Jodi Huisentruit’s sister holds on to hope 25 years later

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(ABC 6 News) – It’s been 25 years since the disappearance of local TV news anchor Jodi Huisentruit. ABC 6 News sits down with Jodi’s sister JoAnn Nathe who hasn’t given up hope in the search for Jodi.

JoAnn Nathe and Kelly Boyle sift through old photos of Jodi, they say it helps to keep her memory alive.

“Here we are in Russia, it was just so cold there, oh my, just like you think of in Russia, it was just so cold,” said Kelly Boyle.

“Who would have ever thought it would be this long,” said JoAnn Nathe.

It’s been 25 years since JoAnn Nathe has seen her sister Jodi.  “It’s just been a long road,” said Nathe, “I try not to let it get to me so much but there is stress, there is no question” 

Boyle, one of Jodi’s college friends, says Jodi was bubbly, fun and caring, “she was good at sending cards to people and remembering birthdays and now I do that, I know I got it from her.”

One of the last birthday cards Jodi sent her, listed details of the weeks leading up to her abduction.

“Happy birthday how are you? I wish we can celebrate together,” said Boyle as she read the birthday card, “I’m sorry I don’t think I can make the reunion, I recently bought a new car, a red convertible to cruise in.”

June 26th would become Jodi Huisentruit’s last morning newscast to ever anchor.  Now 25 years since the disappearance of the Minnesota native, it remains one of the most high profile cold cases in our region.

What happened to Jodi on the morning of June 27, 1995?

No eye witnesses, no suspect and still no sign of Jodi.  One thing is certain, investigators say whatever happened to Jodi took place outside of her apartment in Mason City. According to Mason City Police, Jodi was reportedly on her way to work at KIMT news less than a mile away when investigators say she was abducted in the parking lot of her apartment complex.

Outside of Jodi’s apartment, investigators found evidence of a struggle. Her personal items scattered in the parking lot, jewelry, shoes and a bag near her red convertible. And perhaps one of the most important pieces of evidence, a broken key.

According to police, Amy Kunz was working that morning Jodi disappeared. Kunz was the morning producer and she was the last person to have spoken to Jodi. Early investigations reveal she told police Jodi was late for work. On the morning of June 27, Kunz says she called Jodi and says Jodi answered and told her she was on her way in.

In an interview with ABC 6 News during the initial investigation, Kunz said, “we still our jobs to do and we just have to get a show on the air.” Kunz went on to anchor that morning in Jodi’s place. It wasn’t until hours later, that a phone call was made by the station to police that Jodi never arrived to work.  ABC 6 News reached out to Kunz for an interview to ask about that morning, she declined. 

“I can’t remember Jodi ever being late for work, or calling in sick, she’s a professional journalist and a very, very hard worker,” said then General Manager John Shine. Shine was seen during a press conference later that day describing a very different Jodi, a devoted employee who took her job seriously.

For many decades this case has puzzled the Mason City Police Department.

“What do you think you can do as a chief differently than the chiefs prior to you, that have had this case under their tenure and nothing has come about?” asked Lee of Chief Jeff Brinkley.

“I wasn’t here on day one, I walked into this situation 20 years after it happened with no responsibility to the case to that point, but I’d like to close it,” he said.

Chief Jeff Brinkley says bringing a fresh pair of eyes to the case could help.  When he was sworn in four years ago, he said he was going to make the Huisentruit case a priority. “Cold cases are of interest to a lot of people, it’s obviously a case that affected Mason City, and so if we can put closure to that, I’m interested in doing that,” said Brinkley.

“I’m not going to sit here and second guess decisions made by officers in the field 25 years ago about what they did. I will tell you that I don’t believe that any of them probably thought we’d still be working this case today,” he added.

Each year as time goes on, investigators say the case becomes harder to solve. But not impossible. “Technology always gets better and our ability to re-look at things that maybe weren’t of evidenciary value before, changes over time,” said Brinkley, “DNA has really revolutionized a lot of what we’re doing in policing.” 

“We’ve done some things in the past, that we tried to get results out of that have produced mixed results, but we’ll keep continue to see what the lab can do down that the lab couldn’t do five to ten years ago,” Brinkley added.

The case continues to receive national attention, from billboard campaigns to an episode on 48 Hours, to a group of former investigators and journalists being formed called Find Jodi, working solely to keep the investigation in the spotlight. 

“The Jodi Huisentruit case was probably not a perfect investigation from day one,” said Scott Fuller. “We’re not trying to solve the case, we’re trying to collect information and try to dispel some myths or inaccuracies of the case, and keep Jodi’s name out there, we’re not trying to do the job of police by any means.”

KAUS Radio Host Scott Fuller in Austin joined the team in January. He says every day the members of Find Jodi collaborate and discuss details of the case. The group has worked closely with law enforcement for the past decade.

“Is there something that the police department is not doing that the public is demanding?” asked Lee. “Obviously that is the benchmark, the solved case of the police doing their job, but I will say in cold cases, outwardly we look from the outside and we say what are you doing?  But there is oftentimes a lot that is going on that they can’t talk about or don’t want to, to preserve the integrity of the investigation,” said Fuller.

In their years of research and dispelling theories, one thing does remain certain for them.

“The biggest thing about the crime scene is the distance between the egress [window] to her car was so small, so it would have been a 10-12 second window,” said Fuller, “one thing most people can agree on is, somebody was sitting there waiting and they saw Jodi’s light go out and they waited for her to come out and they were ready and that’s when they took her.”

For the past 25 years, authorities have circled back to one man — John Vansice.  In 2017, a judge ordered the police records in the case be sealed. Court records show police executed the search warrant looking for GPS information on a pair of cars connected to John Vansice.  Vansice has long been a person of interest in the case.  According to Find Jodi, after more than 20 years Vansice, now living in Arizona, broke his silence and agreed to the first-ever interview with private investigator Steve Ridge. 

Vanisice insisted he had nothing to do with Jodi’s abduction and passed a polygraph test. He was subpoenaed to testify before a Federal Grand Jury in Iowa on March 2, 2017. The court documents revealed that Vansice was ordered to provide a DNA swab, in addition to prints.

In an interview with ABC 6 News last year, a mutual friend of both Jodi and John Vansice, Tammy Baker, says she spent the last weekend before Jodi’s disappearance with both of them. She says she helped to secure the interview with Vansice.

“I talked to John right after it happened and he was distraught and he felt he was being unfairly accused and I don’t think that’s changed over the years,” said Baker, “nobody had been able to talk to John, and I really felt that he deserved the chance to be heard.”

Details of Jodi’s case have remained sealed by the courts. Mason City Police Chief Jeff Brinkley says it will remain that way. 

“Will it continue to stay sealed?” asked Lee.

“I think it will stay sealed until we will close the case, at some point when we would administratively resolve the case in that we aren’t going to be able to clear it or there is some movement in the term of prosecution,” said Brinkley.

Brinkley wouldn’t comment on any specifics related to the case but did encourage anyone with information to go to the police.

“I’m not going to comment on that, it’s not up for public debate, it is not up for discussion, the people working on that case, the agencies on that case the people that need to know. are a part of that,” said Brinkley.

“We certainly understand the frustration that the public has with the Mason City Police, but we’re also having covered a lot of these cases, we are aware of what investigators have to do to preserve the case,” said Fuller.

“Do you believe the case can be solved?” asked Lee of Fuller.

“I do believe it’s solvable, otherwise we wouldn’t be doing this,” Fuller said.  “We’re not optimistic as a team really all of the time, but we kind of rally around each other and we feed off of each other and we just keep going, one step at a time, one day at a time, year-round just one foot in front of the other to find what happened to Jodi.”

“Every day of her life, she just lived to the fullest and you know, she just deserved better than this,” said Boyle.   “We miss her and we just didn’t get enough of her and it’s not fair that someone took her away from us.”

Jodi’s friends say she had big dreams and set many goals for herself. “I can’t even believe that I only knew her only eight years and now she’s been gone 25 years and she had such an impact though and I wonder how things could’ve been so different,” said Boyle.

While another year passes with no answers, Jodi’s friends say she will remain a big part of their lives. Boyle added, “I would just hope, whoever did this, I mean 25 years is a long time to carry this guilt, somebody knows something.”

JoAnn believes someone does know something. The loss of her baby sister has haunted her life and has left a big void. “I still remember sitting in the recliner just frozen all night not able to move and those feelings come back every so often, the stress and the sadness and your life just changes,” she said.

JoAnn and Jodi’s mother passed away a few years ago never having the answer and JoAnn says the thought of that is too much to bear. So, she will continue to choose hope.

“Please come forward, it’s just been too long,” said Nathe. “It’s not fair to her, she’s a good kid, we have to find her, we have to find her.”

A plea from a sister, who has been hurting for more than two decades, to finally have some peace.