Missing Since: June 27, 1995
Missing From: Mason City, Iowa
Classification: Endangered Missing
Age at Disappearance: 27
MASON CITY, Iowa --- Mason City Police Chief Mike Lashbrook said Monday he is sorry the reputations of three law enforcement officers were damaged by a fired officer who based her allegations on a "drunken rant."
On Friday, the Mason City Civil Service Commission upheld the termination of Officer Maria Ohl.
She was fired for violating department regulations concerning handling of potential evidence in the 1995 disappearance of KIMT-TV morning anchor Jodi Huisentruit and for being judged "unfit for duty" by a psychologist who examined her.
The Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation said in a press release that there has been no credible information or evidence received by investigators that implicates any current or former DCI agents or Mason City police officers in the disappearance of Huisentruit.
The tale would have been little more than the source of some bizarre coffee talk speculation except for the real damage it did to the accused police officers' reputations.
Police Chief Mike Lashbrook said after the Civil Service Commission had made its ruling that "the most difficult time of my career has been the past two weeks," and he said Ohl's allegations had an impact not only on the officers involved but on their families and the Police Department as a whole.
Police never convicted anyone in her disappearance but this author believes there are still many leads to be followed up on. Many people in the Midwest have followed the disappearance of TV anchor Jodi Huisentruit since 1995.
"I remember hearing about the case. I followed a lot of the media as well, and her sister actually lived next door to my grandmother."
For former KAAL TV personality Beth Bednar... who had worked just an hour north of Huisentruit, it was more than just a news story.
SPRING VALLEY, Minn. --- Auditions are under way for a two-act play concerning the 1995 disappearance of KIMT-TV anchor Jodi Huisentruit.
The play, called "Fade to Black" was written by Gary Peterson and adapted for the theater by playwright Debi Neville.
For five seasons, the show “Disappeared” on the Investigation Discovery Channel has dedicated their hour long weekly broadcast to one missing person. A crew from Investigation Discovery has been in Mason City the past week preparing for an episode on Jodi Huisentruit.
A hundred and fifty miles from Mason City, a then-detective for the Woodbury Police Department, Jay Alberio believed a serial rapist they arrested in the mid 90s, may have been the man with answers.
Tony Jackson, serving a life sentence for multiple rapes in Minnesota, has always maintained his innocence in Huisentruit’s case. With no body and no physical evidence, police haven’t been able to prove anything.
Still, Jackson remains on a list of several men, investigators haven’t ruled out.
FindJodi.com became a nonprofit three years ago. WCCO sat in one of the group’s monthly meetings on Skype to watch them go over new leads.
Beth Bednar is another team member. She wrote a book called “Dead Air” about Huisentruit’s case.
“It’s intensely personal for all of us,” Bednar said.
The other team members include: former WCCO crime reporter Caroline Lowe, TV anchor and reporter Josh Benson, investigative reporter and death scene investigator, Gary Peterson.
Over the last decade, the internet has made it possible to do this kind of online detective work. Websleuthing, as it’s called, has been credited for solving cold cases all across the country. It’s what happens in that very public process that police departments are still trying to figure out how to handle.
A professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota, Chris Uggen worries about the potential harm in what can sometimes be considered an online witch hunt.
“It’s a bit of a wild west out there,” he said.
Anonymous comments make it easy to point fingers and in some cases, the consequences can be serious.
“Even under the most controlled circumstances you are playing with fire in a certain sense,” Uggen said.
Uggen believes cold case websites need to exercise some kind of editorial control and establish a good working relationship with the police department that’s handling the crime.
Mason City police have received thousands of tips on Huisentruit’s disappearance over the years, and they continue to trickle in. Police Lt. Rich Jensen said the department still gets one to three a month.
“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.”
A team of journalists and retired police officers — called FindJodi.com — is hoping renewed attention on the 20th anniversary of her disappearance will help crack the case.
The team includes former WCCO-TV reporter Caroline Lowe and retired Woodbury police Cmdr. Jay Alberio. The two met last month at Alberio’s house in Woodbury to compare notes on convicted serial rapist Tony Dejuan Jackson, someone they believe should be a “person of interest” in the case.
Jackson was 21 at the time of Huisentruit’s disappearance and living just two blocks from KIMT-TV — a fact Lowe and Alberio say can’t be overlooked.
“We don’t know if he is involved,” said Lowe, who worked on the WCCO-TV I-Team investigation on Jackson. “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.”
Sitting at a computer in Alberio’s home office, the two scrolled through a Minneapolis police transcript of an interview with a woman Jackson was convicted of sexually assaulting in 1997. They were searching for a clue that could connect Huisentruit to Jackson, who is serving a life sentence at the Minnesota Correctional Facility-Rush City for raping three women that year in Cottage Grove, Inver Grove Heights and St. Paul.
Despite Lowe’s and Alberio’s suspicions, Mason City police say no link between the convicted rapist and Huisentruit has ever been found and that Jackson is not a suspect in her disappearance. Jackson, who has denied any involvement in the case and said he never met Huisentruit, could not be reached for comment.
Benson hopes Saturday’s anniversary, which includes a “Finishing Jodi’s Journey” walk from a church near Huisentruit’s apartment complex to KIMT-TV, will help revive interest in the case.
“Anniversaries always serve as a way to get people reinvigorated,” Benson said. “People start to remember things again.
“Take a look at some of these cases that are being solved thanks to technology and thanks to social media and thanks to people just putting a renewed focus into them.”
Benson mentions the case of Cassandra Rhimes, a Minneapolis woman missing for nearly three decades. Her remains were found in May 2014 in Gooseberry Falls State Park in northern Minnesota and identified last month.
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