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Iowa State Rep. John Kooiker considered it a privilege to fill in the ninth term of his good friend, Dwayne Alons, who passed away shortly after winning the November 2014 election. But, as a member of the House Public Safety Committee, he found himself appalled at the number of cold cases in the state and the current lack of a cohesive effort to solve them.
In 2015, prior to the 20th anniversary of Jodi Huisentruit’s unsolved disappearance, he saw an opportunity to augment the work being done by the Northwest Iowa Review — one of approximately 200 newspapers participating in the Iowa Newspaper Association‘s statewide GONE COLD project. With the assistance of other legislators, Kooiker drafted a letter addressed to the city of Mason City, asking them to recognize Jodi’s upcoming anniversary and soliciting their help in solving the case. Kooiker spoke to one of Jodi’s sisters, and she had no objections.
When Mason City area legislators offered to notify Mason City officials of the pending letter, the news brought about what Kooiker called “some rather strange reactions.”
Chief Mike Lashbrook, Kooiker said, insisted he did not want the letter to be sent to him or anybody else in Mason City. The mayor begged Kooiker — who’d also spoken with Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) Director Jim Saunders — to withdraw the letter.
Rather than welcoming the bipartisan support of all 100 state representatives to further the investigation into Jodi’s disappearance and honor the 20th anniversary of her disappearance, Kooiker was accused of “meddling” and “not respecting local control.”
The Northwest Iowa Review documented Kooiker’s unusual and troubling experience in a piece published by The Review on Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2016. The full article is available for download in PDF format here.
In a North Iowa Today story published June 22, 2017, Kooiker called on Mason City Mayor Eric Bookmeyer to declare June 27, 2017, as Jodi Huisentruit Day. The letter stated, in part:
As you know, after being somewhat puzzled at the opposition from the now-retired Mason City police chief for this proposal, I confirmed that leads in this case from South Dakota had not been looked into by the MCPD for at least 7 years. In addition, I confirmed that these same leads were not made known to Iowa DCI by the Mason City Police Department for at least that same period of time. Perhaps that is why there was such opposition to calling attention to this case. Even if it is assumed these leads have now been followed up on, it still means Jodi’s case is unsolved and the public’s help is needed to solve it. So either way, proclaiming your support for solving this case is respectfully requested. And yes, I previously visited with Jodi’s sister and believe she would still be in support of your efforts to draw attention to this case. (From John Kooiker’s letter to Mayor Bookmeyer, June 2017)
In the letter, Kooiker also attached the 2015 proclamation request as well as the April 26, 2016 follow-up letter he’d sent to new Mason City Police Chief Jeff Brinkley.
In a Mason City Globe Gazette article published Friday, June 23, 2017, Jodi Huisentruit’s sister, JoAnn Nathe of Sauk Centre, Minnesota, told Globe Gazette reporter John Skipper that while she thinks “The intention is nice,” she doesn’t think it’s proper to have a “Jodi Huisentruit Day” in remembrance of her sister’s disappearance. She cited the number of missing persons in Iowa without a day named in their memory.
“I’m sure we would get a lot of flak,” she told the Globe Gazette.
Nathe also took into consideration the fact that her sister grew up in Long Prairie, Minnesota, graduated from St. Cloud University and worked at TV stations in Cedar Rapids and Alexandria, Minnesota, before moving to Mason City.
“I think it’s tacky, Nathe told the paper, “and I think Jodi would think it was tacky, too.”
The June 23 story references the May 2015 letter former State Rep. John Kooiker drafted while still in the Legislature, and State Rep. Sharon Steckman, D-Mason City, said she and others had signed [Kooiker’s] letter, but when they learned the Huisentruit family was against it, asked their names be removed. Kooiker did not remove them, she said in the Friday story.
The Globe Gazette’s John Skipper also reported in the piece:
Though Kooiker said he became interested in the Huisentruit case when he was in the Legislature, his emails and those of his son to authorities date to four years before he was elected.
The Kooikers aren’t the first — and likely won’t be the last — to become personally attached to solving the case of a young anchorwoman they’d never met.
Jim Feldhaus — a retired computer programmer for the University of South Dakota at Brookings and former researcher for the 3M Company in Minnesota — went on to become a private investigator and spent years pursuing the case. In a Globe Gazette article published June 26, 2005, Iowa DCI Special Agent Bill Basler said Feldhaus was far and away the most active private investigator in the case.
Feldhaus said he didn’t plan to stop investigating until he or someone else solved the case and admitted he was “obsessed” with Huisentruit’s unsolved disappearance.
Feldhaus, 79, died Oct. 10, 2013 at a Sioux Falls hospice.
At approximately 4:30 a.m. on Tuesday, June 27, 1995, CBS affiliate KIMT-TV morning and noon anchor woman and producer Jodi Sue Huisentruit was abducted from the parking lot of her apartment located at 600 North Kentucky Avenue in Mason City, Iowa.
Huisentruit — a St. Cloud State University graduate — usually arrived at work between 3 and 4 a.m., and when she hadn’t arrived by 4:00 a.m., her producer, Amy Kuns, called her. Huisentruit answered the phone, told Kuns she had overslept, and stated she’d be at the station shortly. Nothing in Huisentruit’s tone of voice indicated any undue stress.
The 27-year-old petite anchor was never heard from again.
When Huisentruit still hadn’t arrived at work by 7:00 a.m., Kuns became alarmed and called Mason City police, asking them to check on Jodi’s well being.
Upon their arrival, officers discovered a number of Huisentruit’s personal possessions strewn about the parking lot, including Jodi’s purse, hair spray, hair dryer, and a pair of red high-heeled shoes. Huisentruit usually carried these items to and from work in a canvas tote bag.
The key to Huisentruit’s vehicle was found bent inside the lock on the driver’s side door. Mason City Police Lt. Frank Stearns said drag marks were visible on the rain-soaked pavement.
Interviews with neighbors revealed that screams had been heard, but the apartment building was located near a campground and the screams were dismissed as nothing more than noisy campers.
Stearns believes the crime was committed by a single individual — likely one who knew Huisentruit. Prior to joining KIMT, the Minnesota native had worked briefly as a flight attendant.
Jodi’s canvas tote bag — in which she often carried her notebooks and computer diskettes — was not found at the scene and has never been located.
In the years following her disappearance, investigators followed up on thousands of tips and interviewed more than 1,000 people.
In June 2008, a copy of Jodi’s personal journal was sent anonymously to a Mason City Globe Gazette reporter. The journal contained more than 80 pages where Huisentruit spelled out her personal goals.
In a KIMT-TV story airing June 23, 2008, Mason City Police Chief Mike Lashbrook confirmed the copy of the journal was real and the same copy given to police, the DCI and FBI. Further investigation revealed a former police chief’s wife had sent the copy to the Globe Gazette.
JoAnn Nathe, Huisentruit’s sister, told FoxNews.com she believed the perpetrator either knew Jodi personally or had stalked her because the individual was privy to her sister’s early-morning schedule.
“There was no indication of a stalker whatsoever,” said Stearns in the Fox News story dated June 11, 2013.
Huisentruit was legally declared dead in May 2001, and though names of several persons of interest emerged, one in particular remains on police radar. Said Fox News:
John Vansice, a neighbor and friend of Huisentruit’s, immediately came forward and said he was the last person to see the news anchor alive, according to police. Vansice, who was much older than Huisentruit, told detectives that she had visited his apartment the night before, and that the two had watched a video Vansice filmed of Huisentruit’s birthday part just weeks earlier. Vansice denied any connection to the abduction and has since moved from Iowa to Phoenix, Ariz. He could not be reached when contacted by FoxNews.com.
“To this day, he [Vansice] is still a person of interest,” Stearns said.
Nathe believed Vansice was “fixated” on her sister, even though Jodi had never once mentioned his name to her.
Nathe told Fox News she also isn’t convinced that only one person was responsible for the crime. Nathe said her sister’s landlord reported hearing “two different male voices” in the parking lot at the time and the sound of a loud muffler.
Jim Feldhaus — a Canistota, S.D. retired computer programmer for the University of South Dakota at Brookings and a former researcher for 3M in Minnesota — spent nearly 18 years voluntarily interviewing potential suspects and tracking down information on Huisentruit’s case.
Feldhaus, a U.S. Army veteran with degrees in chemistry and computer science, tipped off law enforcement officials and the media whenever he uncovered new tips or leads, and in 2005 told the Globe Gazette the case represented an “obsession” he wanted to solve.
Feldhaus, 79, passed away Oct. 10, 2013 at a Sioux Falls hospice.
The Huisentruit File: Ep. 1, The Case — Courtesy YouTube
When the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) established a Cold Case Unit in 2009, Huisentruit’s disappearance was one of approximately 150 cases listed on the Cold Case Unit’s new website as those the DCI hoped to solve using latest advancements in DNA technology.
Although federal grant funding for the DCI Cold Case Unit was exhausted in December 2011, the DCI continues to assign agents to investigate cold cases as new leads develop or as technological advances allow for additional forensic testing of original evidence.
The DCI remains committed to the resolution of Iowa’s cold cases and will continue to work diligently with local law enforcement partners to bring the perpetrators of these crimes to justice for the victims and their families.
Dental information and charting is available and entered in Huisentruit’s case.
A DNA sample has been submitted and tests are complete.
In 2011, former KAAL-TV6 Minnesota news anchor Beth Bednar tackled the mysteries surrounding Huisentruit’s disappearance in her book, “Dead Air – The Disappearance of Jodi Huisentruit.”
Bednar, who spent two decades in the broadcast news industry, interviewed Huisentruit’s colleagues, her friends and acquaintances in Mason City, family members and friends, law enforcement officials, and a number of other sources from Minnesota to Iowa.
The book presents several detailed crime theories regarding those considered persons of interest, and explores Huisentruit’s connection to other unsolved Iowa murders.
“Dead Air” has been described as “old-style true crime journalism at its best.”
While the Mason City community continues to mark the anniversary of Huisentruit’s disappearance every year, police await the one solid tip they need to bring to an end the city’s most infamous cold case.
Jodi Sue Huisentruit was born June 5, 1968, to Imogene L. “Jane” (Anderson) and Maurice Huisentruit, and grew up in Long Prairie, Minnesota.
She twice was a member of the state champion high school golf team in Long Prairie.
She graduated from St. Cloud State University, and worked briefly at an Alexandria television station before moving to Mason City to work for CBS affiliate KIMT-TV. There, she worked as a morning and noon news anchor and producer between 3 and 4 a.m.
She was abducted from her Mason City apartment’s parking lot at 600 North Kentucky Avenue on Tuesday morning, June 27, 1995, while preparing to leave for work. Her disappearance prompted one of the largest manhunts in Iowa history, with her case featured on several national television programs, including America’s Most Wanted, Unsolved Mysteries, 20/20, Nancy Grace, Psychic Detectives and numerous other talk shows.
In addition to her mother, she was survived by two sisters: JoAnn Nathe of Sauk Center; Jill Lettau, and many other loved ones.
Her father preceded her in death in 1982.
Jodi was legally declared dead in May 2001.
Her mother, Imogene L. “Jane” Huisentruit, died Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2014, at CentraCare Health Systems in Long Prairie without ever discovering what happened to her daughter.
She was 91 years old.
A January 1994 journal entry Jodi wrote the year before she went missing shined a beaming light into a world where she’d hoped to make a difference. Her entry read:
“Live with passion daily. Be passionate in everyday life. Live the way I want to live — be generous, kind.” ~ January 1994 excerpt from Jodi Huisentruit’s personal journal
The Iowa Cold Cases website (and other sites featuring Ms. Huisentruit’s case) has received multiple e-mails and correspondence from James L. McIntyre, who continues to insist that Ms. Huisentruit’s body was recovered during the week of September 29 – October 1, 1997, and that her remains are in the care of Dr. David L. Frederickson MD ME in the Stearns County Medical Examiner’s office in St. Cloud, Minnesota.
Mr. McIntyre also has alleged that Ms. Huisentruit was murdered by Keith Dwayne Nelson.
Lieutenant Frank Stearns, the Criminal Investigations Division Commander for the Mason City Police Department has released an official statement to Iowa Cold Cases that should put Mr. McIntyre’s false allegations to rest once and for all.
Lt. Stearns’ statement on February 7, 2013, reads as follows:
The Mason City Police Department has checked into Mr. McIntyer’s allegations on several occasions, and we have found that none of what he is alleging is true. I have asked him to stop making these allegations but he continues to do so.
Any further allegations Mr. McIntyre posts on this website will be promptly deleted.
If you have any information concerning Jodi Huisentruit’s unsolved disappearance please contact Lt. Frank Stearns at the Mason City Police Department at (641) 421-3001.
An in-depth website dedicated to solving Jodi’s case may be found at www.findjodi.com.