MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — She was a beautiful, blonde TV anchor that went missing nearly two decades ago. Jodi Huisentruit was declared legally dead in 2001. She would have turned 45 on Wednesday.
No one has ever been arrested for the disappearance of the Iowa news anchor but a team of experts in different fields from across the country have come together to work her case on a website called FindJodi.com.
It’s considered a growing trend in fighting crime, taking a community approach to find answers.
For a family that’s gone on without her for almost 18 years, Huisentruit is much more than the missing woman a generation has grown to know.
JoAnn Nathe is Huisentruit’s oldest sister. She does all she can to keep the memory of her baby sister alive.
“If you don’t keep it out there then it will die,”Nathe said.
Lt. Frank Sterns is the only officer still with the Mason City Police Department since that morning the anchorwoman never made it to work.
“Mason City has not forgotten Jodi. I don’t think America has forgotten Jodi,” Lt. Stearns said.
They found Huisentruit’s blowdryer, car keys and red high heels scattered across her apartment parking lot.
“We’ve made some headway but as far as being able to say are we getting closer to solving her case, no. We really haven’t made that much headway in the case,” Lt. Stearns said.
The department still takes at least a couple of calls a month on the case and only dedicates time to investigate if there are new clues.
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.
“Somebody has gotten away with murder for 18 years. People can’t get away with murder,” Alberio said.
Alberio has since retired as a Commander with the Woodbury Police Department. He has put his passion for Huisentruit’s case to work since he retired.
He is one of six professionals from across the country in law enforcement and media, looking back on this case to move it forward.
Tara Manis is another team member. She’s a TV producer living in Miami, Florida.
“You never know whose going to see it, what it will job in their memory and what lead we’ll get in next,” Manis said.
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.
FindJodi.com has done that with the Mason City Police Department. The team has been working with police for years.
“Has it lead to an arrest? No it hasn’t. But they’ve forwarded tips to us,” Lt. Stearns said.
For a family still waiting to know what happened, they’ll take the help no matter where it comes from as they begin another June without Jodi.
“We want to answers. We want to find her,” Nathe said.
An annual golf tournament will be held for Jodi in her hometown of Long Prairie, Minnesota on June 14.
Beginning on June 25, the FindJodi team will be live tweeting Huisentruit’s last 48 hours before she disappeared on June 27. You can sign up for updates on Jodi’s case on www.FindJodi.com.
WCCO Archives: Caroline Lowe Reports (Feb. 9, 1998)