For the past two weeks, the true-crime world has had its eyes fixated on missing minors, Joshua “J.J.” Vallow and Tylee Ryan, and the mysterious string of deaths that preceded their disappearance. This case of missing children has already taken so many unexpected turns, leaving family, friends, and journalists alike wondering what disturbing new detail will emerge yet.
last confirmed sighting of J.J. was back in September of 2019, when his
mother, Lori Vallow pulled him out of public school, citing
a new job offer out of state that would require her to move her children as
well. It was not entirely unexpected, as Vallow also cited the recent death of
J.J.’s father as another reason why their family life remained in flux. What
she failed to mention was the fact that J.J.’s father, Charles Vallow, had been
murdered the previous July when her own brother, Alex Cox, shot Charles in
self-defense. She swiftly remarried a man named Chad Daybell, who had also
recently lost his spouse, Tammy Daybell. Both Charles Vallow and Tammy Daybell’s
deaths are currently being investigated as “suspicious” by respective law enforcement
agencies. Lori Vallow’s brother, Alex Cox, also died in the weeks following the
shooting death of her husband, but his cause of death has yet to be released.
This spinning vortex of death and loss was further
compounded by the noticeable absence of 17-year-old Tylee and 7-year-old J.J.
It wasn’t until one of their grandparents called authorities requesting a welfare
check that a missing persons investigation was launched. Lori Vallow and Chad
Daybell fled the area following the execution of the search warrant and were
finally tracked down in late January on the island of Kauai in Hawaii. Vallow
was instructed to produce her children by January 30th or face criminal
charges. January 30th came and went, and still no word from J.J. or
Now, additional warrants executed by authorities have revealed
another disturbing detail. According to the EastIdahoNews, investigators have discovered
a storage locker in Rexburg, Idaho listed in Lori Vallow’s name. The
storage locker contained items that law enforcement strongly believe belonged
to the two children, including photo albums, bicycles, scooters, and winter
Seventeen-year-old Tylee’s cell phone was also found in Lori Vallow’s possession when authorities finally tracked them down in Hawaii, without their missing children. Police were able to determine that the phone had been used several times since September when the children were last seen, though it is difficult to say by whom.
J.J.’s autism required the use of a service dog, primarily
for sleeping soundly through the night. A dog trainer based in Arizona has come
forward with startling information, “I was surprised and shocked when I got the
call from Lori that she needed to re-home the dog.” Her only explanation was
that her husband had recently passed and the family was moving to Idaho.
J.J. is described as a white male with brown hair and brown eyes, standing at 4′0″ and weighing 50 pounds. He also goes by J.J. and may be in need of medical attention. Tylee is described as a white female with blonde hair and blue eyes, standing at 5′0″ and weighing 160 pounds.
Anyone with information about the children is asked to call
Rexburg police at 208-359-3000 or report it to the National Center for Missing
and Exploited Children.
On New Year’s Eve, vandals defaced a billboard of KIMT anchorwoman Jodi Huisentruit, from Mason City, Iowa.
The billboard is among three in Mason City, that shows a picture of the beautiful Iowa news anchor, asking the question “Someone knows something, is it you?”
The cryptic words sprayed in bright yellow paint say, “Frank Stearns Machine Shed” across the bottom half of the billboard. Frank Stearns was a longtime detective with Mason City Police Department who diligently worked Jodi’s case. Now retired, Stearns is now a city death scene investigator.
In 2011, in a bizarre twist of events, the Globe Gazette reported that former Mason City police officer Maria Ohl accused two Mason City police officers and a retired Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) agent of being involved in the abduction and potential murder of Jodi.
Ohl, a ten-year veteran, said she received credible information from an informant in 2007, and again in 2009, who implicated Lt. Frank Stearns, Lt. Ron Vande Weerd and Bill Basler in the abduction. Ohl said she told her superiors but heard only crickets.
Ohl says she was terminated due to her handling of Jodi’s case information.
“It’s horrifically disturbing. They’re still working on the taxpayers’ dollar – the whistleblower was put on administrative leave and terminated.”
Joshua Benson, an evening anchor at an Orlando ABC affiliate who founded FindJodi.com, said Ohl had also confided in him but he could not find any information that would corroborate her claims.
In fact, at the time the complaint was filed, an official investigation also found no validity in Ohl’s claims.
Cold Case investigator Steve Ridge told KIMT that he knows how and when the billboard was vandalized. He says two individuals dressed in black parked in the rear alley behind a tattoo parlor and erected an aluminum ladder against the wall at 11:30 p.m. on New Year’s Eve.
While one held the ladder, the other spray-painted “Frank Stearns” in large letters and “Machine Shed” in smaller print below. Ridge said the parking lot of the nearby bar was full, as dozens of cars passed right below the billboard while the individuals were vandalizing it.
Ridge spoke to Frank Steans at his residence on January 3, 2020. His residence in a rural community does have a detached building on the premises, however, Stearns lived elsewhere in 1995. While the billboard vandals surely meant to dredge up old wounds and accusations, Stearns remains a respected member of the community and says he hopes they are found and punished.
Jodi, 27, vanished from the outside of her downtown apartment in Mason City on Tuesday, June 27, 1995. The day before, Jodi had played in the local Chamber of Commerce golf tournament. According to friend John Vansice, afterward, Jodi went to his house to view a videotape of a birthday celebration that he had set up for her earlier in the month.
Jodi went home and called a friend before going to bed. She usually left for work at 3:00 a.m. to anchor the morning show at KIMT. At approximately 4:00 a.m. KIMT producer Amy Kuns noticed that Jodi had not shown up to work. “I called her twice. I talked to her and woke her up the first time,” Kuns told WFLA news anchor Josh Benson. “The second time it just rang and rang. I don’t remember the times. I had obviously woken her up. She asked what time it was. I told her. She said she would be right in.”
Jodi was usually prompt and never missed work, so by 7:00 a.m. KIMT staff had called the Mason City Police Department to conduct a welfare check.
The Police Investigation
When police arrived at Jodi’s apartment, shortly after 7:00 a.m., her red Mazda Miata was in the parking lot. Officers found a pair of red women’s pumps, a bottle of hairspray, blower dryer and earrings, along with a bent car key, strewn around the car reflecting a struggle had taken place at the vehicle.
A search was conducted of Jodi’s apartment, the parking lot, and the nearby Winnebago River.
Early on, the then Mason City Police Chief Jack Schlieper said he suspected foul play. Investigators from the Iowa DCI and the Federal Bureau of Investigation would eventually join the search. It was later reported that investigators had lifted an unidentified palm print off her car.
By that Wednesday, as Jodi’s desk sat empty, police continued their extensive search for the young news anchor. Schlieper told reporters at a news conference that police and K-9 units were continuing to search along a two-mile area of the Winnebago River that runs through a park near Jodi’s apartment on North Kentucky Avenue.
Police did discover items of clothing along the riverbanks but at the time could not determine if they were Jodi’s.
Police confirmed that some residents heard noises that sounded like an animal or animal noises the morning Jodi vanished. We now know she screamed as she was dragged back down the center of the parking bumpers by her car, as her heel marks were left in the dirt on the pavement.
Neighbors also reported seeing a white van in the parking lot with its parking lights on that evening.
Eventually, there would be questions about whether the crime scene was correctly processed. In hindsight, the answer would be no. For instance, a friend of Jodi’s said police didn’t immediately tape off the crime scene which could have resulted in contamination or evidence being overlooked. In addition, Jodi’s car was released to her parents shortly after the disappearance instead of being kept as evidence.
Current Chief of Police Jeff Brinkley was asked by 48 Hours if he thought the car was released in haste. He replied, “Maybe.”
“We don’t have it,” Brinkley said. “But we just have to live with what we got, and –and try to do as good as we can with that.”
Brinkley is the fourth police chief to have Jodi’s case under his command.
“Basically, all my free time is following up on this case,” said Mason City Police Officer Terrance Prochaska, who took over the case in 2010.
“What caused her to sleep in that day? What caused her to answer the phone and rush to work? What was she doing the night before? We all want to know the fine details. We know where she was at. She was golfing. She had driven home and made a phone call to her friend. Those are facts. But it’s that gray area in between we don’t understand.”
Person of Interest
It is known after work; Jodi attended the gold tournament. While at the tournament, she told some of her friends that she had been receiving prank phone calls and was thinking of going to the police and changing her number.
Afterward, John Vansice, who was 22 years older than Jodi, was the last person to have seen her. They watched a video he had shot at the surprise birthday party he had arranged for her.
“She was like a daughter to me, she was like my own child,” Vansice said to KIMT in 1995. “I treated her like my own child.”
Though Vansice has long been suspected by friends of Jodi to have been involved in her abduction, a friend of Vansice named LaDonna Woodford says there is no way, because she had called him at 6:00 a.m. that morning wanting to go for a walk. When they walked, she says he didn’t seem anxious or out of sorts in any way.
Vansice also passed a polygraph in 1995 and never named an official suspect. However, in March 2017, search warrants were issued for the GPS records of Vansice’s 1999 Honda Civic and 2013 GMC 1500. It was the most substantial break in the case in decades. However, nothing of importance was ever recovered.
“We have never closed the case,” Chief Brinkley told 48 Hours. “It’s never been a closed case for us. It’s been an active investigation since it happened.”
“I’m not ready to quit yet,” Brinkley added.
JoAnn Nathe also told 48 Hours that she was once suspicious of John, but “we have to be objective; we have to have an open mind. It could be somebody we least expect.”
It has already been reported that Jodi had gone water skiing with John Vansice and a couple of friends the weekend before she vanished.
In Jodi’s June 25, 1995, entry in her journal she wrote, “Got home from a weekend trip to Iowa City — oh we had fun! It was wild, partying and water skiing. We skied at the Coralville Res. I’m improving on the skis — hips up, lean, etc. John’s son Trent gave me some great ski tip advice.”
In November 2019, Cold Case Investigator Steve Ridge revealed that Jodi also boarded the Mastercraft ski boat of two younger men she had met the same weekend.
Ridge told KWWL News that he spoke to witnesses who were at the lake that Saturday in 1995, who said Vansice was not enthused she had left to spend time with younger men, but he did not overreact or cause a scene, as some said Vansice was inclined to do.
Ridge said that once Jodi and a female friend boarded the boat, they were seen drinking and dancing on the boat. Ridge said the owner of the boat took a video of them which was given to Mason City Police investigators.
Ridge said he was still investigating whether one or both of the young men may have visited Jodi, or attempted to visit her the next day, or Monday, the night she was abducted.
Ridge believes it is conceivable that a confrontation could have occurred that would shed light on a motive for Jodi’s abduction. “A lot of unfortunate things came together in a relatively short period of time just before Jodi went missing,” claims Ridge.
Ridge continues to work with authorities though he is an independent investigator.
Jodi was born June 5, 1968, and raised in Long Prairie, Minnesota, a small town of less than 3,500 in 2010. She was the youngest daughter of Maurice Huisentruit and her mother Imogene “Jane” Anderson.
In high school, Jodi excelled at golf and was considered to have amazing talent at the game. Her team won the Class A tournament in 1985 and 1986.
After high school, Jodi went to St. Cloud University, where she studied speech and mass communications, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in 1990.
Though she wanted to be a reporter, after graduating, Jodi’s first job was with Northwest Airlines. She began her broadcasting career with KGAN in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, as the station’s bureau chief. She then returned to Minnesota for a job with KSAX in Alexandria before returning to Iowa for the position as a news anchor with KIMT.
“She wanted to be famous,” her childhood friend Kim Feist told 48 Hours.
Jodi was driven but she also was very close to her mom. In a late January 1994 diary entry, it said “improve my career, make more money, communicate, have more impact on a larger audience. Get the Huisentruit name out. Make Mom proud.”
“I couldn’t have had a better kid sister,” said Jodi’s sister JoAnn Nathe told WOWT in Omaha. “She tried to motivate me. What are your goals? That makes me stronger. It’s a nightmare not knowing where she is. We thought we would find her in the first few months.”
Their mother, Imogene, passed away in December 2014 at age 91, not knowing where her daughter was. “She so wanted to find Jodi,” Nathe said.
As time passes, it doesn’t get easier for families. Memories fade and tips wane, but the hope to bring Jodi home for a proper burial still burns bright in the hearts of those that loved her.
Police have announced that they suspect “no
foul play” in the death of a California man who was reported missing over a
month ago. Alex
Holden, 25, was reported missing on New Year’s Day after he was last seen
the night before. The Sacramento Police Department solicited the public’s help
in finding answers surrounding his disappearance, which was described as
“uncharacteristic” by his family.
Alex is the son of two Missouri Judges. Alex’s father, Judge
Calvin Holden, told the Springfield News-Leader, “He has no history of
disappearing. It’s very unusual. You know he missed work this morning, which is
extremely unusual. He’s very conscientious about his work.” Judge Holden
eventually went on to address the lingering question of whether or not his son
would take his own life, to which he gave a categorical denial, “It’s not him.
He would never do that. He was one of the happiest people you’d ever know.”
Friends and family were struck with confusion because Alex
had shared the location of his mobile device with several individuals with whom
he was close, but his phone went dead sometime earlier in the evening, so no
one was able to ascertain his last known location. He had been in an argument
that evening, and had set off on a walk to another location to sleep. He had
walked the route before, and was familiar with the area. His girlfriend,
Kennedi Perri, indicated that Alex had been drinking before his disappearance.
On Sunday, January 26, 2020, after almost a month since he
was reported missing, a
body found in the America River was identified as Alex Holden. In a tweet
regarding the tragic news, the Sacramento Police Department said, “This is
never the outcome we want from any missing person case. Our hope is that this
may provide some closure for the family.”
Law enforcement is remaining tight-lipped on the subject of a case that has mystified the town of Placerville, California. Eleven-year-old Roman Anthony Lopez was last seen at the family home on Coloma Street, January 11, 2020. Later that same day, the boy’s body was reportedly discovered. In a Facebook post, the Placerville Police Department said that the body was found. They also reported at a press conference that they discovered the body following a search of the area, and were investigating his death as “suspicious.” Little else was disclosed, however, leaving the community with devastating news, but no answers.
The radio silence from law enforcement officials has led the
public and the press asking questions, but maybe none so fervently as Roman’s
biological mother, Rochelle “Shelly” Lopez. Lopez is a military veteran, who
unfortunately developed an addiction to pills following an injury she sustained
while deployed in Iraq. Because of these circumstances, it was his biological
father, Jordan Piper, who was awarded primary custody of Roman. According to
Lopez, Piper had relocated several times over the past few years, and had made
it difficult for Lopez to see her son.
One of the most tragic aspects of the case so far is that Lopez learned of her son’s death through an online news article. Lopez told KOVR, “Why didn’t anybody let me know? Why didn’t they even know I existed? People in that town didn’t even know that I was his mother. There are so many things that are wrong with this situation and don’t add up and don’t make sense.”
There were seven other children in the home where Roman was
last seen. Those children were reportedly moved into protective custody
following the onset of the investigation. A spokesperson for the family told
Oxygen.com, “The Rochelle Lopez family has full confidence in the law
enforcement agencies investigating Roman’s death and know there will be resolve
and closure.” The family has offered no other comment as the family prepared to
travel to California in order to mourn the loss of Roman Lopez.
On January 16, the Placerville Police Department issued a
statement, “We realize that the press and public are looking for answers and
mourning the loss of Roman. The police department has also been affected, and
has been working tirelessly to complete the investigation. The complexity of
the case will require time and patience.” They went on to say that a pathology
report regarding the boy’s cause of death will not be available for about a
Investigating authorities have encouraged anyone with information regarding Roman Lopez’s death to call Detective Luke Gadow at (530) 642-5210, ext. 116.
A missing person poster can be our first awareness of a famous missing person case. When we see missing person cases in the news, we become fascinated on an exponential scale. This includes media coverage, their missing persons flyer, or podcasts about their disappearance. The farther away we are positioned from a missing person case—whether it’s geographically or inter-personally—the more fascinated we are, like those who rubberneck to see the aftermath of a terrible accident. A person in Indianapolis who reads all of the news coverage about the Jayme Closs case in Wisconsin might do so without any sense of paranoia, because it’s happening 400 miles away, and not in their own lives. Recent statistics regarding the number of open or unsolved missing person cases in the United States are approaching 90,000, fluctuating week to week. That may sound like a pretty comfortable number to some individuals. It makes the odds of you or someone you love going missing sound pretty slim. The fact of the matter is anyone could have a loved one go missing at some point in their lives, and there is no preclusion based on race, class, or any other kind of status.
The Importance of a Missing Persons Flyer
The total number of entries classified as Missing Person Activity in Federal Bureau of Investigation’s National Crime Information Center was in excess of one million in the year 2016—exactly 1,862,238. Around a third of those entries are either canceled or cleared for a variety of reasons. Unfortunately, many of those entries are identified with supplemental material following the discovery of remains—DNA samples, dental records, etc. Hundreds of thousands of those entries are cleared following the individual having been located, usually not too long after the report was made. Investigators follow a handful of leads, make a few phone calls, and are able to locate a missing person alive and well within 24-48 hours. There are other cases that stretch on longer, with search parties organized, investigators trying to retrace the individual’s steps, and perhaps most importantly, flyers with all of the relevant information about the missing person are circulating.
Private investigator, Thomas Lauth, is an expert in complex missing person cases. He lauds the current voyeuristic climate in the United States as perfect conditions for distribution of a missing persons flyer, “The purpose of a missing person’s flyer is to get the missing person’s face and information out there. The more individuals who see their face, the greater the chance is that the one person who might have seen something or knows something will come forward with information that could lead to their safe return.” The digital age, Lauth says, has ratcheted this type of visibility up to an entirely different level. Everyone these days is glued to their screens, waiting for the next big story to surface, or keeping up with their friends on social media. If you can get a missing person’s name or face on social media throughout the nation, that’s a well of information the boots-on-the-ground investigators just aren’t able to tap quickly and efficiently.” Viral visibility of a missing person means investigators can receive many leads—while varying in quality—to conduct a comprehensive investigation that looks at all angles of any disappearance.
How To Create a Missing Persons Flyer
When a loved one goes missing, the police turn to those closest to them for information about their daily routine, habits, personality, and behavior. Once information has been provided, those witnesses often experience a high-adrenaline need to be a part of the search effort. They organize and conduct searches, both with and without the facilitation of law enforcement. Creating and printing missing person fliers is another way they contribute to the search. Law enforcement do not typically create missing person fliers, so it’s important close loved ones compare notes to compile all relevant information for a flyer that’s easy to read and catches the eye. Digital distribution is also crucial, sharing the flyer over and over again while encouraging others to do the same. The following is a list of items that must be present on a missing persons flyer:
Name: The word MISSING should be displayed in large font over the person’s full name. This grabs people’s attention.
Date of birth
Height (in feet and inches)
Weight (in pounds)
Build (thin, medium, heavy, etc).
Hair (color, length, wavy, or straight, how they wear it the most often)
Race (Caucasian, Hispanic, African American, etc)
Complexion (fair, olive, etc)
Clothing: Describe what the person was wearing at the time they disappeared, including any jewelry, personal belongings. It’s also crucial to note any other significant physical descriptors such as tattoos, body piercings, birth marks, scars, or health conditions.
Circumstances of disappearance: This includes the date, time, location, and conditions under which the person goes missing, whether it’s of their own volition, due to a health problem, or if they were kidnapped. Be sure to include details such as whether or not this person is with anyone else and possible places they may be. This can trigger a person’s memory when they see the flyer.
And of course, a missing person’s flyer is useless without a current photo of the missing person. Characteristics such as build, hairstyle, and clothing are so important because the photograph may not reflect these details accurately.
When a loved one goes missing, their friends and families often feel helpless as they wait anxiously for answers from law enforcement. Creating, printing, and distributing a missing persons flyer is one of the best ways for private citizens to assist law enforcement. Whether on the street or online, visibility is key. Out there, someone knows something and has seen something. A missing person flyer could be the thing that triggers their memory.