Jodi Huisentruit Disappearance: a Rather Shocking Update

Next month it will be twenty-seven years since the abduction of Jodi Sue Huisentruit, a television news anchor at KIMT, the CBS affiliate in Mason City, Iowa. Jodi was taken at the age of twenty-seven in the early morning hours of the twenty-seventh of June, 1995. She was attacked in the parking lot fronting her apartment building as she was attempting to get into her red Mazda Miata sometime after 4 a.m. while it was still dark out. Jodi had to arrive very early for her morning shift at the news and was actually running late that day. A co-worker from the studio had called and awakened a groggy Jodi to ask why she had not shown up.

Jodi’s possessions were found scattered on the ground around the vehicle, including the bent key which she had already inserted into the driver’s side door when someone presumably wrenched her violently from behind. Her shoes also left drag marks on the asphalt. These telltale bits of physical evidence paint a dire picture of what transpired. Additionally, screams were heard by residents of the apartment complex. Yet no one saw anything that happened by her car nor even contacted the police that morning. These screams were only described later when police interviewed the residents of the complex. The crime scene would not have police on site for several hours.

For those familiar with the case, there have always been two main scenarios which quickly gained the upper hand as possible explanations for this abduction. John Vansice was a close male friend, considerably older, who paid Jodi obsessive attention and seemed way too into Jodi for the sort of friendship they allegedly had. He showed up at the crime scene very early that morning and was chipper when conversing with police and offering all sorts of information about his friendship with Jodi. He told them he was the last person to see her when she allegedly stopped by his apartment the night before to watch a video shot at her recent birthday party. After twenty minutes or so, he said, she headed home. He soon began referring to Jodi in the past tense in his media interviews, never a good thing.

The other possibility is that Jodi had a stalker who eventually escalated his obsession to an abduction. Jodi had alluded to nuisance phone calls (this was the landline days, before cellular technology was widely available) from a creep and stated that a pickup truck had once followed her when she was walking outside. She had even taken a self-defense course, possibly because of that unnerving experience.

So imagine the surprise of those of us who have followed this case to suddenly learn from private investigator Steve Ridge that there was a mystery man who began a whirlwind romance with Jodi shortly before her abduction. Ridge has worked this case diligently for years and probably has the best information and best insight into the disappearance. He secured what will probably be one of the last interviews with Vansice that ever happens, barring his potential emergence as the perpetrator/predator. Ridge always conducts himself ethically and gives everyone he interviews the benefit of the doubt. He is circumspect and fair. But I think if you read between the lines of the pronouncements he makes in this video clip, he sees this mystery man (who somehow miraculously avoided being publicly associated with the case all these years) as more of a potential witness than a predator. It is good to know that the police vetted this probable love interest of Jodi’s, grilled him, went through his trash, presumably polygraphed him, etc. It sounds as though they did due diligence. However, we know nothing of his personal history, his character, his age at the time or even his name. He is a blank.

But he is an interesting blank. Because for those who believe Jodi’s abduction followed some sort of romantic rejection, here is the gunpowder that might have ignited. Had the friend-zoned older man who could not be taken seriously as a suitor learned of this new relationship, which sounds as though it was most likely a whirlwind romance? Could this have triggered the all-too-horrifically-familiar “If I can’t have you, no one will” murder?

Here are two speculations/scenarios on what might have happened in Mason City all those years ago. Please consider these imagined scenarios, fictions. These are possibilities for which nothing other than circumstantial evidence exists. But it is human to speculate.

  1. Jodi does indeed stop in at Vansice’s residence to watch the videotape of her birthday party. She consumes a beverage that makes her feel strange, woozy. She can’t wait to get out of there and quickly returns to her apartment, less than a five minute drive. Later, she is nauseous. This is why the toilet seat in her apartment is found in the “up” position when police take evidentiary photographs. She has been vomiting. This is why she oversleeps and does not hear her alarm. This is why the news studio has to call and wake her. She is beginning to suspect what has happened to her, that she has been drugged. She knows who did it. The one who drugged her fears all his efforts have now been in vain. What’s worse, he will face legal consequences. He panics and decides to abduct her when she emerges to go to work in the darkness. He has been waiting in her parking lot for some time. After the murder or after he has her secured somewhere, restrained or locked away, he makes sure to set up his early morning alibi, first with his walking/jogging partner and then later with the police when he shows up insanely early at the crime scene.
  2. Jodi never goes to watch the video at Vansice’s. She is exhausted from her long day at the golf charity event and just wants to relax at home and possibly contact her new romantic interest, the mystery man. This new blossoming romance has been watched for some time with increasing frustration and anger. There has been spying going on. The recent dirty telephone calls have actually originated from the spurned would-be lover, disguising his voice and making nasty character-assassinating remarks, calling her a “slut,” etc. Maybe there was a late night meeting between Jodi and this new romantic interest and he was seen exiting her apartment at a very late hour by the jealous one. This would explain the toilet seat being left in the “up” position. Possibly some drinking or just a great night of fun left Jodi exhausted and she overslept her alarm. When she finally emerges from the apartment, there is hell to pay. Vansice, who can be seen dancing in the video clip of a party released with this case, appears to be a giant of a fellow, large framed and powerful. Indeed, he was exactly the sort of man who could drag Jodi across the parking lot and toss her into a vehicle.

There is always the possibility that there was a tertium quid, an unknown stalker who took Jodi. If you believe the reports about the Econoline van seen in the parking lot that morning and don’t feel it is a red herring, then there is that possibility. But Jodi did not emerge at her expected time. If a stalker had waited for her to come out that night, he probably would have assumed she had called off work or gotten spooked when she did not appear at the expected time. So this subtracts a little of the likelihood of that.

I think this is one of those cases where most people know who the perpetrator is and he just got lucky in his evil, similar to what happened with the Jackie Markham disappearance. The most likely culprit in that latter case has died and allegedly the most likely culprit here in Jodi’s case is now suffering from dementia. One wonders if dementia loosens the tongues of killers who have kept quiet for so many years. It seems it might be possible. So there may still be a confession, albeit a very strangely produced one.

And then, maybe that man is totally innocent and just looks guilty as hell. But I know where I would place my money if this were a bet. Where can one go with the case in terms of evidence, short of a body being found? It seems unlikely there would be usable DNA evidence on the items dropped by Jodi during her abduction and the car was barely processed for a day or two before being given back to the family. Sadly, Ridge is probably right that the car held no useful evidence since the abduction took place as Jodi attempted to enter it, not after she got in. And the objects she dropped are probably similarly worthless as evidence, but I suppose they should be re-analyzed using the latest super-sensitive DNA extraction methods. That would probably only return a useful hit if it were indeed a stranger abduction. Because otherwise people like the main known persons-of-interest would have plausible deniability of having been in Jodi’s apartment before and touched her things. The best bets to solve this case would be finding her remains in an incriminating location and/or with incriminating materials or DNA on them or a confession, deathbed or otherwise.

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