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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.

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


Chip Cravaack pWP

A DCCC Poll in the 8th Congressional District (Nolan vs. Cravaack) has Nolan up 45-44 with a MOE of 4.9. It’s a push poll, which is bad, but it’s a current poll (Aug 30) in the only interesting federal race in the state. The pWP for Cravaack is 40% (that is, he has a 40% chance of being re-elected, assuming the poll is valid) with 11% of respondents undecided (or ‘other’). I have a majority of the undecideds moving against Chip Cravaack. So Chip has a lot of work to do to keep his seat.

Held Hostage by The State.

Joe Soucheray:

Now that we’ve gotten to beer and cigarettes, everybody should pretty much have it figured out. We work for the government. There can be no disputing this sad and sobering realization. We not only work for it but we are also held hostage by it, nurses, teachers, barkeeps, resort owners, restaurateurs, car dealers and all the rest of the weary souls who need, in order to do business, a particular stamp, card, emblem, chalk mark or imprint issued only by the state.

And now that we’ve gotten to beer and cigarettes, we also must realize that the people we work for can be intractable, obtuse and inflexible

From the Notebook

Cover of "American Assassin: A Thriller (...

Cover via Amazon

Lots of year-end house-cleaning to do here.

-Looks like an easy solution to the Vikings stadium issue is to permanently make Twin Cities Federal Stadium their permanent home. Making some small renovations to the field, like the addition of heating coils, and negotiating concessions and alcohol sales is a lot easier and cheaper than asking for $700-900 million for a new stadium or spending several hundred million renovating or rebuilding the Metrodome site.

– Larry Jacobs’ defense of the HHH/MPR/SCSU/MinnPost/Strib/Minnesota polls (for context, I suggest Mitch Berg’s series on the topic) is (or should be, anyway) embarassing. There is obviously a problem with these polls. The ability of other national polls to be more accurate at an earlier time is a good indication there is some systemic problem with the MPR/HHH and Strib Minnesota Polls.

Recount notes:

– I mentioned throughout the election that I felt Emmer was the weaker of the two MNGOP options to run for governor. Having seen a few thousand ballots now in the recount, I’m more confident of this assertion. I have seen a lot of undervotes for governor on otherwise straight-ticket GOP ballots. And I have seen a lot of Dayton votes in otherwise straight-ticket GOP ballots. These are very anomalous compared to what I saw in the Coleman/Franken recount. I did get to see a lot of split ticket ballots (Colin Peterson being the most common in both recounts, State Senator and former Douglas County Sheriff Bill Ingebritsen being a common split ticket vote getter this time around), but these ballots with votes for Byberg, Westrum or Franson, Ingebritsen, Severson, Barden, and Anderson then a vote for Dayton or a non-vote for governor have me convinced Emmer drove away people who would have voted for any other Republican. And there weren’t a few of these ballots. I saw more than a dozen in the 1000 or so ballots I got to see counted. (I wrote this the first day of the recount, on the second day I saw even more ballots and the pattern held.) And I bet reason #1 for this was Emmer’s DUIs.

– Something new this year, the election judges had the option to declare a challenge “frivolous” and skip sending those ballots to the state canvassing board. While there is a huge potential for abuse, it hasn’t been an issue in my area as the only challenged ballot was a real enigma. Some of my Republican recount volunteers were disappointed in me that I did not challenge a “Bugs Bunny” write-in on a Dayton ballot (one of the very few anamolies I saw). First, I was familiar with a similar issue from the 2008 Senatorial election and I knew how the MinnSupremeCourt ruled on the issue (thus the challenge would be futile) and second, the handout we got on the first day of the recount from the recount officials showed very clearly that they would declare challenging any writing in the write-in areas of the ballots to be frivolous.

-Thankfully, there were very very few problem ballots in this election. Off-year election voters are simply less likely to vote for “lizard people” or do other stuff with their ballots that would be questionable in a hand recount. Everything went smoothly. Emmer’s only hope was for a statewide “reconciliation” of ballots and signatures. Without that, the recount wasn’t going to make a difference.

Books Read:

Pirate Latitudes by Michael Crichton. This novel was found on Crichton’s computer after his death. Unlike the last book he published when he was still alive (“Next”), this one was a simple plot with a small group of main characters. And thus, very pleasant to read. Steven Spielberg is said to be working on a movie. The most interesting part of the book was how true-to-life Crichton was trying to be, rather than other pirate stories that are well beyond what actually happened.

-Herodotus’ Histories (Books I&II). This is part of the Great Books ten-year reading program. Book I dealt mostly with the history of the Persians (and the Hellenes on the west coast of Turkey) and the various interactions thereof. Book II deals entirely with the Egyptians. This was really a joy to read. Herodotus was a writer for a popular audience.

-Prisoner of War Diary of Paul E. Lee Sr. (24 May 1944 to 29 April 1945). This short diary, about twenty pages, deals mostly with the day to day life of a POW. Lee was held as a prisoner for about a year by the Luftwaffe. He spent time in the American side of Stalag-Luft III (the place where the Brits staged their “great escape”). What was most interesting was the obsession with food (not surprising, but the last part of the diary had a page of food Lee intended to eat when he got back, and it makes a great guide for those looking for comfort food ideas). Also interesting was the number of “classes” that were taught. These POW camps, at least the officer camps, were practical universities. The diary was available from Lee’s daughter on eBay. It is no longer available. She put a copyright protection on the diary, so I can’t put anything up (yet).

-Revelations (The Bible). The most enigmatic book of the Bible is also the easiest read. I can see why fundamentalists love the book so much, I read the book in a single sitting. It was interesting, and taken out of context it’s subject can be applied to anything. (For example, are the Vikings the anti-Christ? they wear purple too.) Despite its many misuses, I like many of the passages of Revelations. It is the most literary book of the New Testament.

-Teaching Company Course: “Science Fiction: The Literature of Technological Imagination” by Professor Eric Rabkin (U of Mich). This was the equivalent of a 1-credit undergrad seminar. Rabkin avoided all of what we most commonly know as sci-fi and instead focused entirely on literary sci-fi and sci-fi origins. It is a very interesting course.

– American Assassin, Vince Flynn. The story of Mitch Rapp’s beginning. Like all of Flynn’s novels, there’s a lot of red meat here. A very fun diversion.

Audio Post

Audio Post

Election Redux

"The Third-Term Panic", by Thomas Na...

Image via Wikipedia

– First, can I brag I predicted the vote totals for Tom Emmer and Tom Horner to within about ten thousand votes and one thousand votes, respectively? I was off by about 80,000 votes when it came to Dayton, mainly because I overestimated total turnout. Looks like a lot of voters who were around for 2002/2006 weren’t around for 2010 (about 100,000 or so, or about 4.5% drop in turnout).

– And yes, I did predict a Dayton victory. I calls them as I sees them.  I’m surprised at the failure of Severson and Anderson to win in the SOS/Auditor races. They both outperformed Emmer by a significant margin. I think it’s clear from the fact they lost that Tom Horner took slightly more DFL votes than GOP votes.

– For those wondering how the MNGOP could take both houses of the state legislature and still lose all the statewide races, you need to remember two things. First coattails don’t go down the ballot, sometimes they can go up. But mostly, summing averages does not deliver a real mean. Winning in a majority of small districts does not translate into statewide victory as you could barely win in a majority of those races, but lose by a substantial margin the rest of those races.

-Most polls accurately predicted Dayton’s final precentage. I saw polls from 40-44% with most around 44%. He got 43.7%. And, the pollsters also got Horner’s support total right, with a little more error there. What the pollsters had a hard time measuring was Emmer. Correction, the propaganda polls failed to measure Emmer’s support accruately. The MPR/Minnesota/Humphrey polls never got close. Rasmussen and PPP were the most accurate. PPP uses a large sample size while Rasmussen has a deal with evil corporations. For the most part, these elections vindicated the top pollsters.

– The results of these elections were surprisingly just. While a lot of Blue Dog Democrats who voted against healthcare lost, there are still plenty of them around. And, conservative Democrats (WV being a good example) who separated themselves from Obama did really well. The House dems lost a lot of leadership experience, including Jim Oberstar, which is a just result. I was worried that these elections would wipe out a generation of pro-life Democrats, and for the most part that didn’t happen.

Dayton v. Emmer

It’s time to move beyond polls and look at potential vote totals in the Governors race.

Believe it or not, this should be very predictable. Over the last two elections, approximately 2,200,000 voters cast their ballots in both 2002 and 2006. In fact, the vote total actually went down about 50,000 votes from 2002 to 2006. About a million voters went for Pawlenty in 2006, about a million for Hatch, and about 150,000 votes went to Hutchinson.  In presidential election years, turnout is higher. Coleman and Franken each got about 1.2 million votes, and Dean Barkley got 437,000 votes. This represents the vote total ceiling.

Dayton will get a million votes. That’s easy. That’s the DFL base. There won’t be much more on top of that, perhaps 50,000 to 100,000 votes. Peter Hutchinson will get 200,000 to 250,000 votes. His support has varied widely, but has consistently been stronger than Hutchinson’s in ’06. He looks more like Penny in 2002, who got 360,000+ votes in 2002. Horner is no Tim Penny, but 250,000 votes is very plausible.

With Dayton topping out at 1.1 million, and Horner topping out at 250,000 votes, this leaves less than a million voters for Emmer. About 900,000 votes.

Past results are not destiny. Dayton is not a popular character. It’s completely possible that, in this environment, he will struggle to get a million votes as frustrated Democrats stay home. But Emmer is also hurting from the beating he has taken in this election. Can he find an extra 200,000 votes? Sure. I wouldn’t bank on it, but this is an unusual election cycle. Emmer should be able to match Pawlenty’s total in 2002.

Still, any way I look at it, I see an election that will, in the best circumstance, be decided in Emmer’s favor by less than 50,000 votes. This race is not a coin flip. I give Dayton a solid 70% win probability.

Rasmussen Poll

The latest Rasmussen poll in the MN Gov race has Dayton up by two points on Emmer; 38-40-15 (Horner is the fifteen). This is a 65% pWP (political Win Probability) for Dayton and it closely matches a previous Rasmussen poll and the average pWP for Dayton so far in this campaign. What gets me is Horner’s 15%, which I think is too high. Rasmussen says it will likely stay that high, at least 10% of the vote will be Horner’s. That’s good news, if true, for Emmer. If undecideds and a surprise conservative turnout break for him, he could easily close the gap on election day. Right now this race depends entirely on GOTV.

Re: Horner

Tom Horner Facebook Ad - 05/18/10

Image by DavidErickson via Flickr

Was just thinking about how the current strategy of the local leftymedia and maybe of the Dayton campaign (the ads focused on Horner are from the Alliance for a Better Minnesota, and they get $ from another umbrella group that got a lot of $ from Dayton’s exwife and several other Dayton family members) regarding Tom Horner are trying to make him look more “Republican.” In theory the strategy is good, it should attract GOP votes to Horner and bring liberal votes to Dayton.

Maybe it will work. However, I think the strategy is a wrong one. It gives Tom Horner a lot of free press and increases his nameID. The best strategy regarding IP candidates, from the DFL perspective, is to simply ignore them. If anything, I would produce a campaign calling the IP “DFL-Lite” and try to win back wishy-washy but generally liberally minded people back to the DFL.

What should Emmer do? Nothing. Horner is simply not taking votes away from Emmer that he hasn’t already lost (Arne Carlson Republicans and those who won’t vote Emmer because of the DUI stuff). Would I have Emmer answer the DUI ads? Maybe. But probably not. Focusing on economic issues (taxes/business) is the best and simplest strategy.