of the enclosed engine compartment, and the partying was captured on video by the boat’s owner.

Ridge stated that it was routine for the owner of the boat to troll for young women along the beach and invite them onto the boat, where he would ply them with alcohol and get them to sing and dance for the camera.

Might one or both of the young men have attempted to visit Jodi at her home the next day, a Sunday, or possibly Monday night before she was abducted?

Ridge believes it’s possible that a confrontation occurred in Jodi’s apartment the night before her abduction. This would explain why the police found the toilet seat up when they searched her apartment. [24]

Furthermore, Jodi’s landlord told the police that he heard two different male voices in the parking lot, followed by a muffled noise, on the night of Jodi’s disappearance. [25]

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Jodi Huisentruit — Source: The True Crime Files

But it’s also possible that Vansice was angry that Jodi jumped ship to hang out with younger guys and he killed her out of jealousy.

Police said the video from that day was not a surprise to them and that they were aware of it in the early days of the investigation. [26]

It is generally believed that Jodi knew her assailant, but depending on who did it, it’s not clear how well she knew the person or for how long.

But there is also a possibility that Jodi didn’t know her attacker at all. Her apartment complex was located near a campground, so a random camper could have seen her and stalked her very briefly.

Really, anyone could have spotted her and stalked her and she might not have even known it.

That’s what makes this case so frustrating. There are so many things that could have happened to her and apparently so little direct evidence linking someone to her disappearance that literally anything could have happened to her.

Some have suggested that she ran away to start a new life, but the suggestion is laughable. Jodi wanted to be a star. She wanted to climb the ladder and move to a larger market and eventually a national network. She had adoring fans, friends, and family and enjoyed her life and had no reason to leave.

Also, some have suggested that Jodi’s old producer, Amy Kuns, the person who filled in for her the morning she was abducted, had something to do with the disappearance. [27] This is based on a few factors. One, she openly admitted she wanted Jodi’s job. However, she also stated that she didn’t want to get her job in such a terrible way.

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Amy Kuns — Source: Globe Gazette

Kuns has tended to paint Jodi in a less favorable light than friends, family, and other co-workers. (Kuns has stated they were not friends, merely co-workers.) She has stated that it was not uncommon for Jodi to show up late for work, but the KIMT station manager at the time said the opposite. (Kuns stated that both she and Jodi sometimes overslept.)

And while no one else familiar with Jodi noted any flaky behavior, Kuns claimed that Jodi was “really up and down before her disappearance.” Kuns was Jodi’s assistant at the time and she said that Jodi was “very demanding” and that she would often snap at her.

Kuns said that Jodi’s behavior was so erratic that she “could never figure her out.”

To date, Kuns is the only person associated with Jodi to say such things about Jodi.

In Kuns’ defense, however, I’ve seen several interviews in which she seems to be frightened and heartbroken by Jodi’s disappearance. She may not have liked working with Jodi. Most of us have worked with someone we didn’t particularly like. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t think that whatever happened to Jodi wasn’t awful.

According to Kuns, she was never given a polygraph test but she was interviewed by the FBI and instructed not to discuss what was said.

Let’s take a moment to think specifically about what might have happened to Jodi.

Jodi’s landlord heard two male voices on the morning she vanished. They could have belonged to the two men Jodi met on the boat in that final video, or they could have belonged to Vansice and his son. The toilet lid being up suggests a male was present in Jodi’s apartment the night before her abduction.

However, we can’t automatically assume that’s why the toilet seat was up. There were also empty beer cans in her apartment, and they were a brand of beer that Jodi wasn’t known to drink. This could mean a man or men came over the night before, but it could also mean that someone brought the beer over at some point, left them in Jodi’s fridge, and Jodi drank them that night.

And since Jodi was tired and overslept on the morning of her abduction, it’s possible that she drank too much and the toilet seat was up because she vomited. Maybe she was late to work because she was hung over.

For all we know, she might have cleaned the toilet the previous night and just left the seat up.

It’s also possible that someone not on the police’s radar visited Jodi’s apartment and because she never mentioned it to anyone, we don’t know who it was.

Now, let’s assume the two men from the boat, or Vansice and his son, did go to Jodi’s apartment that night. Maybe she was propositioned in some way, either by the men from the boat, or from the Vansice men who confronted her about her leaving John Vansice’s boat. Maybe Jodi told them she wasn’t interested in dating them or having sex with them, whatever the case may have been.

Perhaps one of the men from the boat or one of the Vansice men — or both boat guys and both Vansice men — left Jodi’s apartment feeling angry and rejected and instead of going home, they decided to wait for her to leave for work so they could ambush her.

And though it may seem unlikely, there’s always a chance that the white van spotted by witnesses was in the parking lot for a reason totally unrelated to Jodi, but the driver saw her walking to her car and it was an opportunistic attack.

It’s no wonder that police have been unable to make any arrests. It seems like John Vansice remains at the top of their suspect list, and he is my best guess, too. But there are many things that could have happened to Jodi and virtually anyone could be involved.

I can’t help but think the answers are at investigators’ fingertips and they just need that one final tip to close the case. And when I say “investigators,” I don’t just mean the police. I wouldn’t be surprised if the case eventually gets solved by someone who is not in law enforcement at all.

Clearly, there is a good chance the case will never be solved. But in my gut, I feel that it will. It may come down to waiting for DNA technology to improve a bit. Maybe Vansice will admit his guilt before Alzheimer’s robs him of his faculties. Perhaps someone in prison will come forward with a story he overheard.

I have no idea how this case will be solved, but I believe it will be solved, and I hope that Jodi’s friends and family get the answers they deserve. It’s time to bring Jodi home.

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Source: CBS News

Sources:

  1. Unsolved.com
  2. Iowa Cold Cases
  3. Psychology Today
  4. ABC News
  5. Ranker
  6. CBS News
  7. MEAWW.com
  8. KARE 11
  9. KIMT-TV
  10. FindJodi.com
  11. Globe Gazette
  12. FindJodi.com
  13. Chilling Crimes
  14. Oxygen.com
  15. TwinCities.com
  16. Globe Gazette
  17. Missing Leads
  18. FindJodi.com
  19. Sioux City Journal
  20. The Courier
  21. FindJodi.com
  22. Alexandria Echo Press
  23. KIMT-TV
  24. The True Crime Files
  25. Chilling Crimes
  26. FindJodi.com
  27. FindJodi.com

My name is Julie Fidler. I’m a writer, author, wife, and animal lover. I shed light on unsolved mysteries and shocking crimes.