True Crime Wednesday: The Disappearance of Jodi Huisentruit

This is a case that drives home the fact that you can be vulnerable anywhere, even in the early hours of the morning when you’re doing something as innocent as trying to get to work. This case has always bothered me, because when 27-year-old news anchor Jodi Huisentruit disappeared, she wasn’t out partying or returning home from a late night with friends. She had overslept and was in a rush to get to her job at news station KIMT in Mason City, Iowa, where she hosted the early morning show. Jodi was an ambitious reporter who was focused and working hard on advancing her career. Her friends and co-workers described her as vivacious, friendly, motivated and energetic.

On the morning of June 27, 1995, Jodi didn’t show up for her 4 a.m. call, and a co-worker phoned her from the station to check on her. According to the co-worker, Jodi was awakened by the phone and said she would “be right there.” She only lived a few minutes from that station. But based on the evidence that was found a few hours later by police when Jodi didn’t show up for work, she never made it out of the parking lot. Jodi’s car was still there with they key bent in the lock on the driver’s side door. Tools she needed for work (a blow dryer, jewelry, shoes, etc.) were found scattered the ground. Drag marks near the car suggested a struggle, and that Jodi was most likely ambushed while she tried to get in her car. Neighbors later reported they heard screams in the early hours of the morning but no one called the police at that time. Someone else claimed to have seen a white van in the parking lot with its lights on around that same time.

The “Disappeared” episode on this case provided a lot of interesting information. The really eerie thing? Jodi’s employer, KIMT, had to report on their missing anchor, so it hit her co-workers hard. Watching news footage during that time, you can see how shell-shocked they are. Female anchors were also nervous because they were afraid there was a stalker out there who had known what time Jodi left for work each day and would strike again. There was another person of interest brought up during that episode. Jodi had a friend, an older gentleman who had wanted a relationship with her, but she had gently told him she wasn’t interested. He had lavished her with attention and gifts and even threw her a birthday party. After her disappearance, he went to the police and told them he was “the last person to see Jodi alive,” which was kind of bizarre, because no one knew if Jodi was deceased.

In 2011, a female police officer fired from the Mason City Police Department claimed that three members of the department had been personally involved in Jodi’s disappearance and had covered it up. This officer also filed a sexual harassment suit against the department and claimed to have been discriminated against based on her religion. Because she had a contentious relationship with the department, it’s hard to know if there is any truth to her claims, but you do have to wonder if she was fired for knowing too much.

There has never been any closure in this case, and Jodi was declared legally dead in 2001.

Book Review: Between Me and You by Allison Winn Scotch

Ben knows my story, Ben knows my soul. I want him to write for that, to that, to me. Because when he taps into me, and I braid myself to him, we are a galaxy unto and of ourselves.

Sometimes she’s like a firework, explosive but still mesmerizing, and it’s not like I don’t want to sit back and watch the show.

I like author Allison Winn Scotch for a number of reasons—her books are always fun and fast-paced escapes, often with a touch of the mystical (The One That I Want, Time of My Life) and tackle the popular topics of “What if?” I enjoyed her last novel, In Twenty Years,  where a group of college friends reunite after twenty years (think “The Big Chill” in a modern-day setting). She’s also a funny presence on social media, having first started out as a freelance journalist for big-name magazines like InStyle, Redbook, Shape, etc. (my dream job!) before becoming a best-selling author. When I heard about her latest book, Between Me and You, and how its plot centers on an actress and a screenwriter and their complicated relationship, I knew it was for me, the gal who has piles of celebrity gossip magazines around her house at any given moment. (In Touch and UsWeekly are my favorites.) I was lucky enough to get an advance digital copy of Between Me and You to read and review and I dove right in.

Synopsis:

When their paths first cross, Ben Livingston is a fledgling screenwriter on the brink of success; Tatum Connelly is a struggling actress tending bar in a New York City dive. They fall in love, they marry, they become parents, and they think only of the future. But as the years go by, Tatum’s stardom rises while Ben’s fades. In a marriage that bears the fallout of ambition and fame, Ben and Tatum are at a crossroads. Now all they can do is think back…

A life of passion, joy, tragedy, and loss—once shared—becomes one as shifting and unpredictable as a memory. As the pieces of their past come together, as they explore the ways love can bend and break, Ben and Tatum come to see how it all went wrong—and wonder what they can do now to make it all right.

Review:

The book starts out in the present day, when Ben and Tatum are in their early 40s and have been separated for some time. Ben is waiting for Tatum on the beach, reliving their history together in his mind, but then someone else shows up instead. From there the book alternates chapters telling both Tatum and Ben’s stories. Tatum’s chapters propel the narrative forward (1999 to present) while Ben’s work backward (2016 back down to 1999). We learn how they met by chance in a bar in 1999, when Tatum was a theater student and part-time bartender and Ben working on an MFA. He was also in the process of breaking up with his long-term girlfriend when he meets Tatum.

Through the years, we watch as both of their stars rise after their move from New York to Los Angeles, like the quintessential Hollywood couple. The relationship of Brad Pitt and Angelina came to mind (Tatum goes from struggling actress to Oscar winner to influential director throughout the course of the book, much like Angelina) as well as Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck (this one because of the infidelity that invades the marriage and because Tatum is from a small town much like Garner). I did read an article  not long ago that said she interviewed several different celebrity couples while researching this book to help provide authenticity, and she thanked Jennifer Garner and Judy Greer in the acknowledgements section.

Throughout the book, Ben and Tatum face their share of challenges, from the death of Tatum’s mother, to her alcoholic father, to a loved one lost in 9/11 and a family member with a heartbreaking drug addiction. They also have a son and struggle with the balance of parenthood while Tatum is often away filming or directing and Ben gets frustrated with his job of writing for TV when he really wants to be writing the screenplay that will put him on the map. The chapters kept me guessing, as each one dropped crumbs of the story along the way. I found myself rooting for Tatum and Ben and also cursing them for the foolish decisions they made and refused to communicate with one another. I was on the edge of my seat by the time I got to the end.

I will say that if you are going to read this book, don’t read it on a Kindle like I did. Because of the way the chapters alternate time periods, I found myself wanting to quickly flip back and forth to double-check information, and that’s not easy to do on a digital device. So read this in the print version and you will feel much less frustrated.

Thank you to NetGalley and Scotch’s publicity team for allowing me the opportunity to read this book in advance, I enjoyed it and will read it again now that I have a better handle on the way the timeline worked, I’m sure I can pick up on even more tidbits the second time around!

An Evening with John and Hank Green

Because I like to write young adult fiction, I also read a lot of it, too. I’m not crazy about dystopian literature or fantasy titles and gravitate more toward contemporary topics. I think this is what drew me to novelist John Green several years ago. I started hearing people talk about how great The Fault in Our Stars was, and then I saw it had been optioned for a movie. It was then that I picked up the book and starting reading the tale of Hazel Grace (cancer patient) and Augustus (cancer survivor). I cried for hours after finishing it and loved the movie just as much.

From there I read Looking for Alaska, which I believe has been banned from some schools. If you’re like me, if something is banned from a school, I definitely want to read it! From there I went on to An Abundance of Katherines, which was a great concept but I couldn’t really get into it. Then I heard Paper Towns was being made into a movie with scenes shot in the city I live in, so I read it next. I knew Green had been busy for several years working on the development of two films, which was exciting. Every author’s dream, right? But what I didn’t know was that he was also suffering from a case of writer’s block trying to produce his follow-up to The Fault in the Stars. I got to hear the backstory last night at the “Turtles All the Way Down with John and Hank Green” event last night here in Charlotte, N.C.

I feel fortunate that I even heard about the event. I happened to be scrolling through Facebook one day and saw Green post a tour schedule with the comment, “I’ve been told these events might sell out quickly.” I clicked on the schedule, saw Charlotte on it, and immediately went to buy tickets. I was also shocked when I saw the ticket price of $21 included a signed copy of his new book, Turtles All the Way Down. Talk about a deal! (The event did indeed sell out quickly.) The tour includes John and his brother Hank, who I have to admit is very lovable. Together, they join forces to produce the popular YouTube channel, Vlogbrothers.

First of all, the venue was beautiful. The theater at Spirit Square was intimate, with red upholstered seats and stained glass windows surrounding us. There wasn’t a bad seat in the house, which was good because our tickets were general admission. We chose a seat in the middle and had no problem seeing.

Spirit Square in Charlotte, N.C.

The evening started with us receiving swag tote bags that listed the 19 cities on this tour (I feel special), our signed copies of the book, a booklet with some letters from John Green, a bookmark, a cardboard poster of the tour, and some post-its.

I brought my 14-year-old daughter along and as a self-proclaimed nerd, I’m pretty sure she had more fun than I did. John began the evening with a reading from the book, and then in a slightly shaky voice, discussed his lifelong battle with OCD. The main character in the novel has OCD so this book is very near and dear to his heart. Then we got a science lecture on Phylogenetics and Taxonomy from Dr. Lawrence Turtleman, a comical turn from Hank Green. The two brothers also took questions from the audience members (you could fill out a form on the way in) and Hank performed a few songs—my daughter’s favorite was “The Universe was Weird.”

The event lasted an hour and a half, and time flew by. I can hardly wait to dig into Green’s new novel, which is already getting rave reviews from some of the major media outlets. Tonight, John and Hank are headed to Asheville to the UNC-Asheville, my old alma mater, and I’m sure they will be just as well received.

Hearing John’s personal story, learning about the book, and joining the cause to fight against the stigma of mental illness also made me itching to get back in front of my computer to write.

Thank you, John and Hank, for a fun and inspired evening.

True Crime Wednesday: Kyle Fleischmann

I moved to the suburbs of Charlotte, N.C. in late 2003, and in 2007 I saw the original news stories when local resident, 24-year-old Kyle Fleischmann went missing. He has never been found and it’s a case that bothers me every time I think about it, mostly because it could have happened to anyone. How many times did I meet friends at bars when I was in my early 20s and walk in the dark to my car, alone? When you’re that age, you think you’re invincible. This case shows us our vulnerability. And also to be wary of walking alone, especially at night. It also inspired a flash-fiction short story I wrote several years ago.

Kyle is described by his friends and family as fun-loving, happy, and at a good place in his life. He had a nice job and had just moved into a condo in the trendy part of uptown Charlotte. On the night of Nov. 9, 2007, Kyle’s best friend organized an outing to see a Dane Cook concert (I believe his parents were there, too), and then the friends decided to end the evening with a stop at the Buckhead Saloon. I saw one interview where his friend said he saw Kyle talking to an attractive young woman at the bar, and he asked Kyle whether he was staying or leaving. Kyle opted to stay. Based on some reports I’ve read, surveillance footage caught a discussion between the guy the woman was with and a few of his friends. Kyle then exited the bar alone around 2 a.m. He left his jacket and debit card at the Buckhead Saloon, and went out into the cold night wearing only a t-shirt and jeans.

Here’s where the story gets strange. An employee at nearby Fuel Pizza claimed Kyle came in and ordered a few slices of pizza around 2:30 a.m. A little while later, he made calls to his parents, his best friend who was with him at the concert, his sister, and maybe one other person. He didn’t leave messages on any of those calls. He was never seen or heard from again.

When police investigators started searching for Kyle, they tracked his cell phone records. They could tell that when he made all the early-morning calls, he was walking through uptown and into what’s considered a bad part of the city. At some point after that, his phone went dead. Based on an interview with Kyle’s dad, Dick Fleischmann, that ran in Charlotte Magazine, Dick thinks Kyle is dead, and probably died that same night. He believes Kyle may have been intoxicated and tired and wandered into a bad part of town, where someone attempted to rob him. His theory is that Kyle’s body was left in what was then a construction site in that area. If this is what is happened, it is all the more sad because Kyle likely had nothing of value on him. He had left his debit card at the bar, must have used some cash to buy the pizza, but he probably didn’t have much more than a few dollars on him. Because wouldn’t he have used money or another credit card to call a cab?

To learn more, you can visit the Help Find Kyle Fleischmann Facebook page, where his father often posts.

 

Book Review: 100 Days of Real Food-Fast and Fabulous

Anyone who knows me knows I love to cook. This wasn’t always the case–ask my husband about the slop I used to try and whip up for us when we first got married. There was a LOT of processed food and frozen dinners thrown in there. Then when I was pregnant with our first child and we were both working demanding jobs, there was mostly take-out. Slowly I started cooking more, little by little, but I was still using a lot of processed ingredients (like those yummy condensed soups) because that’s all I knew. Several years ago I came across the 100 Days of Real Food blog and was happy to find recipes that included nothing but whole food ingredients. If you don’t know about the family behind the blog, including mom and Charlotte, N.C. resident Lisa Leake, you can read more about their story here.

I absolutely loved the first cookbook and learned so much about what is considered real food and what has added ingredients. I found so many great recipes I added into my usual rotation, such as the Slow Cooker Potato Soup, Slow Cooker Fajitas, Mini Quiches (my daughter even makes these herself now!), Whole-Wheat Pasta with Kale-Pesto Cream Sauce, etc. I also learned how to make my own whipped cream and it is yummy!

The second cookbook Lisa Leake released, 100 Days of Real Food: Fast & Fabulous, features a whole slew of ways to help you integrate healthy, real food into the household with quick and simple recipes. I ordered this cookbook the second I realized it was coming out. Some of my favorite recipes include Layered Jar Salad with White Beans, Quick Cauliflower Soup, Kale, Sausage and White Bean Soup, the Orange Cream Bundt Cake, Fresh Ranch Dressing (my kids won’t eat the stuff out of a bottle now–they will only eat this!) and much more.

Orange Cream Bundt Cake with Whipped Cream

One recipe I’m dying to make but haven’t yet is the Cheesy Hash Brown Casserole (like Cracker Barrel’s but without the MSG and other additives). Also, these brownies are delicious and my kids can make them without my help!

Simple Salad Mix

The book also includes make-ahead meal suggestions that don’t require a recipe, such as hard-boiled eggs, cooked quinoa, granola, hummus–things that are great for lunch boxes and the days/nights when you want to feed everyone quickly but without grabbing fast food.  There are also meal plans for each season that include shopping lists to make things so much easier.

These two cookbooks have become a staple in our house when meal planning and I can’t wait for her next one to come out.

Podcast I’m Loving: For the Love by Jen Hatmaker

I’ve been hearing about how fun podcasts are for years, but kept telling myself “eh, those aren’t really my thing. I don’t like to listen to audio books, so it’s similar, right?” I started thinking more and more about podcasts after interviewing a local podcaster last year. She was a former radio announcer who also became a huge advocate for Type 1 diabetes when her son was diagnosed. After leaving her job at a radio station, she started putting together a podcast designed specifically to educate the community about Type 1 diabetes, talk about new medications and technology and that featured experts and some celebrities that have it. Victor Garber was an especially fun guest. This podcast now has corporate sponsors and has won a few different awards, as well as garnered a pretty big following. I loved hearing about her success story.

So I started slowly. First I listened to a few episodes of the Type 1 diabetes podcast, Diabetes Connection, so I could get background info for the article. Stacey Simms, who runs the podcast, showed me the podcast app native to my phone and helped me select a few podcasts to check out.  I listened to several episodes of Up and Vanished, which profiled the case of a missing beauty queen and high school teacher from Georgia, Tara Grinstead. Interestingly enough, right around the time I started listening to the podcast, police arrested two of her former students and charged them with her death.

I found I like to listen to podcasts while I’m walking or running outside, or if I’m in the car or doing things around the house, like tidying up or cooking. I follow Christian author Jen Hatmaker on social media and started hearing about the podcast she has, For the Love with Hatmaker. Then I saw the line-up for her series titled “For the Love of Moxie” and knew I had to listen to a few of the episodes. Jen Hatmaker described one of them, an interview with Dr. Brene Brown, as “a free hour of therapy.” She nailed it. Jen is such a personable, funny and engaging interviewer (or an emotional one depending on the guest–I’ve heard her shed a few tears) that you do feel like you are sitting in a coffee shop with a few of your closest friends.

And while Jen is a Christian author and speaker, I don’t believe you need to be particularly religious to enjoy her podcast. For example, one of my favorite episodes featured Melissa Hartwig, who founded Whole30. I was surprised to learn that she overcame a drug addiction prior to founding her program. I love hearing about strong women who overcome their vulnerabilities to help bring other people joy and contentment in their lives.  Another fascinating (and heartbreaking episode) included interviews with Anna LeBaron and Ruth Wariner, cousins who were both part of different factions of a polygamist cult. They’ve both written memoirs about their experiences that I now want to read.

So I guess you can say I’ve been converted to podcasts! I love checking new ones and will regularly feature reviews of different ones here on my blog. Now I want to hear about any podcasts you’re loving!

True Crime Wednesday: The Disappearance of Zebb Quinn

In March of 2015 a newspaper article caught my eye online because it involved the disappearance of a couple in Leicester, N.C., which is near my hometown of Asheville. Cristie Codd and her husband J.T., who had only recently moved to the area, had gone missing from their home and no one could locate them. The disappearance made national headlines because Cristie, a celebrity chef, had starred on a season of the reality show “Food Network Star” and also made her living catering on film and TV sets. She met her husband, J.T., when the two both worked on the crew of the CBS show “Without a Trace.” The two were expecting their first child and had wanted to raise their family in the quiet and serene mountains of Asheville.

I kept track of the case for several days until a suspect’s name caught my eye—because I had heard it before connected to another disappearance in the Asheville area. Jason Owens had been questioned when Zebb Quinn, 18, went missing in January of 2000. But more in that later in this post.

A few days after the Codds’ disappearance, police picked up Owens, who had worked as a handyman for the Codds, after receiving reports from a local a resident grew suspicious of Owens throwing a large bags of items in a private dumpster. Upon examining the items, police discovered they belonged to Cristie Codd. When presented with the evidence, Owens claimed he had accidentally run over Cristie as he was trying to get his truck out of a ditch. However, this doesn’t explain the death of her husband. By the time police were able to get to Owens’ home and property, where they found charred remains of the couple in a wood stove, most evidence had all but been destroyed. Owens eventually pleaded guilty to three counts of second-degree murder and two counts of dismembering remains. He will serve a minimum of almost sixty years in prison for the crime.

Several years ago I watched an episode of Investigation Discovery’s show “Disappeared” that focused on Quinn. I immediately suspected his co-worker Jason Owens, because he told conflicting stories about the last night anyone saw Quinn. Quinn seemed like a nice guy who was probably too quick to trust people. Because he was interested in buying a new car, it sounds like Quinn had some cash on him when he went to peruse some used car lots after work. Guess who went with him? Jason Owens. The two were caught on a video camera at a local convenience store buying sodas after they left work at Wal-Mart.

Owens told police the two boys had taken separate cars on that errand, and that Zebb had received a page and made a call from a pay phone that upset him, prompting him to leave early. Supposedly when he sped away, he rear-ended Owens’ truck. What’s interesting is that hours later, Owens received treatment at a local hospital for fractured ribs and a head injury he told doctors happened in a second accident, one that he never filed an accident report for. Quinn’s car was found a few days later in a local restaurant parking lot, with the lights on and a puppy inside. Using red lipstick, someone had also drawn a pair of red lips on the back windshield. This reappearance of his car has never been explained.

After hearing Owens’ name come up in the Cristie and J.T. Codd case, my heart sank. I’ve suspected all along that Quinn was dead, and that he probably died the night of Jan. 2, 2000. My guess is that Owens tried to rob Quinn of the cash he had saved up and the two boys fought, or had an altercation that involved their cars. In March and May of 2015, investigators searched Owens’ property and a portion of a national forest in Asheville searching for evidence of Quinn’s remains. I haven’t heard anything about the results of those investigations, but Owens was indicted in the murder of Quinn in July of this year.

I hope Quinn’s family can find the closure they’ve been looking for, because this may be all that they ever get. I believe Owens is a coward and a thief who will probably never tell the truth about what happened to the Codds or Quinn. He likely robbed Quinn and my guess is that he was stealing from the Codds and they confronted him about it shortly before their deaths. I only wish investigators had been able to charge Owens for Quinn’s murder before another innocent family had to die.

Book Review: All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

I remember running down a road on my way to a nursery of flowers.

I remember her smile and her laugh when I was my best self and she looked at me like I could do no wrong and was whole.

I remember how she looked at me the same way even when I wasn’t.

I remember her hand in mine and how that felt, as if something and someone belonged to me.

-Theodore Finch, All the Bright Places

I don’t know any other way to describe this book except that it broke my heart in a million little pieces and left me crying for hours. You may read this and think, “Well, I won’t be reading THAT book.” But if you’re like me, and sometimes you seek out certain songs, books, movies, etc., so that you can feel something more deeply than you’ve ever felt before, then maybe you’ll consider this beautifully-written book that gives the best depiction of bipolar disorder that I’ve ever seen.

All the Bright Places is told from two viewpoints—Violet and Theodore Finch (a.k.a. “Finch). When the book opens they have both snuck up to the bell tower on their school’s campus—Violet, because she is still reeling from the death of her older sister in a car accident, and Finch, because as he so bluntly puts it, is wondering if “Today is a good day to die.” Finch is surprised to find himself talking Violet into climbing back off the ledge, as he knows the crowd she hangs out with is pretty popular and she doesn’t strike him as the depressed type. After their encounter, he becomes curious to learn more about her and pursues her until they are paired together on a class project where they are challenged to learn more about their home state of Indiana. He even pens a set of “Rules for Wandering” for them both.

Chapter by chapter, the layers of Violet and Finch are revealed. Their home lives couldn’t be more different, and Violet watches as her ex-boyfriend and his teammates relentlessly bully Finch for reasons she can’t understand. Listening to Finch describe the way he feels when he is “awake” versus when he is “asleep” gives the reader an enlightening picture of the highs and lows of someone with bipolar disorder (Finch never says he has it but it becomes more and more clear throughout the book that he is undiagnosed and should probably be medicated).

Violet and Finch work together on their class project where they wander all over the state (this takes some doing at first, as Violet hasn’t ridden in a car since she and her sister’s accident) visiting unusual places like Hoosier Hill (with its elevation of 1,257 feet) to a farm where a man has built one-person amusement parks ride out of scrap metal. Finch’s hard work pays off—he slowly starts to pull Violet out of her shell and against her wishes, she finds herself drawn to him. She also learns a few of the family secrets he’s been hiding all his life, and begins to realize the highs and lows of his personality may be doing him more harm than good.

This book is a difficult read for anyone who has ever watched a loved one go through a mental illness. Violet is a normal teenage girl who truly believes love can help them both overcome their obstacles. Unfortunately, the novel does not have a happy ending. Author Jennifer Niven shared her own personal story at the end of the book which sheds lot of light on the trajectory of the story.

In that moment, I’m thankful I’m not a parent and I wonder if I ever will be. What a terrible feeling to love someone and not be able to help them.

Actually, I know exactly how that feels.

–Violet Markey, All the Bright Places

This young adult novel is a painful read, but the prose and the love between the characters is so beautiful and haunting and realistic that I think it expands far beyond the scope of teenage readers. There is one scene where Violet and Finch quote Virginia Woolf to one another on a computer chat and I couldn’t help but think what I would have done if a boy had spoken my language in such a way at that age. He also calls her “Ultraviolet.”

If you look at this book in my Kindle, you’ll see pages upon pages of highlighted material that made me pause. It’s one of those books that you wish you had the courage and talent to write yourself. Bravo, Jennifer Niven, and I’m sorry for what you had to go through to get to this place.