Little Pond

Date Published 04.26.06
Every morning the young blonde woman with the heart-shaped face talked to people.

She talked about small stuff - the North Iowa Band Festival line-up, or an accident on Raven Road. She talked about the weather. The woman’s name was Jodi Huisentruit, and she was the morning news anchor at KIMT-TV in Mason City, Iowa. Jodi, 27, was a familiar presence in Mason City, a close-knit farming community that was the inspiration for River City in The Music Man. She was a local celebrity in a town that prides itself on being small.

Jodi’s morning show was the start of many people’s day. They must have been surprised, then, on the morning of June 27th, 1995, when a slightly flustered associate producer named Amy Kuns announced she was filling in for Jodi. It was unusual for Jodi to be late for work, her co-workers agreed, but maybe she overslept.

Hours went by. Annoyance turned to worry. Worry turned to panic when police discovered Jodi’s personal items scattered across her apartment complex’s parking lot. A hair dryer, hair spray, a pair of red shoes - things Jodi brought everyday to work. Years later one investigator recalled that the most disturbing detail was finding Jodi’s car key bent in its lock. She had been so close to driving away.

Someone awful got her first. Drag marks on the pavement near Jodi’s Mazda Miata indicated a fierce battle. Neighbors reported hearing a woman’s scream around 4:30 a.m., the time Jodi would have been leaving for work. Jodi’s abductor must have been familiar with her daily routine. Crime scene photos show a small park adjacent to Jodi’s apartment building. Shrouded in trees, it is the perfect place for a troubled man to lie in wait, patient and methodical, and spin dark dreams.

Behind the scenes at the station, KIMT-TV employees fretted about the danger of being a recognizable presence in a small television market. Had someone mistaken Jodi’s friendly on-screen demeanor with intimacy, and developed an obsession? Jodi’s co-workers faced a terrible irony: the disappearance of the young woman who delivered the news became their lead story.

No one could have predicted that for the next eleven years the story would remain virtually the same. Despite one of the largest manhunts in Iowa history, Jodi Huisentriut has never been found.

The mystery of what happened to Jodi is especially frustrating because it seems like a solvable crime. This was not a murder committed by a stranger in a large urban area. The perpetrator was almost certainly a local man who fixated on Jodi. That narrows the suspect pool considerably. The KIMT demographic includes parts of northern Iowa and southern Minnesota. It is a relatively low crime area, and sparsely populated. Unfortunately, it is also an area covered in lakes, rivers and abandoned silos, an ideal landscape for making things, and people, disappear.

Will Jodi’s case ever be solved? Intriguing clues remain promising, but isolated and incomplete. A year before she disappeared Jodi confided to family and friends that she feared she was being followed by a suspicious van. She took self-defense courses and even had the occasional police escort to work. Her fears seemed to subside. But on the morning of her disappearance a witness described a white van idling in Jodi’s parking lot around the time she was abducted. That van, and the one that may have stalked Jodi previously, have never been located.

What about an early person of interest in the case? He was an older man who threw Jodi a birthday party a few weeks before her disappearance. He sent Jodi flowers, reports say, and expressed interest in her, though she categorized the relationship as a friendship. Police couldn’t connect him to the crime. He said he passed a polygraph. He eventually moved out of town. However, a web search of his name links him to a violent incident in another state in 2003. Charges were dropped, but his possible involvement in the death of another person eight years later raises troubling questions. So does the fact that in 2004 police investigated the concrete basement of a house in Mason City, a house that was owned and occupied in June 1995 by this man.

On a website about Jodi’s disappearance a poster writes, “investigate the policeman who gave Jodi the speeding ticket.” Some research reveals Jodi did indeed receive a speeding ticket a year before her abduction. “What do you know?” the poster is asked. There is no reply.

Similar crimes and suspects warrant a look. Brooke Wilberger disappeared on the morning of May 24, 2004 from a parking lot complex in Corvallis, Oregon. Like Jodi, she left behind a vital but ominous clue: her sandals were found askew in the parking lot. Last year, Joel Patrick Courtney was indicted for the 19-year-old Wilberger’s murder, although her body has not yet been found. Authorities are saying they’re interested in looking at Courtney for other unsolved crimes across the country. Courtney worked for a construction cleaning company. He abducted Wilberger using his preferred vehicle: a van.

More recently, Jennifer Kesse, 24, went missing from Orlando, Florida on January 24, 2006. Kesse had recently moved into a new condo complex. It's believed she was abducted in the morning while getting into her car on her way to work.

Finally, last month a man was convicted in Manhattan Supreme Court of stalking blonde cable TV news personality Monica Crowley. Ronald Martin, 41, described as an "artist" and a "drifter," e-mailed Crowley incessantly and put her name in an Internet database search more than 9,000 times. Martin often waited outside Crowley's office for her, and once accosted her on the subway. He has stalked before; perhaps more significantly, it was in the Midwest. An Indiana professor took a restraining order out on him a few years ago. Martin has ties to several Midwestern states, a history of harassment toward women, and his latest target was a blonde TV news woman. Where was he living on June 27th, 1995?

Meanwhile, one senses from interviews that Jodi Huisentruit's family never recovered from their loss. They don't speak of "closure," but of heartache. Five years ago they had Jodi declared legally dead. Jodi's sister, Joann Nathe of Minnesota, occasionally speaks to the press in an attempt to keep Jodi's story fresh in the public's mind. They want answers. Answers to what happened to the young woman who held such promise, who lived in a small town but had the world at her feet. "She was our pride and joy," Jodi's sister said to ABC News.

Anyone with information regarding the whereabouts or information regarding the disappearance of Jodi Huisentruit are asked to call the Mason City Police at 641-421-3636.

The Feed

RT @emilynussbaum: The artful @hodgman's straightforward case for Hillary:
@Twaikuer @pattonoswalt @daveanthony Know what he does believe in? PAC $. Took 10K from HRC pac 2006. That means he's in her pocket.#BSLogic
@Twaikuer @pattonoswalt @daveanthony Good one. Unfortunately Bernie on record as not believing in charity.
@johnlevenstein Thanks for asking, btw. That's the kind of elevated discourse missing lately. A lot of mud slinging. #I'mNotAboveItEither
@johnlevenstein Can't convey it all thru Twitter but yes, she has flaws. Too poll-driven, burned needed bridges, trouble owning mistakes.