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Jesse J. Leopold, 23, was last seen alive just before a work shift break in Jewell, Iowa, on Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016, after reportedly telling his supervisor he was going to go pick up his medicine just before the 6:30 p.m. lunch break began.
Leopold worked at W & G Marketing, a meat processing plant in Jewell, and was last seen wearing a blue shirt, blue jeans, and no shoes, said his father, Jerry Leopold, of Boone, Iowa.
Two days later, after learning from Leopold’s roommates that Jesse had not been seen since he left work, Jerry Leopold posted a plea on Facebook Oct. 15, asking for help in finding his son.
The following morning, when Leopold’s purple, three-quarter-ton Ford 150 pickup truck was found abandoned on Canyon Road in Ledges State Park about 30 to 35 miles away — unlocked and with the keys still in the ignition — Jerry went to the Boone County Sheriff’s Office in Boone and reported his son as missing.
Jesse always locked his truck, Jerry told them.
In a Boone News-Republican story published Oct. 26, 2016, Sgt. Cole Hoffman of the Boone County Sheriff’s Office said there were no signs of foul play or that a crime had occurred.
“There’s no solid indication of why he is missing,” Hoffman told the paper.
Jerry said his son struggled with bipolar, depression and anxiety, and that Jesse had recently told him he couldn’t afford to refill a prescription. Jerry believed that may have led his son to seek out drugs from “shady places,” and said Jesse had been admitted to the emergency room several times in recent years. On those occasions, blood tests indicated Jesse had drugs in his system other than those prescribed.
After Jerry’s Facebook post and the discovery of his son’s truck in Ledges Park, community members jumped in to help with search efforts.
Nicky Calmer of Boone, a former classmate and friend of Jesse’s, was one community member who helped with the search.
“I got involved in Jesse’s search because I am a parent myself,” Calmer said in the Oct. 26 News-Republican story. “If my child was missing, I’d love all the help I could get trying to find him. No family should ever feel like the Leopold family does – helpless, confused and worried.”
Volunteers and public officials continued to scour Ledges Park, one of Iowa’s very first state parks and known for its distinctive geological and archeological features, breathtaking views and vibrant history. Download a map of Ledges State Park.
The Boone County Sheriff’s Office has partnered with the Boone Police Department in the investigation. Other agencies who provided assistance include the DNR, the Jewell Police Department, and Boone County Search and Rescue, who searched the Ledges area several times as well as the Des Moines River.
Bloodhounds were brought in to aid in the search, but could not pick up Leopold’s scent on the ground near where the pickup truck had been parked. Jerry Leopold told the Times-Republican that it led him to believe his son’s feet never touched the ground at Ledges. Jerry said that because the dogs could not pick up Jesse’s scent, the dogs didn’t search anywhere else in the park.
In addition to his pleas for help on Facebook, Jerry Leopold also put together flyers and distributed them throughout the area in attempts to find his son.
Jesse Leopold is described as a 6-foot-1 white male with hazel eyes and weighing somewhere between 180 and 185 pounds.
Ten days after Leopold went missing, Jerry Leopold told the News-Republican he no longer believed his son was still alive.
“I find it highly unlikely,” Jerry said. “He’d have to have some mad skills to make it two weeks in this weather without shoes.”
Leopold’s work boots were found in the back of his pickup truck, and it is not believed he had any other shoes or boots with him. Temperatures dipped into the mid-twenties the night Jesse disappeared.
Two months after Jesse’s disappearance, BCSO Detective Andy Godzicki told KCCI Channel 8 News that investigators were having a hard time finding additional information.
“We are having a difficult time finding anybody that really knows anything first hand,” Godzicki said. “The rumor mill has really played a role.”
Investigators also faced another setback: contaminated evidence. Officials said Jerry Leopold moved his son’s truck after it was found, making it difficult to obtain usable evidence from the truck.
The truck was later repossessed.
Family members and friends wanted answers and pointed out the unusual circumstances surrounding Jesse’s unexplained disappearance, including the fact that he’d left behind his wallet and cellphone.
“Him not coming home at night and leaving his keys in the ignition and his truck unlocked is not typical of him,” Nicky Calmer, one of Leopold’s childhood friends, told KCCI.
Investigators continued running down every possible lead, putting hundreds of man hours into efforts to try to locate Leopold or discover what may have happened to him.
“We pursue every lead that we can get our hands on, including some legal leads,” Godzicki said in a Boone News-Republican story published Dec. 15, 2016. None of the leads had panned out to provide any further information, said Godzicki, and deputies were still hitting walls in the search for the 23-year-old.
Boone County Sheriff’s deputies acknowledged they were not ruling out any scenario, including foul play.
There has been no activity on Leopold’s cell phone or bank accounts since his disappearance.
In an Aug. 27, 2017 phone conversation with Iowa Cold Cases, Jerry Leopold said he remains convinced his son is no longer alive.
The Vanished, a true crime podcast hosted by Marissa Jones, featured Jesse’s case on Jan. 4, 2018. The Vanished Podcast explores the stories of those who have gone missing.
Jesse’s case information was officially entered into the NamUs (National Missing and Unidentified Persons System) on Jan. 17, 2018.
Courtesy photos provided by Jerry Leopold.
Anyone with any information about Jesse Leopold’s mysterious disappearance is asked to contact Det. Andrew Godzicki at the Boone County Sheriff’s Office at (515) 433-4786.
Those wanting to get or stay involved in the search can find information on the “Find Jesse Leopold – Boone, IA” Facebook page, or by messaging Nicky Calmer, Amy Hahn or Jerry Leopold on Facebook.
There is a reward for information in this case. Please contact the Boone County Sheriff’s Office or Jerry Leopold on Facebook for additional details.