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Season 3, Episode 12 – The Morning Walk

For years, nobody knew about LaDonna Woodford.

Nobody knew that, after Jodi Huisentruit disappeared and while speculation swirled about the possible involvement of John Vansice in the case, LaDonna was called to testify before a grand jury.

Her testimony to the grand jury was a secret she’d been keeping from nearly everyone since the morning of June 27, 1995:

She knew where John Vansice was on the morning Jodi disappeared.

In this episode, you’ll hear LaDonna’s story.

Listen to “Season 3, Episode 12 – The Morning Walk” on Spreaker.

Episode Transcript

Scott Fuller: It’s been 25 years almost since she disappeared. And it’s a bit odd that Jodi Huisentruit comes up in so many of my personal conversations I have with people. Even when I meet someone for the first time, especially then actually; I don’t bring up my cases or my podcast with friends when I’m talking to them, let alone people I don’t know very well. But how do we break the ice when we meet someone? ‘Oh, it’s nice to meet you. What do you do?

‘I produce a couple of podcasts actually.’

‘Oh, really? What’s that about?’

Right. And here in the Midwest, even now, most people remember Jodi’s name and they know the basics of the case. Among those I talked to about the Jodi case, even when I’m in Mason City, I’d say probably half think that John Vansice killed her.

‘Oh, the cops just haven’t proved it yet. But he did it.’

You know, initially, I had hoped to present this entire season without even using John Vansices’s name one time, because normally that’s how I’d handle covering us aspect in a case who hasn’t been arrested or charged. Legally speaking, John Vansice is no further implicated in the death of Jodi Huisentruit than I am.

But it’s not possible. It’s not possible to tell this story without mentioning John Vansice. His name has become so intertwined with Jodi Huisentruit’s after her disappearance, that it’s very often the very next name to follow hers when the story of her disappearance is reported on.

So in the absence of respecting John Vansice’s, rights as an unindicted private citizen like we normally would, because that ship pretty much sailed a couple of decades ago, we can at least try to understand as much as possible John in the context of Jodi, in this case, their relationship and the nature of it. We can listen to the recollections of people who knew each of them and who knew both of them.

So in my personal life when the case comes up, and I’m talking to someone who mentions John Vansice, or alludes to him, I listen politely. But I usually ask a question of that person:

What if it wasn’t him?

Because John Vansice may have killed Jodi Huisentruit, it’s possible.

But if my investigation into her disappearance is made clear to me one thing about this case above anything else, it’s this:

He probably didn’t.

Whoever was stalking Jodi before she disappeared, probably didn’t have the access to Jodi that John did. Whoever abducted her in the very public place of her apartment complex parking lot, probably couldn’t have lured her into his home or some other secluded place, as John Vansice easily could have.

But he is still clearly at the center of the Mason City police investigation into Jodi’s case. In 2017, the MCPD filed for a warrant for GPS data from a 1999 Honda Civic and a 2013 GMC 1500 that belonged to John Vansice.

Subsequent reporting from journalist Steve Ridge tells us that John Vansice no longer owns the vehicles mentioned in the search warrant, but that Ridge was able to examine them in person at the time he interviewed Vance ice in Arizona last year, where John now lives. So if police have any doubts the van sighs did it, they’re certainly keeping their options open.

Now I’m not going to say what happened or what didn’t. But maybe my role in this is to give you the most in best possible information for you to analyze and decide. Today, you’re going to hear a story about what happened that morning and Mason City that after 25 years has only recently been told for the first time. It’s an aspect of the timeline in Jodi’s abduction that very few people even though it’s connected with the case, have heard or understand.

That’s coming up next.

Scott Fuller: LaDonna Woodford first met John Vansice at a bar in Mason City.

LaDonna Woodford: One night after I got off work at the newspaper. I worked for the shopper and not the globe does that but it was connected. Terrell my boss. She asked me if I wanted to go have a drink at the OP. And I said, ‘no i’m not i have a farm. I have kids. I…’ she just wanted to know if I would just stop and have one drink with her. And I said okay, sure. So, you know, it’s about 4:30, 5 o’clock, and I met her at the OP and Mason City. And I walked in and Carolyn standing there and and there was a high top table or a table and she said ‘hey LaDonna, have you met Jodi Huisentruit?’

And I said, ‘I know of her’, and she was standing right there. And I said, ‘hi, Jodi.’

And she kind of knew of me. And then she said, “this is John.” She didn’t say his last name. She just said “this is john.” And I said, “Oh, hi, John.” And john says, “I’m Jodi’s dad.” And I said, “Oh, well, you must be very proud of her.”

And then he laughed, and then Carol laughs and Jodi laughs And I was like, I didn’t know what the joke was. And John says, “No, I’m not really her dad. But I feel like I’m her dad, because I watch over her.” I said, “Oh, well, you could be our dad, because you look a lot like her, you know.”

And I stayed for one drink. But it was interesting to me after I think about this, Scott is that John didn’t try to position himself by Jodi, he tried to position himself by me. You know, I had that and I left. So that’s how I met John , very first time,

Scott Fuller: Aside from being just casual friends, LaDonna says her relationship with John at the time, could best be described as workout buddies. And this part of their friendship came to be through a mutual female friend of both LaDonna’s and John’s,

LaDonna Woodford: We would see him at the at the gym, and we would talk and stuff like that. And so he said, “you know, you got when you girls come here,” and I said, “Well, doesn’t work well for me in the afternoon, because I had to go home and do chores because I had a farm and a couple of kids.” And this friend of mine, she says, “well, it doesn’t work for me to do it in the morning”, because she worked early in the morning.

So John, and I kind of figured out that it would be a good situation if we would do something in the morning. And then if you wanted to do something in the afternoon that would be fine, so we started a program, early in the morning, around 6:30, before he went to work, and I went to work. So that’s how we got to be friends.

Scott Fuller: After their first meeting at the bar, LaDonna would see Jodi around town, and very often a chamber of commerce events where Jodi would be covering them for the TV station, and LaDonna would attend as a function of her job in marketing for one of the local newspapers.

LaDonna Woodford: And so I would see her at these things. And of course, I watched her on TV and all that stuff, Jodi was quite a bit younger than me. So it wasn’t like I partied with her. I didn’t hang out with her. I didn’t drink with John, I don’t socialize like that. I was like John’s age, but I would see her in every once a while.

Scott Fuller: And LaDonna says John would talk about Jodi. He described their relationship to her as having sort of a father daughter dynamic.

LaDonna Woodford: John did not have romantic feelings about Jodi. John was very clear to me. And we became very, very good friends, that I would tell him secrets about my personal life that I knew he wouldn’t say to anybody. I would absolutely known if he was interested in Jodi as a romantic type of person. Like, you know, like ‘Jodi and I slept together’ or ‘Jodi’ and I are a couple’, or ‘I asked her to go to bed with me and she refused me.’ I absolutely would have known that. Absolutely. without a shadow of a doubt. That’s how close John and i were without being romantically involved. And John knew I was married. And he had a girlfriend so I was like, there was it was just like him and I were girlfriend-girlfriend or boyfriend-boyfriend. I don’t even think I ever hugged John or anything like that. Just someone to exercise with and then you know, it wasn’t going to go any further.

Scott Fuller: So for the record, you never had any romantic involvement ever with John Vansice?

LaDonna Woodford: Never. Not even an inkling not even like ‘hey, come to my place and let’s go to bed’ or, ‘hey, do you want to go out of town with me?’ And do you want to you know, whatever, whatever. Never, never.

Scott Fuller: LaDonna says she didn’t see much of John during the month of June 1995. Their schedules just didn’t align. And they hadn’t taken many of their morning walks that month.

On the morning of June 27 1995, someone was waiting for Jodi Huisentruit in the parking lot of her apartment complex in Mason City. We don’t know who we don’t know specifically why. But based on the account of Jodi’s coworker, Amy Kuns, who says she called Jodi at home to check on her after she’d failed to arrive for work by 3 AM, we think Jodi was abducted somewhere around 4:15 or 4:30 am after she received Amy Kuns’ call at about 3:50 am. Whoever took Jodi had probably been waiting there for an hour or longer. Whoever took Jodi wasn’t seen by anyone. Whoever took Jodi disposed of her body in such a way that no trace has ever been found. Many believe John Vansice is that person. But if he is, it would shock LaDonna Woodford because less than two hours later, LaDonna went on a morning walk with John.

LaDonna Woodford: I was at my home. And I called them between 6:00 to 6:30 (am). And he picked up the phone but he was like, ‘hello.’ And I was like, ‘John, did I wake up?’ And he goes, ‘Yeah, what time is it?’ You know? And because I knew John so well, and we were such close friends. I could tell he was sleeping. And I said, ‘John, hey, slow down. I just want to know, if you’re up for working out.’ And he’s like, ‘I don’t know. I’m really tired. But I should do this.’ And I’m like, ‘Okay, well, you don’t have to do this.’ But I said, ‘Let’s, if you want to do it,’ I said ‘I will come in.’

And well, while we’re in a workout for an hour or so. And he said, ‘well, because I haven’t gotten up and I haven’t had my coffee, why don’t we just meet at my house.’ And I’m like, ‘okay,’ right.

So I pulled up. And he came out, obviously. And we started walking and we just picked an area that was around his house. And then also, we had one like less than a block. And there was a payphone. And I said, ‘You know what, I had talked to my boss of the newspaper, Carol, and she wanted to come and work out with this. So you know what, I should probably stop and call her to let her know that we’re not where we normally are.’ And so I there’s a pay phone right on the curve. And I called her and said ‘Carol, we’re over here on… that so if you are going to show up, we’re not we’re regularly are.’ And then we just continue to walk. And then when we end we talked and I said to Don, I said, john, I said Why are you so sluggish? I said you’re normally just, you know, go go go at at six or seven in the morning. And he says, well, ‘Jodi came over last night. And she watched the video. And she went home around 10:00 or 10:30 (pm).’ And I said ‘oh, so it’s like, way past your bedtime?’ He goes ‘yeah, it’s kind of way past my bedtime.’ And that’s pretty much all we talked about. We didn’t talk about anything else. And we we got back to John’s house and it was about probably (7:45 am), I would say at the latest. Somewhere in there. And stood outside of his house right on the street in the daylight. And John says,’ you want to come on stairs and change your clothers?’ And no, no, no. I said I don’t want that perception. I don’t want, you know, like, I’m seeing you or whatever. Because he was dating my one of my best friends. I said ‘no, no, no.’ I said ‘I’m just going to go.’ He’s like, ‘okay,’ so we stood there for a few minutes talking about our day. And then he left. He went upstairs, I went to the newspaper.

Scott Fuller: On a recent trip to Mason City, LaDonna and I retraced the route that she walked with John that morning, from John’s front door, around the block across the streets across the Meredith Wilson Music Man footbridge to an open area. Then back across the bridge, and back again to John’s house. If John had just killed Jodi Huisentruit less than two hours before, LaDonna says she saw no signs of it in John. She says the only remarkable thing about his demeanor that morning was how tired or perhaps how hung over John seemed.

LaDonna Woodford: ‘What did you do last night?’ I said,’ Why are you so like kind of sleepy,’ you know? And he said, ‘Well, Jodi came over last night we watched this video of our party.’ And I said, ‘Well, how did that go?’ And he said, ‘Oh, it was so funny. That was so fun to watch her. She’s dancing on the tables, and she was having a good time.’ I said ‘that’s nice.’ He said ‘sometime I would like you to see it.’ And I said, ‘Oh, okay, whatever,’ you know. And that was pretty much it. There wasn’t anything more anything last, you know? And I said, ‘Okay, well, you know, that’s great. I’m glad… she got to see that video’ or whatever I said.

Scott Fuller: So he didn’t say anything about why she came over that night or anything else about Jodi’s weekend before that week that she had coming up or that Monday?

LaDonna Woofdord: I don’t even think I knew Scott, the that Jodi and her friends said when I was city, at Trent’s place. I don’t think I even knew that. This played out later. It was just more or less about the ‘did you not have your coffee, John? ‘What the hell’s wrong with you?’ You know, so it’s like, because he’s always like, up early, kind of, you know, rockin and rollin. And when I would meet him where we normally worked out, he would be like, Let’s go, come on, let’s go, you know, and I was like, he definitely wasn’t. He wasn’t awake. He was definitely sleeping.

Scott Fuller: So obvious question. If John had done something with Jodi, it would have been three hours before that or so, would that have accounted for the John that you walked with? Or no?

LaDonna Woodford: So John was a type of person he was an alcoholic. So if Jodi came over to his house and they drank, which they probably would, is that John would not have been able to drive you and not have been able to get in his van because he had one of those where you had to blow into it to drive it. So I called John’s at six is a short store window there. Of that he could have went over there and did something that’s just such a short window.

Scott Fuller: Later that night, LaDonna spoke once more with John. LaDonna was working her part time job as a driver for her boss of the newspaper late that afternoon. That’s when she first heard the news that the local TV news anchor hadn’t shown up for work,

LaDonna Woodford: I had to pick up these three little old ladies, I had to go to Forest City and pick them up and take them to like some type of function. And there’s not a you know, like a regular radio, there’s not a cell phone. And I’m thinking, Okay, now wait a minute. If I saw John this morning, and John told me that he saw Jodi last night. What does he know about this? You know, it just it kind of like, I’m like, What the heck, you know, all these things have gone through my head. And I was just like, kind of just oblivious to it all. And I’m thinking I can’t wait to get whereto there’s a landline so I can call john and say what the heck happened here, you know. And so I had to drop off some stuff at the newspaper. It’s called The Shopper. I walked in there. And I use the phone and I called home and I said… to my husband, I said, ‘you need an email for anything like that. Before I come home?’ My husband said, ‘you need to go the police. You’re not to come home, you’re supposed to go the police station.’ Okay, like thinking, right? This is going to be fun. Obviously, John had already been there that morning, obviously told them I was with him. And my husband knew. I mean, everybody knew that I worked with John and whatever.

And I called John, and he didn’t answer the first time he didn’t answer and I thought, oh, maybe he’s been arrested. Maybe there’s something maybe you did do this. Maybe Maybe, maybe maybe, right. I kind of panicked. And I thought I’m going to call him one more time and hopefully answers and he did. And I said, ‘Hey, John, it’s LaDonna.’ I said, ‘What the heck is going on?’ He said, ‘I don’t want to talk about it.’ He said, ‘I want you to watch the 10 O’Clock News.’ And he said, ‘they’re pointing fingers at me.’ And I was like, ‘why?’ And he said, ‘I just don’t want to talk about it.’

Okay, so I went down to the police station, pretty blinded, not knowing anything, Scott, I didn’t know how it happened. I didn’t know what time it happened. I didn’t know anything of what went on earlier that morning, nothing zero. And I got in front of the police. And they asked me a bunch of questions about where I was and verifying who I was and how I knew John and what I knew about that morning, and I was like, I don’t know any. I don’t know anything except that I met with John and… So I was like, really pretty befuddled about the whole thing.

And I went home. And I watched the 10 O’Clock News. And I still didn’t understand what was going on. Because I was like, What am I going to see? John said just watch the news. And I’m like, Well, what am I going to see that you can tell me? Right?

He was on the 10 O’Clock News. And they had him film that it showed him saying, ‘I was the last person to Jodi’ alive. And I was like, Okay, well, to me that was an abnormal because he was one of her best friends. This is a making a ton of sense if I was the first person to John, and then this happened at such and such a time this morning, what time did it happen, you know, so I didn’t think really anything about that, to me was not that abnormal for him to say that.

Scott Fuller: LaDonna has told this story very few times in the years since Jodi disappeared. And the only other time outside of this interview that Madonna has spoken about what she remembers from that morning was to the TV program ’48 Hours’ last year. For years, nobody outside of the police investigation knew that LaDonna existed, she chose to stay quiet, she says, after seeing what happened to other ancillary figures in the Jodi case, some of whom have received harassment and even being stalked as a result of their making public statements. LaDonna now regrets her decades of silence. For one reason, she says: if she’d spoken out earlier, and told this story sooner, maybe those who have followed the case over the years would think twice about her friends John’s involvement.

LaDonna Woodford: And some people go well, ‘I didn’t know that happened. I didn’t know that. John was persecuted like this.’ And maybe some people go, ‘I still think he did it.’ And that’s okay. You know, everybody has an opinion, and that’s okay. But in the United States, We’re innocent until the facts and proven guilty. Now, there’s got to be proof there. And the fingers were pointed at John right away. Right away.

Scott Fuller: One of the insights that LaDonna was in a position to have about John Vansice that’s long been wondered about, but never proven, is that LaDonna says, John did have a girlfriend at the time that Jodi disappeared.

LaDonna Woodford: I stored my bike at John’s house.

I lived out in the country. My husband, I had a farm. I brought my bike in. And I said to john, I said, ‘Can I start my bike in your garage?’ So when I get up for work, I can ride my bike. Do that again. ‘Yeah, yeah, you know, not problem’, (John said)… I never went up to John’s duplex, or whatever. So I got my bike, and I knocked on the door. And I hollered up the steps, I said, ‘Hey, John!’ I said, ‘it’s LaDonna. I’m just getting my bike.’ And he says, ‘oh, come up here, come up here.’ And I said, ‘No, no, no, done. I gotta go. I gotta, I want to get those workout in. And then I gotta go home.’ He’s like, No, no, no, I want to come up here. And I was like, I don’t want to go up there.

So I went up there. And this real good friend of mine was up there. And then John announced that they were seeing each other. And I was like, and she verified it, and he verified it. So it’s this kind of like, Oh, well, good, great. Good for you guys. He was proud about that. And she was kind of giddy about it. And she kind of like, she kind of looked at me, like, ‘do you like john?’ And I was like, ‘No, I don’t like john like that. No, no, never John and I are just really good friends.’… That’s when he announced that he was seeing her and she was one of my best friends.

Scott Fuller: Through recent reporting done by journalist Steve Ridge, we’ve learned that John Vansice was compelled to testify before a grand jury in Iowa regarding Jodi’s case, as far as we know, the only other person called to testify under oath before the grand jury in Jodi Huisentruit’s disappearance is LaDonna Woodford, she says she told the same story then.

LaDonna Woodford: They wanted to hear my story. And I think majority of the people that were sitting on the grand jury totally got it. And they totally understood. But there was just one woman that just couldn’t get it. She couldn’t understand why if I was married, why I was working out with this guy. And I said, John and I are like, girlfriend-girlfriend. We’re not like romantic and lots of people have male friends. A lot of people have, you know, opposite sex friends. And I finally said to her, I said, ‘Ma’am, kind of like me go to to a gas station and buy a candy bar and you get shot. You’re just at the wrong place at the wrong time.’ And then it was like, Okay, I understand. And it was done.

But I had no idea Scott that I was there for five hours. Until my I came up, my sister said to me, my younger sister told me there. And she said, ‘I didn’t think you’re coming out of there.’ And I said, ‘How long has it been?’ And she said ‘five hours.’

But that wasn’t good enough for the FBI. They were like, ‘We don’t think you’re telling the truth, LaDonna’. And I said, ‘What? Why do you not think I’m telling the truth?’ And they said ‘we want to want to do lie detector test. And I said, Okay, fine, great. I didn’t have anything to hide Scott. Let’s do it.

Scott Fuller: They asked you to do a lie detector after the grand jury testimony?

LaDonna Woodford: They wanted to, but I didn’t do it. They wanted to indict on they wanted to put this to bed.

Scott Fuller: Records of the phone call that LaDonna made from the payphone near John’s house that morning would all but prove her story. There’s no way now of us getting those records, but police probably have them. They would have hopefully verified that call at the time. And they probably would have talked to John and LaDonna’s mutual friend Carol, who presumably verified for them that she’d receive that call, and that LaDonna had been the person to place it.

If LaDonna Woodford is telling the truth. it narrows the timeline for John Vansice’s involvement in Jodi’s disappearance considerably. Add to that that John Vansice’s car wouldn’t start without a sober driver. Add to that John Vansice was physically inside his house when LaDonna called about 6:00 am. That’s about 90 minutes after the abduction to say nothing of the murder of Jodi Huisentruit. And that’s another phone call that would have been verified by police just as part of basic investigative procedure.

I’ve spoken with LaDonna several times on the phone and we’ve met in person, I’ve yet to find any reason to doubt her story. But the thought may have crossed your mind as you’ve listened to this. And if it did, it’s not the first time. I was recently on a phone call with a documentary filmmaker, and podcaster, whose name I won’t mention here. We were talking about Jodi’s case, and he made the comment to me that LaDonna’s story has changed over the years, which raised my interest because publicly at least, LaDonna’s story is less than a year old. And then he made the observation that John Vansice’s story has changed too. I was also perplexed by this because whether or not their respective stories are true. I’m not aware of either of them changing their account of what happened that morning. But on behalf of any doubts that I knew some of you might have, I asked Madonna the question Anyway,

LaDonna Woodford: What’s the proof that I’ve changed my story? John and i are the only ones that have went under oath. And I’m not going to purger myself and john, I’m not going to purger myself for anybody. And I’m going to tell the truth, you’re under oath and John went under oath, and he did a lie detector. And it’s kind of like I don’t know if John has changed his story. But I want to say ‘where?’

Scott Fuller: If LaDonna and John were never romantically involved, or in some other way deeply connected in their relationship. And if LaDonna herself had nothing to do with the murder of Jodi Huisentruit, it begs another obvious if slightly impolite question that also needed to be asked of LaDonna Woodford: why are you seemingly protecting John Vansice all these years later?

LaDonna Woodford: Why would I call him on my landline? And why would I call Carol at a payphone? You can’t make the story up. Because your sins would find you out that you were lying.

I’m not protecting John, if you just do the timeline, we don’t even know that the time when Amy called her. And the time that the police… actually showed up because Jodi was notorious for doing this. She was notorious for not showing up… over sleeping. And so Amy didn’t take this serious. And a lot of people have blamed her. But she had gone there at the time that I call John. And the time that it could have happened like between 4:30 (am) and six o’clock (am), because it was getting to be light. There’s a certain such a slim chance that John would’ve went over there. And why would he go over there because he had full access to Jodi?He just spent the whole weekend with her. You know, with Tammy Bakker and Ani Christinson.

I mean, Scott, to me is kind of like you just spend the whole weekend with her. Why would you you know, why would you do it then? And then at that time and in front of her apartment complex because he lived there used to live there? It doesn’t make any sense that he would. If he did do it, he wouldn’t do it there.?

Scott Fuller: Indeed, Why there? Why then? And after all these years, I still think those are the two questions that might yet lead to the person or persons who abducted and murdered Jodi. Because John Vansice may have killed Jodi Huisentruit, it’s possible.

But what if it wasn’t him?

Hopefully now, we’re all a little better equipped to consider that question for ourselves.

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