• Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 46 other followers

  • January 2018
    S M T W T F S
    « Dec   Feb »
     123456
    78910111213
    14151617181920
    21222324252627
    28293031  
  • Recent Bookmarks:

  • Archives

  • Categories

  • Advertisements

Minnesota Mysteries: Susan Swedell

Susan Swedell disappeared thirty years ago, January 19th 1988. She has not been seen since.

Susan Swedell is shown in a photo taken about a month before she went missing on January 19, 1988. Swedell left work at a Kmart in Oak Park Heights that night, bound for an evening of popcorn and movies with her mother and sister at home in Lake Elmo. Later, a gas station clerk let her leave her overheated car at the station, a mile from home. That clerk, peering through a snow-splattered store window, saw her get into another car with a man. That was last time she was seen. (Courtesy of the Swedell family)

It was a blustery January night in 1988 when Susan Swedell drove her car to a gas station about a mile from her home in Lake Elmo. The blizzard was dumping what would turn out to be about six inches of snow. An average winter storm, nothing to miss work over. Susan was coming home from her job at the local Kmart. The stop at the Clark Station wasn’t for gas or a snack. Her car was overheating; Susan asked the gas station attendant if she could leave her vehicle for the night. The attendant agreed as long as she moved it. A few minutes later, Susan left in another vehicle driven by a young man—early twenties with long sandy blonde hair and a leather jacket—who had followed her into the K station. Susan was never seen again.

Thirty years later, we have no answers. Susan may have voluntarily gotten into the car with the mysterious man in the leather jacket, but she certainly had no intention of absconding. She was just nineteen and had recently moved back home after a year at college. Susan was described as a homebody. To say she ran off and never looked back would be against everything we know about her. The family knows better. Her younger sister never really recovered from Susan’s disappearance, never marrying, she lives with her mother.

The list of suspects is short, and there aren’t many good ones. There was the high school boyfriend, whom she was going to meet that very night but cancelled on because of the weather. There was a guy she met at a dance club. Another suspect now lives out of state, an unlikely murderer but one who failed part of a polygraph exam. The man at the gas station has never been identified. Unfortunately, we can’t limit the suspects to those already known to investigators.

Susan Swedell had broken up with her high school boyfriend, who was three years her junior, and had aggressively put herself on the market, as it were. She would go out to dance clubs. She met people at her job at Kmart and her second job in a store at the same mall as the Kmart. Her Kmart coworkers said she would get lots of calls from men while working. And, she had racked up about a $400 phone bill calling into a teen-chatroom where young men and women would flirt for about 80 cents a minutes. Investigators might have identified a few of the men in her life, but it’s possible their list is short by a significant number.

Still more difficult is trying to understand Susan’s intention on that night. When she was done with her shift at Kmart, she changed into a sweater and a miniskirt, as if she was planning on meeting somebody. This was after she had called her mom to say she was coming home to watch a movie, and even asked about the best route to deal with the snow. Susan had already cancelled plans with her former boyfriend that night. Did she meet somebody while at work and decide to meet for a quick date? Did she get a call? She was afraid of snowstorms, according to her family, so any change of plans was out of character.

The mystery deepens. Her car problems might have been from sabotage. The petcock on her radiator had come loose, draining the engine of its coolant. This is unlikely to have happened on its own, and it’s very convenient that there was someone ready to help her in the middle of a blizzard. Someone who happened to be about her age, tall and good looking, with a leather coat driving a late model muscle car.

Within a week of Susan’s disappearance, the story gets stranger still. Susan’s little sister comes home one day to find the key to their home has moved from its normal hiding spot. Once inside, she finds dirty dishes in the sink. Susan’s red pant suit, the one she took off before she left Kmart, is found under Susan’s bed. Someone had been smoking marijuana in the house. Someone other than the Swedell’s had been in the house. Whoever it was, they knew about the house key and had Susan’s work clothes.

In her car, Susan left her glasses and purse. These were items she would need if she was going somewhere. Despite this, the police were forced to treat this as a missing persons case. Susan voluntarily got into the man’s car. Adults have the right to disappear. Law enforcement can’t assume she’s in danger if there’s no evidence a crime has been committed. The case stalls.

It doesn’t help that reports come in. Susan is spotted somewhere. The person is sure of it. She was the girl in the roadside diner. She was at a gas station in Fargo. Nothing comes of it. In 1990, her dental records are pulled to compare to a Jane Doe. Not a match. About a decade ago, there was activity on Susan’s social security number, but it was just a case of identity theft.

Sadly, it’s likely Susan was murdered by the man in the leather jacket.

This police sketch, drawn by an artist working for the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, was created on Oct. 13, 1998, based on a description given to investigators by the gas-station attendant who was the last to see Susan Swedell, 19, of Lake Elmo, on Jan. 19, 1988. (Courtesy of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office)

Whoever this man was, Susan was comfortable around him. She probably encountered him before, either at a dance club or at the mall. He might have been one of the guys she talked to on the phone all the time. Maybe she changed into “date” clothes because she knew he was going to meet with her, probably in the parking lot, and that they were going to go someplace nearby for a quick date or a dance before she would continue home. The man was mechanically inclined and drained the engine’s coolant system, causing the engine to overheat—a problem he likely helped her notice—before convincing her to get into his car.

Wherever her body is, it hasn’t been uncovered in thirty years of development and suburban sprawl. It’s unlikely she will ever be found. The only way this case will be solved is if her murderer or someone who knows the murderer, comes forward. Whoever the man in the leather jacket was, he was within her social network at the time. Somebody knows something.

There is a $25,000 reward for information in this case.

Sources:
Still Missing Podcast
Pioneer Press (Source for pictures and captions, as well as other details)

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: