Who killed Jodi Huisentruit?: Fired Mason City police officer accuses investigators of role in cold case
Jodi Huisentruit on the job at KIMT, before her mysterious disappearance.
Jodi Huisentruit, a beautiful, blond anchorwoman originally from Long Prairie, has been missing for 16 years. On the morning she disappeared, producers at her Iowa television station notified police when she missed her morning call. At her apartment they found her car -- the key snapped off in the lock -- blood, and the contents of her purse strewn on the ground.
Those were the last traces of Huisentruit and there's been nothing but questions since.
Now, a recently fired officer in the Mason City Police Department is accusing three top officials involved in the investigation of having a hand in the 16-year-old mystery.
At 27 years old, Huisentruit was enjoying a burgeoning TV career. She got a broadcasting degree at St. Cloud State and worked for a time at KSAX in Alexandria. Pretty and personable, she became a well-liked TV personality when she moved to Mason City to anchor at KIMT.
On the morning of her disappearance, Huisentruit overslept. Her producer called to wake her up around 4 a.m. and said Huisentruit was asking normal questions, like how much time she had left to put the morning show together. When the show started at 6 a.m., another anchor subbed in and producers called police. Once her car and belongings were found, witnesses came forward and offered what little they knew: a white van had been seen nearby. A few thought they'd heard screams, but no one called police.
Then, nothing. Despite thousands of tips, years of work by police, private investigators and psychics, pieces on 20/20 and America's Most Wanted, and even a book by Minneapolis author Beth Bednar that was just released this summer, no one is sure what happened.
Huisentruit was declared legally dead in 2001.
Now in a bizarre twist, Maria Ohl, a ten year veteran of the Mason City Police Department has come out with allegations that Huisentruit's disappearance was an inside job.
Ohl was fired by the department in early August. Before her termination she'd already been having trouble within the department -- she filed a discrimination complaint against the department in 2010. She claimed she was being sexually harassed and discriminated against based on her religion. Ohl is a part of a church that recently sued the police department and got an $85,000 settlement.
Then, according to Ohl, she came forward to her superiors with information implicating her own superiors in the disappearance of Huisentruit. She says she heard from a source in 2007 who simply said that "lieutenants were potentially involved in the murder and abduction of Jodi Huisentruit." She says she heard from those sources again in 2009, who were able to name names. Ohl claims she was terminated for not "handling the information properly."
Late last week, Ohl appeared to get the date of a hearing to appeal her termination. She used the opportunity to tell reporters the names the people she believes are involved: Lt. Frank Stearns, Lt. Ron Vande Weerd and a retired member of the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation named Bill Basler.
"I just want the truth to come out," she told a NorthIowaToday.com reporter.
Stearns and Vande Weerd have been working on the case ever since she disappeared. Stearns once told a reporter he keeps Huisentruit's driver's license on his office wall to remind him of her.
Mason City Police Chief Mike Lashbrook says that while he's not surprised by the allegations Ohl is leveling, he isn't commenting specifically on Stearns or Vande Weerd.
"There's plenty to dispute," he says. "She claims a lot of things are going to come out then we'll see what that is and be prepared to respond."
Joshua Benson is an evening anchor at an ABC affiliate in Orlando who founded the site FindJodi.com and has been following the story since he was a reporter in the area 16 years ago. He says Ohl reached out to him five months ago and that he agreed to check into her story. He says he thought they were working together and was surprised to see she'd told the names of the investigators to the media.
"We're not comfortable with her sources at this point. There's not enough corroborating evidence," he says.
Ohl could not be reached for comment. Much more is likely to come out at her termination hearing, which is currently scheduled for September 13.
Hear all of Ohl's comments in the interview below:
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