Finding Jodi Huisentruit
On June 27, 1995, Jodi Huisentruit, a 27-year-old news anchor, disappeared from her apartment complex parking lot. Her family is still searching for answers. The anniversary of her disappearance this year was particularly meaningful as Jodi has now been missing as many years as she was with her family and friends. A dedicated team of reporters works diligently to keep her story in the news. Their work has been a source of learning and inspiration for me.
I first heard Jodi’s story from a friend when we were casually chatting about the positive and negative contributions of the media in criminal investigations. I felt a bit disheartened because I had been combing through cases where individuals had been openly and wrongfully accused of crimes by large groups of people. Those misconceptions were often fueled by the media. I was reading what would, by most accounts, be considered irresponsible journalism. Yet, at the time, very few people (other than the wrongfully accused) expressed any concern about the spread of unsubstantiated information.
Why are we all comfortable with openly discussing our opinions about whether someone is innocent or guilty? What would motivate a reporter to share information that hadn’t been corroborated? Why wouldn’t the police intervene?
Sensing I needed to see a good example of a thorough investigation, my friend recommended I look at what the team investigating Jodi Huisentruit’s disappearance was doing. In Jodi’s case, there have been many suspects over the years. The FindJodi.com podcast has done an excellent job of explaining why each was investigated and what the final result was (ruled out or still a suspect). My friend was right–their reporting approach only after extensive research was an excellent example of how journalistic investigations can be fair and informative.
I sincerely appreciate their approach to responsible investigations, and I’ve learned a lot from listening to them share their stories. They openly discuss how tempting it is to jump to conclusions and how hard it can be to accept when a lead falls through. I also appreciate their community management style – open and encouraging of all information but strict about spreading unsubstantiated claims.
The Role of the Media in Jodi’s Case
In 1995, social media wasn’t as prevalent as it is today. But as a media personality, Jodi was still a familiar face. Though she was only 27 when she disappeared, she had already had a successful journalism career and showed no signs of slowing down. When she disappeared from her apartment complex parking lot, her abduction (called a disappearance) made headlines. But over 27 years, her story has been in the media in other ways.
Multiple Dateline, 48 Hours, and 20/20 episodes have been devoted to the case over the years.
The book Dead Air - The Disappearance of Jodi Huisentruit was published in 2011.
The FindJodi podcast, a podcast about the Jodi Huisentruit case exclusively, was launched and is maintained today.
Several single episodes on various true crime podcasts like True Crime Garage have been created, each with their own take on the situation.
Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok posts and entire accounts describing the case and sharing developments
The FindJodi team has sponsored billboards for years – a creative way of reminding people of Jodi’s case in an increasingly digital world. Even the story of when the billboards were vandalized brought attention to the case (discussed on the podcast), so it’s also a great example of unintended results.
I found it interesting that, shortly after discovering the case, FindJodi.com turned off comments on their podcasts. The FindJodi team explained why they turned off comments on posts on their website.
“Unfortunately, some of our podcast listeners have left comments that are not appropriate for our site. These posts included names of those who might have been responsible—without a basis in fact. That kind of discussion, however sincere and well-meaning, may be appropriate for other online sites. However, it is not appropriate for ours.”
This could not have been an easy decision. The team had to risk lessening the amount of false information shared and name wrongfully accused people. They hoped someone who would share a possible clue would be willing to do so privately through a website submission. Comments on a website also help boost your website in search results and, in general, foster a healthy feeling of conversation.
I sense that, like me, the FindJodi team has become increasingly and painfully aware of the collateral damage associated with our ability to publicly accuse people online. They may have nothing to do with a crime. It could damage their reputations, their ability to find work (since so many employers do an internet search as part of the interview process), their physical safety in their community, and of course, their mental health.
It is a significant tradeoff that deserves a lot of thought. I was impressed by the FindJodi team’s decision and post about the rationale. It’s something all citizen investigators (and casual social media users) can learn from.
Resources for Citizen Investigators & Internet Sleuths
If you’d like to learn more about the Jodi Huisentruit case, FindJodi.com is the best resource. The most recent 20/20 episode about the case is also an excellent summary of what we know to date.
If like me, you’re thinking about research, investigations, and reporting, there are groups like the Society of Professional Journalists that provide great resources.
Are you familiar with Jodi’s case? What stood out to you about the investigation?