On June 27, 1995, Jodi Huisentruit was running late to anchor the morning news at KIMT-TV, just a mile away from the 27-year-old’s small-town Iowa home — but she never showed up for work. For 24 years, the Minnesota native’s family and friends have been searching and tormented with numerous theories of her mysterious fate.
Huisentruit’s case is now the subject of the two-hour premiere episode for Oxygen’s true-crime series “Up and Vanished,” based on the hit investigative podcast of the same name. The show focuses on cases of missing individuals from across the country as host Payne Lindsey and his team of investigative podcasters search or answers to help the families gain a sense of closure.
The team not only interviews new witnesses, but persons of interest are also confronted.
Huisentruit was previously the focus of a 2013 special titled “Breaking News” on Investigation Discovery [ID]. Then in 2015, Huisentruit’s former KIMT-TV colleague Brian Mastre produced a half-hour special report to coincide with the 20th anniversary of her mysterious disappearance. ABC’s “20/20” also updated its programming on Huisentruit’s story in 2004.
Lindsey told Fox News he had no qualms on speaking to numerous sources in hopes of shedding new light on cold cases like Huistentruit's.
“I think when a person goes missing, it’s horrible because you don’t know what happened,” the 32-year-old explained. “More than likely they’re deceased, but often there’s zero proof of that. And for families and friends who have… zero closure, it’s horrible.
“I think with any disappearance, it’s always a little mind-blowing that someone can just completely vanish like that without a trace. So for any family member, it’s very frustrating. Their search for answers, it’s just never-ending sometimes.”
Lindsey admitted that he too was stunned that Huisentruit, a beloved fixture in the community with a high-profile career, would suddenly vanish without a trace.
“All we know is that it looks like in the parking lot she was probably abducted there, right there at her car,” he said. “It looked like she had got up… to go to work and someone had basically ambushed her right there. Her key was broken off into her car door and some of her stuff was scattered about there... And then who knows from there.”
Six months after Huisentruit’s disappearance, the Des Moines Register reported there were no solid suspects, despite an extensive police search. And while investigators have tracked down several people of interest over the years, the main suspect has never been uncovered.
Lindsey has his suspicions.
“You could speculate [it’s] some weird fan of hers or something [who] admired her on TV and took it too far,” he shared. “That’s always possible. But I think it’s probably someone close to Jodi, someone who had feelings for Jodi. It looks to me like a crime of passion. I don’t know why anyone who would hurt Jodi unless they maybe felt rejected.”
“… There’s a particular individual who was close to Jodi whose behavior I found to often contradict itself,” he continued. “He’s always been a person of interest in many people’s eyes for a long time, and he’s always claimed that he had love for Jodi and really wants the best for her. But all these years later, he’s one of the few people who doesn’t want anything to do with finding her. And I find that really weird.”
Huisentruit’s family has speculated over the years on what could have happened to the star reporter. Her mother Jane Huisentruit said she thinks her daughter is at the bottom of a lake near her home, the Des Moines Register reported. And like Lindsay, Huisentruit’s cousin Mary Lee Moberg suspected a stalker could have been behind the disappearance.
“From what everyone tells me, Jodi was very bubbly and bright and she’s very intelligent,” said Lindsey. “She really had a bright future ahead of her. She was just getting started in her news career and had big dreams of probably even eventually leaving that town… really see her career flourish. But someone took that away from her.”
Despite the nearly 25-year mystery, Lindsey believes shows like “Up and Vanish” can resurrect interest in the case, compelling those with information to finally come forward in hopes of giving loved ones long-awaited answers.
“I think shows like this bring notoriety to some of these cases and spotlight them,” he said. “Giving listeners and viewers details about these cases. This day and age, there’s an entire Reddit FBI out there and Websleuths all over the place. I think just spreading the information and keeping the case alive is the most that you can do sometimes. And I think shows like this can help do that.”
CBS’s “48 Hours,” which previously explored the case, highlighted police interviews with John Vansice, a friend of the Huisentruit who is believed to be the last person to have seen her before she vanished, reported the Des Moines Register.
According to the outlet, Mason City police executed search warrants in 2018 for cars belong to Vansice, who is 20 years older than Huisentruit and may have had an infatuation with her. He declined to comment on the case to “48 Hours.”
That same special also featured Tony Jackson, who was put behind bars for a string of Minnesota rapes during the ‘90s, the outlet pointed out. He was living in Mason City when Husentruit disappeared. However, Mason City police noted Jackson was not a “viable suspect.” While Jackson declined an interview with “48 Hours,” he maintained his innocence.
Today, the case is considered cold and Huistentruit was declared legally dead in 2001. However, Lindsey shared her family is still determined as ever to learn what really happened on that horrific day.
“[Investigaors] might say [the case] is active or whatever,” he said. “But clearly there are no big leads. if there were, we’d be hearing about them. A lot of these cases, they do go cold, but the police just kind of hold on to them and say that they’re active because they don’t have a resolution and they’re technically still trying to find one. And so, therefore, it is active. But I don’t think someone’s going to work every day and opening up Jodi’s case file… I think whoever did this to Jodi covered their tracks and apparently, they did a pretty good job.”
“I hope that audiences can really have a better understanding of what it might be like for a family to endure one of their loved ones going missing,” he shared. “I think that this show really does capture that heartbreak and also kind of captures a lot of the holes in the justice system and how things can go wrong, especially in smaller towns where there isn’t as much oversight. And so, I hope the audience can learn from this and if anything, connect the dots somewhere.”
"Up and Vanished" airs February 15 at 7 p.m. on Oxygen.