Huisentruit play features discussion, hope case is solved

Jerry Olson, jolson@postbulletin "Fade To Black," a play written by Gary Peterson and adapted for stage by Debi Neville, began the first of a four-night run at the Spring Valley Community Center on Wednesday. Performers include, from left, Sarah Kohn (playing the part of Jodi Huisentruit), Bonnie Austin, Debi Neville and Aleta Capelle.

SPRING VALLEY — Sarah Kohn now thinks twice when she sees a parked car with an occupant in it because of preparation for her role as Jodi Huisentruit, a Mason City, Iowa, news anchor who was abducted 17 years ago Wednesday.

Kohn portrays Huisentruit in "Fade to Black," a play at Brave Community Theater that takes the audience through Huisentruit's last days, abduction and the following investigation. More than 100 people showed up at the premiere Wednesday night, which complemented acting with videos and interviews from the investigation.

Huisentruit, then 27, was on her way to work as a morning news anchor at KIMT-TV on June 27, 1995. She disappeared around 4:30 a.m. There are no suspects.

After the play, there was a half-hour question and answer session with Gary Peterson, of Spring Valley, a former news director and investigative journalist in Austin, who, with former anchor Josh Benson, created the "Find Jodi" website in 2003 and has since followed up on leads and tips sent to the site.

Information frames the play

The play is a collaboration between Peterson and Debi Neville, of Rochester, which features information received from recent tips and interviews, excerpts from Huisentruit's journal and theories of her death. It also points out holes in the investigation, like failing to interview key witnesses who later contacted Peterson through his website.

Many of the details collected in the investigation can't be disclosed because the case is still open, Neville said.

She said the play is intended to humanize Huisentruit and encourage people to make their voices heard. Four of Huisentruit's neighbors saw suspicious activity or heard her screams that morning but didn't call the police, Peterson said.

"I still can't imagine that people wouldn't call 911," he said.

Getting answers

Tipsters still come forward with new information, Peterson said. He said he received three new tips Wednesday and will pursue the case with "the same vigor" until it is solved.

"Wouldn't it be something if we were able to glean a tip that would lead to a solution on the case?" Neville said.

On the day she disappeared, Huisentruit had overslept and was rushing to work after her boss called and woke her at 4 a.m. When she didn't arrive at work, KIMT staff called the police to check on her. Police found her key broken off in her new Mazda Miata, red high heels, a hair dryer and other items strewn on the ground, and a blood trail indicating Huisentruit had been dragged to another vehicle, Peterson said.

He said he believes the key to solving the case is that someone knew Huisentruit would leave her apartment. A normal stalker, he said, would not wait more than an hour for Huisentruit to leave her apartment to attempt the kidnapping. Instead, the abductors had a "rock solid reason" for risking being seen at 4:30 a.m. when it was becoming light outside, he said.

"I think she found something out and somebody didn't like it," Peterson said.

A version of this article appears in the Austin Post-Bulletin.

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