On this 20th anniversary of Jodi Huisentruit’s abduction, I feel a mixture of deep sadness and some sense of hope as I reflect on her case.
When I first reported a series of WCCO TV I-Team stories on her unsolved disappearance back in 1998, I never dreamed what happened to Jodi would still be a mystery 18 years later.
Our reports focused on a serial rapist involved in several Minnesota cases that happened in 1997, almost two years after Jodi disappeared on her way to work as a morning anchor at KIMT TV in Mason City, Iowa. Our WCCO I-Team spent months investigating Tony Jackson, a convicted rapist, after we learned from Minnesota police detectives he was living in Mason City at the time Jodi was abducted.
As part of our investigation, I talked with Jackson on the phone from jail.
He denied ever meeting Jodi or having anything to do with her disappearance. (He also denied being involved in the string of rapes in the Twin Cities. He’s serving a life sentence in Minnesota for those convictions.)
Our I-Team investigation found Jackson was living just two blocks from KIMT TV back on June 27,1995; that his girlfriend looked a lot like Jodi and broke up with him the week before the abduction; and that he hosted a college talk show a couple months earlier.
Given these circumstances and Jackson’s record of stalking women and sexual violence, it was clear he needed to be thoroughly investigated — to rule him in or out for Jodi’s abduction. There just weren’t many people, if any besides Jackson, with his kind of background who were living in that small Iowa city back in 1995.
Mason City Police have said in the past they have nothing to connect Jackson to Jodi’s case. But 18 years after our WCCO I-Team reports, I agree with FindJodi team member Jay Alberio that Jackson deserves a second look. (Jay was the Woodbury Police Department investigator who handled a rape case Jackson was charged with in that city in 1997. He joined our FindJodi team after retiring a couple years ago.)
Our position is based on information developed after the Minnesota rape cases and reinforced by a witness who came to the FindJodi team several months ago. That man said he went with Jackson to a former Mason City bar, the Southbridge Lounge, to meet Jodi just weeks before she disappeared. That contradicts Jackson’s denial to me in 1998 that he’d never met Jodi.
Mason City police have said they plan to talk with the man who most recently came forward about his claims about Jackson meeting Jodi. Maybe this tip will turn out, once again, to be a lead that goes nowhere. Maybe it will turn out Jackson had nothing to do with Jodi’s disappearance.
But the latest lead also gives me hope someone else will come forward soon with the critical information needed to find out what happened to Jodi.
We don’t want to mark another anniversary not knowing “where’s Jodi?”
Caroline Lowe’s reports from the the I-Team