Still Missing in the Midwest

Posted by on Mar 20, 2007 | No Comments

Wisconsin and Minnesota, 2002. Four young people, unknown to each other, go missing within an eleven-day period and a two hundred mile radius. The vanishings make national headlines. The stories ask the same question: coincidence or serial killer?

The bodies, once they were recovered, provided the answer, each telling its separate but equally terrible story. Michael Noll was intoxicated when he accidentally fell into Half Moon Lake in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Erika Dalquist got a ride home from the wrong man in Brainerd, Minnesota. Chris Jenkins, athletic, bright, well-liked, was thought to have committed suicide or fallen accidentally into the Mississippi River, but a witness came forward recently to say that his death was actually the result of a mugging gone bad. The disappearances, so close to one another in space and time, were simply a statistical anomaly. Without the serial killer angle, the story was forgotten.

So, too, was Josh Guimond, the only one of the four who is still missing.

Josh Guimond

November 9, 2002. Josh had cigars. Good cigars. Sophistication was one of his trademarks. He liked jazz and Bombay gin. He wasn’t raised upper class, but he had aspirations, and they were high. His e-mail user name was “Senator Joshua.” His grandmother had been a member of the Minnesota House of Representatives, and she made a big impact on her precocious grandson. He had his future meticulously mapped out: first St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota, folllowed by law school at an elite East Coast university, then back to Minnesota for a career in law and politics. There would be no youthful wanderings for Josh. He was a disciplined guy. Later, his mother would recall that he’d always been that way. She shared her memories on the website Find Joshua Guimond:

I remember when you went before the city council to change a law so all kids could attend school functions that went past the curfew time. I was amazed at the research you did to make your presentation. You got the law changed and we have you on tape at the meeting. Again you seemed older and wiser than your years.

Josh’s ambition didn’t preclude him from having a good time. He was 20 years old, a junior in college, and this was a Saturday night. He and a friend endured the cold Minnesota night air to smoke cigars outside Josh’s on-campus apartment. Later, Josh walked to a nearby dorm and joined a group of guys playing cards and drinking beer. Nate Slinkard, the host of the gathering, would recall to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune the seemingly insignificant moment around midnight when Josh got up. “I was standing there looking right at him,” Slinkard said. Josh walked out the door; his friends assumed he went down the hall to the bathroom, or back to his dorm. They would never see “Senator Joshua” again.

In the five years since Josh disappeared several lakes have been dragged and searched by divers. The National Guard scoured the campus and outlying areas on horseback. Investigators questioned his friends and fellow students. Brian Guimond, Josh’s father, visited the campus hundreds of times by one account, and butted heads so badly with the university they took out a restraining order against him, forbidding him from making unsupervised visits.

Still, not a single clue has been unearthed that sheds light on Josh’s disappearance. He was last seen crossing an intersection onto the main campus, walking in the direction of his apartment. Sources say he never used his computerized key card to enter his room. He never made it home.

Accounts vary on how much Josh had to drink the night he disappeared, but the consensus is that he wasn’t greatly impaired. He didn’t have his glasses, his car, or a coat warm enough for the weather. None of his accounts – credit card, bank, e-mail – have been used.

So what happened to him? University officials and the Stearns County Sheriff’s Department initially believed he fell into a campus lake and drowned. Josh’s family rallied for the Trident Foundation of Colorado, a group of top underwater experts, to search the three campus lakes. After a thorough search Trident cleared the lakes and recommended the search for Josh “head in another direction.” The university and Sheriff’s Department reversed themselves and suggested Josh may have fallen into a swampy area on campus. At the behest of Josh’s father, an expert with the Soil and Conservation Service wrote a letter stating there is no such thing as “quicksand” on the St. John’s campus where Josh’s body could have sunk from sight. That didn’t keep authorities from their accident theory. “We were also told he might have been eaten by turtles,” Lisa Cheney, Josh’s mother, told the St. Joseph Newsleader.

Visitors to Find Joshua Guimond had other ideas. One wrote:

I wish the FBI had gotten involved in Josh’s case at the beginning. Given certain history there, why wasn’t a deeper investigation performed? Frankly, it was the first thing that came to my mind the very moment Joshua disappeared — now here we are — four years later

Clues to the “certain history” the writer refers to can be found in the origins of St. John’s, which was founded in 1857 by Benedictine monks. The monks, nearly two hundred of them, reside on campus at St. John’s Abbey. The Abbey’s website states that they “seek God through a common life of prayer, study, and work, giving witness to Christ and the Gospel, in service to the church and the world.”

Five years ago, in the wake of nationwide allegations of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, the Abbey’s leader, Abbot John Klassen, publicly acknowledged that the Abbey restricts and oversees the lives of up to 15 monks who could pose a risk to the community due to sexual misconduct. The misconduct ranges from pornography to accusations of rape and murder. Klassen defended criticism by noting that when the monks are living at the Abbey, “they are in our community, and the public doesn’ t have to worry about what is happening in the larger community,” Klassen told the St. Cloud Times.

But what about the safety of members of what Klassen calls “our community,” the St. John’s community? What about people like Josh Guimond, walking alone across the dark campus toward home? Josh doesn’t appear to be in the lakes or any low-lying area. St. John’s is an isolated, rural campus, an unlikely spot for a random predator. No one reported anyone suspicious looking the night Josh disappeared. What kind of person could be dangerous but would fit right in?

Amid the long, heartfelt messages on Josh’s website, a single, stark question stands out. From Find Joshua Guimond:

    How come St. John’s Abbey wouldn’t allow the police to enter the Abbey shortly after it was discovered Josh was missing?

    Still Missing in the Midwest
    Date Published 03.20.07