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The Longest Wait

John Daniel, with his daughter Jamie, has spent two years trying to piece together what happened to his oldest daughter Roseanna
Craig Lassig

John Daniel believes he heard his daughter's last words. In late August of 1998, Daniel awoke in the middle of the night in his St. Cloud apartment to the sound of his oldest daughter, 15-year-old Roseanna, calling out his name. He had not seen Roseanna for about two weeks and went downstairs to let her in. But she was nowhere to be found.

More than two years later, seated at a wobbly table in his Spartan St. Cloud apartment, the 51-year-old janitor and single father says he believes that the voice he heard that night was his daughter screaming for help--from more than 60 miles away in St. Paul. "I believe that when she hollered my name that was her last words as the guy tightened the telephone cord around her neck," Daniel says.

Despite Daniel's certainty in relating the circumstances surrounding his daughter's death, the fate of Roseanna Forcum and her then-21-year-old friend April Geyer is officially unknown. In August of 1998, the girls disappeared from their homes in the St. Cloud area. For a year and a half, nothing was known of their fate. Daniel clung to a hope that Roseanna had run away to California, as some of her friends said she'd talked about doing. "I just kind of accepted the fact that when Rosie could get free, or she got tired of being there, she would call me, and then I could make arrangements to send her money and have her flown home," says Daniel, his younger daughter Jamie, age 14, seated next to him.

Then in late January of this year, Daniel got a call from Detective Mark Kempe of the St. Paul Police Department, who said he had information about the missing girls. Shortly thereafter Daniel, along with April Geyer's mother, Gloria Homstad, went to the St. Cloud police headquarters to meet with Kempe. The detective said an informant had come forward and told police that a friend of his had strangled the girls to death (hence Daniel's mental image of the phone cord around Roseanna's neck) and that he'd helped to bury them in Wadena County, near the Leaf River. Kempe told Daniel and Homstad that the police, with the guidance of the informant, had made an initial, unsuccessful attempt to recover the bodies two weeks earlier. The search was called off because of snow and ice.

Nine months later Roseanna Forcum and April Geyer have yet to be found--alive or dead. Unlike high-profile cases such as last year's murder of Katie Poirier, or the 1989 abduction of 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling, the disappearance of Geyer and Forcum has slipped beneath the media radar screen. Nothing has been written about the case in local newspapers or broadcast on television.

Part of the reason for the dearth of attention could be that the apparent victims in this case don't fit the description for angelic martyrs. Homstad says that before disappearing her daughter had been reeling from her boyfriend's drowning a year earlier. "She was angry," Homstad says. "She couldn't hold down a job. She was depressed. She sought her comfort through alcohol and crank [methamphetamine]." Geyer left behind a now-eight-year-old son, whom Homstad is raising.

Roseanna Forcum, meanwhile, had recently completed a summer program for juvenile offenders because she was repeatedly delinquent from school. "She more or less comes from a single-parent family, because the mother didn't really want anything to do with her," says Daniel. "I had to fill in for mom also. That's kinda hard to do."

Jane Kirtley, the Silha Professor of Media Ethics and Law at the University of Minnesota, says that more than the class or virtue of the victims, the likely reason for the lack of media attention is simply that the cops haven't sought any. "To a great extent media coverage of crimes, solved and unsolved, is driven by law enforcement's public-relations spin on it," Kirtley says. "If they publicize a case, then the media is more likely to follow it and bird-dog it."

The cops are not anxious to discuss the disappearance of Geyer and Forcum. Detective Kempe was on vacation last week and unavailable for comment. According to Michael Jordan, a spokesman for the St. Paul Police Department, law enforcement has done everything possible to recover the bodies. "Between ourselves, the [state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension], and the sheriff in [Wadena] County, we have had cadaver dogs there, there's been three or four searches, we dug up so much ground that the [Department of Natural Resources] is angry with us because we diverted a stream there, and we're getting ready to go back in a week or so for another search," says Jordan. "It may be that there's no one there, that the informant is not telling us the truth."  

Because the investigation is ongoing, the St. Paul Police Department will not give out any additional information about the case. Other law enforcement officers are equally tight-lipped about the investigation. Don Enger, a special agent with the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension who has worked on the case, says, "There's nothing I can comment on." Wadena County Sheriff Mike Carr confirms that the police have made several attempts to recover the bodies, but refers other questions to the St. Paul PD. "It's not an easy area to excavate by any means," Carr says, noting that the area surrounding the supposed gravesite is frequently flooded.

Forensics experts say that it is not unusual for attempts to recover bodies to be unsuccessful--especially when the searches are prompted by informants. Michael Finnegan, a forensic anthropologist at Kansas State University, says he has participated in at least ten searches in the last decade, and that each failed to unearth a body. "It's not uncommon at all," Finnegan says. "In fact, it's typically the rule."

Furthermore, Finnegan notes, informants are often unreliable or have ulterior motives, such as reducing their own jail time. "If the informant is good, and the information is good, then there's not so much difficulty," Finnegan notes. "But if the information is off 40 or 50 meters in heavily wooded terrain, you might as well be looking on Mars."

On July 10, the families of the two girls accompanied police officers to the purported gravesite in Wadena County. Two cadaver dogs were brought in to sniff around the area and to try and pinpoint the exact locations of the bodies. Daniel claims that they were never told what the outcome of the search was, and that there's been no contact with police since then.

Michael Jordan, of the St. Paul Police Department, says that the reason for this is simple: There is no new information to tell the families. "We've found nothing," he says. "What more can we tell them?"

The lack of communication with the cops has left John and Jamie Daniel angry and confused. "If it would have been somebody famous, somebody known, not just two street girls that have been missing, they would have been out of there in January," says Jamie. "This would have all been over with."

Her father concurs. "It's apparent that I'm not rich and famous, and that they will not go back up there because of that."

Susan Herman, executive director of the National Center for Victims of Crime, agrees that the families' background often has an impact on how cases are handled. "As in most parts of our society, the race, the class, and the particular circumstances of the victim and the victim's family often play a role in the kind of treatment that they get," she says. "The criminal justice system is no exception."

In the case of Katie Poirier, her kidnapping spurred the use of boats, Cobra helicopters, and members of the National Guard in trying to track her down. Patty Wetterling, Jacob's mother, points out that a key difference in Poirier's case was that there was a videotape of her abduction and that she was still thought to be alive at the time of the search. "In the case of ours and in Katie Poirier's case there were witnesses to tell us that it wasn't a runaway," says Wetterling, who now runs the Jacob Wetterling Foundation, which works to prevent kidnappings. There are thousands of runaways in the state of Minnesota each year, she adds, and police can't investigate each with the same fervor they dedicate to abductions.

Despite the inability of the police to locate his daughter, Daniel remains convinced that she is buried in Wadena County. He says that the ongoing search has prevented him from returning to a normal life. Seven days a week he works part-time at the local VFW hall, cleaning and setting up for events, and then rushes home to try to solve the mystery of his daughter's disappearance.

"I come home and sit and try to collect my thoughts about this whole situation that I'm in with my daughter and my deceased daughter, and how the hell we can get her out of the ground and back to St. Cloud where I can bury her properly," Daniel says. "I'm sure once she's brought up and I can put her to rest, my life will turn around and I can start the healing process."

Homstad had to take two months off from her job working the night shift at a plant that manufactures overhead projectors after police told her about her daughter's apparent murder. To cope with the stress, she takes sedatives and antidepressants. Homstad still holds out hope that her daughter may be alive. "As a parent you don't give up hope," Homstad says. "You try to think of all these different scenarios for what could have happened to them. It hurts like hell but you can't give up. There's no body. There's no evidence. Maybe this is just a big nightmare."

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