20 years after anchor's disappearance, the search continues
ST. PAUL — On the 20th anniversary of the disappearance of TV anchor Jodi Huisentruit, her family, police and a dedicated team of journalists and retired police officers are still trying to solve the mystery.
Mason City police have received thousands of tips over the years, and they continue to trickle in, Lt. Rich Jensen said.
"We expect that with the 20th anniversary, we will get more," Jensen said. "It's like any anniversary — it stirs people's emotions. We're waiting for the call. We're hoping that there will be a day we're in the courtroom, and somebody will be held accountable."
Huisentruit had overslept on the morning of June 27, 1995. The 27-year-old native of Long Prairie told a co-worker at KIMT-TV in Mason City, Iowa, who called to check on her that she'd race to the station and be there in time for her 6 a.m. broadcast. Nobody has heard from her since.
On Saturday, about 35 people walked from the Key Apartments, where Huisentruit was abducted, to the KIMT station where she worked.
A team of journalists and retired police officers who've long followed the case — called FindJodi.com — also hopes the renewed attention helps crack the case.
Investigators have long believed someone grabbed Huisentruit shortly after 4 a.m. as she went to her red car in the parking lot of her apartment complex. Neighbors said they heard a scream around then and saw a white van in the lot. Police found her red high heels, blow dryer, hair spray and earrings strewn across the lot. Her bent car key lay on the ground near the car, and police believe she was unlocking her car door when she was taken. An unidentified partial palm print was found on her car, but there were no other substantial clues at the scene.
"I thought for sure it would be solved within five years. But it just kept going on and on and on, and now, it's been 20 years," said JoAnn Nathe, who said the memories of her younger sister haunt her every day.
"We just want to find her. We want to know what happened."
For months, the case dominated the headlines in the Upper Midwest. How could a TV news anchor disappear from a small town in Iowa without a clue?
The FindJodi team includes former WCCO-TV reporter Caroline Lowe and retired Woodbury Police Commander Jay Alberio. The two met last month at Alberio's house in Woodbury to compare notes on a convicted serial rapist who's serving a life sentence in Minnesota, someone they believe should be a "person of interest" in the case. That man was 21 at the time of Huisentruit's disappearance and was living just two blocks from KIMT — a fact Lowe and Alberio say shouldn't be overlooked.
"We don't know if he is involved," Lowe said. "We, to this day, don't know, but if you think of a person living that close who is capable of very violent stuff, he had to be investigated."
Despite Lowe's and Alberio's suspicions, Mason City police say no link between the convicted rapist and Huisentruit has ever been found.
News anchor Josh Benson, co-founder of the FindJodi.com website who used to work at KAAL-TV in Austin, hopes that Saturday's anniversary, which included a "Finishing Jodi's Journey" walk from a church near Huisentruit's apartment complex to KIMT, will help revive interest.
"Anniversaries always serve as a way to get people reinvigorated," Benson said. "People start to remember things again."