Cracking the Case: The desperate search to close cold cases

(ABC 6 News) – Twenty-eight years ago Tuesday, Mason City news anchor Jodi Huisentruit disappeared, beginning years of searching for answers.

Her family is not the only one who has had to live with the emotional rollercoaster of not knowing what happened to their loved one.

As Tad DiBiase, a former Assistant United States Attorney, and someone who specializes in “no body” cases explains – “No case ever goes cold as long as there are detectives actively investigating.”

According to Merriam-Webster, cold cases are unsolved criminal investigations not being worked on because of a lack of evidence. A term Rochester Police takes differently.

“It’s not just sitting on a shelf collecting dust with nobody looking at it at all,” said Rochester Police Captain Casey Moilanen. “A cold case to me would be a case where you’ve followed up on everything that you can follow up on. You don’t have any more leads or tips coming in. You really just can’t think of anything else to do.”

RELATED: 28 years of searching for Jodi Huisentruit

Twenty-eight years ago, Jodi Huisentruit went missing. An incident that would change the Mason City community forever.

A moment Scott Fuller, a Podcaster with FindJodi says many don’t forget.

“Talking to people who were around Minnesota and Iowa, it’s like a JFK moment. If they were here, they remember hearing about Jodi disappearing,” said Fuller.

On June 27, 1995, Huisentruit got a call she was late to anchor the morning show but never showed up. A shoe, bent key, and Jodi’s red 1991 Mazda Miata, were the few clues investigators have to go off of.

“You just never know where different information that people walk in the room with can fit into the investigation,” said Chief Jeff Brinkley with the Mason City Police Department. “And how that can put us on a path that helps us to get some resolution.”

Fuller became interested in Jodi’s case when he was asked to do a podcast special. Now a team member of FindJodi, this has become personal for him.

“Getting to know over the years her sister, and her family and friends. Just a world where that can happen and no one is caught I think I have a problem with,” said Fuller.

Private Investigator Steve Ridge has been working independently on this case since the 90s.

“I don’t think time is a factor in motivation,” said Ridge. “I think progress is. I continue to gather new information on a steady basis and I think that it will all eventually fit together.”

New information including this finding: Ridge said when Jodi got her red 1991 Mazda Miata, the transaction was “a bit of an arms-length transaction” and a third party was involved. Ridge says this could mean the person who gave Jodi the car in part as a gift, was not the previous owner.

Fuller, is hopeful new evidence will continue to be discovered.

“I’m still hopeful that there is some kind of evidence whether that’s stuff we know about, physical evidence, or maybe something we don’t know about that can be tested with advanced technology,” said Fuller.

Technology that could be the answer.

“The Mason City Police Department has given me that hope. They’re constantly referring to advancing technology without being specific about what they’re referring to,” said Fuller.

A wait for answers one mother knows all too well.

Patty Wetterling’s son Jacob went missing in St. Joseph Minnesota in 1989. It wasn’t until 2015 that his family finally got answers.

“A really big mixed, mixed, mixed bag of emotions. The other thing was, it becomes your identity. I was a searching mother for 27 years. So when Jacob was found, now who are you? The sheriff was an older guy who was ready to retire and he pulled in everybody he knew, you got horses, you got dogs, come and help, I will forever be grateful for that,” said Wetterling.

Grateful, with a touch of regret.

“One thing I do wrestle with is the way our case got resolved is because a blogger, now a friend, Joy Baker found an article in the paper from 1987 where these boys had been victimized in a nearby town. A lot of those cases were never investigated fully. Had they investigated those cases in 1987, perhaps Jacob would’ve never been taken in the first place.”

RELATED: RPD seeks information on two unsolved homicides

April Sorensen was 27-years-old when she was killed in her northwest Rochester home in 2007. A TV technician called in a fire first responders say wasn’t an accident. An autopsy revealed she was strangled and stabbed to death.

“There’s no other information to follow up on. It might be stagnant,” Captain Moilanen said.

In 2020, Robert Volgmann was assaulted and killed in his northwest Rochester apartment. His body was discovered several days later.

“Investigators are not coming in that day and working on that case because there’s nothing to do,” added Moilanen. “But it’s still an active, open investigation that’s assigned to them.”

A heavy weight RPD hopes can be lifted with a $100,000 reward funded by police.

“It’s something that we don’t give up on. We really want to bring justice to the victim and some closure to the family if we can. That’s a heavy weight to bear,” said Moilanen.

RELATED: Mason City woman still missing after 40 years

Forty years ago, Grace Esquivel of Mason City, was reported missing. Her parents went to drop off her daughter and found an empty home. Her wallet and driver’s license were left behind.

Chief Brinkley says in Mason City, evidence is reassessed periodically. In hope, science can help at some point later on.

A few weeks, or decades.

“The leads and things are not coming in as fast and furiously in a more recent case,” DiBiase explained. “You don’t need a number of resources. You need one very dedicated detective.”

Dedication, Captain Moilanen wants people to understand.

“Understand that we are doing everything we can. We are actively talking with professionals, and experts, about what technology is out there. We are passionate about solving these cases, and the investigators take it to heart. They want to bring justice to the victim and closure to the families,” said Moilanen.

As another emotional year goes by, ABC 6 News reached out to Jodi’s family. While they were unable to speak, they did issue a public statement ahead of Jodi’s disappearance anniversary. Read the full statement at the link below.

RELATED: Jodi Huisentruit’s family releases statement 28 years after disappearance

The plea to bring her, Grace, April, and Robert home.

Anyone with information on Jodi or Grace’s case can reach out to the Mason City Police Department at 641-421-3636 or the Iowa Missing Person Information Clearinghouse at 515-725-6036 or email:

Anyone who may have information regarding Sorensen and Volgmann’s homicide is asked to call 507-328-2897 or Crime Stoppers of Rochester & Olmsted County at 1-800-222-8477.