MASON CITY | It was 20 years ago today that KIMT-TV news anchor Jodi Huisentruit disappeared from the parking lot of her apartment building in Mason City, never to be seen again.
The case remains unsolved, but Huisentruit has not been forgotten by her friends and co-workers, nor by law enforcement.
"I can still hear her laughing and talking," said Robin Wolfram, news anchor at KTTC-TV in Rochester, Minnesota, who worked at KIMT when Huisentruit was there.
Lt. Rich Jensen, head of investigations at the Mason City Police Department, said someone has always been working on the case.
"We never tucked it away," he said.
Investigators have long believed someone grabbed Huisentruit, who was 27 at the time, shortly after 4 a.m. on June 27, 1995, as she went to her red car in the parking lot of Key Apartments.
Neighbors said they heard a scream around then and saw a white van in the lot.
After Huisentruit didn't make it to KIMT for the 6 a.m. news broadcast, station management called the police, who went to Key Apartments and found Huisentruit's red high heels, blow dryer, hair spray and earrings strewn across the lot. Her bent car key lay on the ground near the car, and police believe she was unlocking her car door when she was taken.
A partial palm print was found on her car, but there were no other substantial clues at the scene.
Jensen was working in the patrol division at the time.
"There was a lot of publicity," he said. "We had never seen anything like that before."
The investigation was "ramped up quickly" with state and federal officials responding right away, Jensen said.
A command post was set up at the police station for all the tips coming in. Jensen said additional phone lines were "hanging from the ceiling."
News satellite trucks were parked up and down the street. Two or three news conferences were held each day.
Was her abduction related to her being a news anchor?
"That's always a possibility," Jensen said.
However, it's also possible her abduction was unrelated to what she did for a living, he said.
Over the years there have been times when something will cause a "big flurry of activity" in the case, such as finding human remains, according to Jensen. However, in each of those instances, it turned out to have no connection to Huisentruit.
He said the department gets about one to four leads a month in the Huisentruit case. They tend to be leads the police have already heard about and checked on, but the department goes back each time and takes another look, according to Jensen.
Whenever the Huisentruit case is featured on a TV show that features unsolved crimes, such as "Dateline," the number of calls from the public with possible information about the case increases, Jensen said. The calls come from all over the country.
"We know with the (20th) anniversary there will be a lot of attention and rightly so," Jensen said. "It's a big case for the people who live here and knew Jodi. It affected them."
He said the police want someone definite they can hold responsible for what happened to Huisentruit.
Doug Merbach, who was the news director at KIMT when Huisentruit disappeared, said, "It doesn't get any easier as the years go by."
He said in a way it gets more frustrating because after all these years what happened to her remains a mystery.
Still, "I think you always have hope, no matter what, that something happens to break the case," he said.
Merbach described Huisentruit, who grew up in Long Prairie, Minnesota, as "very high-spirited, full of life."
She was hard-working and talented, he said.
She also enjoyed golf, Merbach said, noting the day before she disappeared she was playing in a golf event at the Mason City Country Club.
Merbach now works as the community outreach coordinator/communications specialist for Elderbridge Agency on the Aging in Mason City. The office is near KIMT, so whenever he looks out the window he can see the tree planted outside the station for Huisentruit.
"Thoughts of Jodi are never far away," he said.
Wolfram, a native of Ventura, said she and Huisentruit were good friends as well as co-workers. They would have lunch together and go the Twin Cities together on weekends.
"She had an amazing personality," she said.
Her family would say "Jodi is our sunshine," Wolfram said.
She said she "senses that she has passed on" but she still holds out hope of finding out what happened to Huisentruit.
Whenever she hears about someone finding human remains, her first reaction is "are they female remains?"
Wolfram said she remembers talking with Huisentruit about men and career and life and family.
Wolfram said she thinks Huisentruit would have gone on to do great things in the world.
"I am sure she would have been an amazing mother by now," she said.
Wolfram said she still sometimes thinks about all the things they could be talking about.
"The world lost an amazing person that day," she said. "That was a day that a light went out and it was such a bright one."