Saturday, October 17, 2020

Susan Anne Swedell: Missing Since January 19, 1988

Swedell was employed at the K-Mart retail store in Oak Park Heights, Minnesota in 1988. She phoned her family members from work at 4:00 p.m. on January 19, 1988. Swedell said that she planned to go straight home after her shift ended to watch a movie. She changed into a short skirt before she departed from work, which was considered odd due to the snowy conditions at the time.

Swedell's vehicle overheated during her drive to her residence. She stopped at a gasoline station at the corner of Manning Avenue and Highway 5, approximately one mile from her home in Lake Elmo, Minnesota. The attendant allowed Swedell to park her car at the establishment. The employee told authorities that she entered a vehicle driven by an unidentified male shortly afterwards. The man appeared to have been waiting for Swedell near the station. He is described as having shoulder-length curly hair and a well-built physique. The witness said that the man was tall and was unshaven. The individual was wearing a leather jacket at the time Swedell entered his car. She never returned home and has not been heard from again.

When authorities searched Swedell's car, they found her driver's license inside it. Swedell's mother drove the vehicle to a repair shop. Mechanics discovered the petcock on the radiator had been loosened, and the car had no water in it, which explains why it overheated. Investigator theorized someone loosened the petcock deliberately and followed Swedell's car, waiting for it to malfunction so they could offer her a ride.

Swedell's mother believes her daughter came back to their apartment a few days after her disappearance. She stated there was an odor of cigarette smoke in the residence and dirty dishes in the sink. The red pantsuit Swedell had been wearing on the day of her disappearance, before she changed into her skirt, was found balled up on her bed. There was no sign of Swedell herself at the home, however, and it is unclear whether she was ever actually there.

Swedell attended the University of Wisconsin at River Falls for a semester after she graduated Stillwater High School, but she decided she was not ready to live away from home and returned to live with her mother and younger sister. She worked two jobs at the time of her disappearance, and was active at Christ Lutheran Church. Her loved ones reported that she had been receiving telephone calls at work from a man named Dale in 1989. It is not known if the person is connected to her disappearance.

Authorities detected activity on Swedell's Social Security number in 2006, but it turned out to be a case of identity theft. Foul play is suspected in Swedell's case.

Vital Statistics:

Missing Since: January 19, 1988 from Lake Elmo, Minnesota
Classification: Endangered Missing
Date Of Birth: February 13, 1968
Age: 19 years old
Height and Weight: 5'4, 100 pounds
Distinguishing Characteristics: Caucasian female. Sandy brown hair, hazel eyes. Swedell's ears are pierced. Her nickname is Sue. She has had extensive dental work.
Clothing/Jewelry Description: A short skirt, a winter jacket and earrings.


LAKE ELMO - Susan Swedell prepared to head home to Lake Elmo after finishing her shift at K-Mart in Oak Park Heights, calling ahead to let her mother know she was coming home to watch a movie, but might be a little late because of poor road conditions.

Twenty years later, her mother is still waiting.

Coworkers said the 19-year-old changed into a short skirt before she left work, where she frequently received phone calls from a man she referred to as "Dale." Driving in heavy snow, the 19-year-old made it as far as a gas station at the corner of Highway 5 and Manning Avenue, where she asked an attendant if she could leave her car at the station because she was having car trouble. A short while later, the attendant saw her get into another car with an unidentified man described as unshaven, tall with shoulder length curly hair, well built and wearing a leather jacket.

No one has heard from Swedell since.

"We don't know anything more today than we did 20 years ago," her mother, Kathy Swedell, said Thursday.

"That whole night - January 19, 1988 - was a terrible, terrible night for us, because we couldn't do anything and we had no idea what had happened to her. And then the night stretched into days, and the days into years, and the years into decades. ... It's hard to believe it's been that long."

Still, Swedell said she can't let go of the hope that someone will be able to tell her what happened to her daughter. When she speaks with reporters on the anniversary of the disappearance, it is because she knows that every story is another chance someone might see Susan's face and remember the night she herself can never forget.

"I have always felt that there has to be somebody out there who knows something," Swedell said.

'We were very close'

At the time of the disappearance, Kathy Swedell and her two teenage daughters were renting a home in downtown Lake Elmo. Susan had graduated from Stillwater High School and was working two jobs while considering her next step in life. Her younger sister Christine was a busy high school student.

"We were very close," Kathy recalled. "Sure, there was a lot of teenage stuff going on in the house - they can test a parent's patience sometimes - but I would've never guessed that anything like this would ever happen. But then people always say that; they never think it's going to happen to them."

When it did, the Swedells went on television and gave newspaper interviews, asking anyone with information on the disappearance to step forward. Meanwhile, investigators from the Washington County Sheriff's Office followed every lead but learned no more about the mysterious man or what prompted Susan to get in a car with him.

As the months wore on, Kathy and Christine found it increasingly difficult to live in their Lake Elmo home.

"It seemed like we spent most of the time waiting for the phone to ring," Kathy said. "It just felt really cold in the house - and then you'd go upstairs and Susan's room would be empty. After two years of that, we decided it was time for a change."

In late 1989, the Swedells moved to Brooklyn Center, where they still live, but they never stopped looking for Susan.

With the help of missing persons organizations, posters were placed across the country. In 2002, Minnesota's Spotlight on Crime program began offering a $25,000 reward for any information leading to a break in the case. Still, no news came.

'It could be my daughter!'

In the fall of 2006, the Swedells got the kind of lead they had been waiting for - a woman in California tried to enlist in the military under Susan's name and social security number.

"An investigator came over to our house, and said, 'Don't get your hopes up, but I've got some news,'" Kathy Swedell recalled. "But you be a mother and try to do that. I didn't want to get my hopes up, but I thought, 'It could be my daughter!'"

Swedell's hopes were dashed when she learned the woman in question had used information from a missing person poster to trick a government employee into giving her Susan's social security number.

"It felt like my daughter was victimized all over again, and we felt victimized, too. It was heart wrenching," she said. "And after all that, we were back to square one."

That cycle of hope and despair is common for the families of missing persons, according to Carol Watson, executive director of Missing Children Minnesota.

"The family has to deal with those question marks. And there is no closure; it just goes on and on and on for ever," she said. "You go through some of the stages of grief, but you just keep repeating them over and over and over again and are never able to get to closure. And that's the hell of it."

Swedell compared the experience to a never-ending emotional roller coaster.

"It's hard to get past it, the not knowing. People ask me if I'm going to have a memorial service for Susan. Well, I could go through a memorial service and still not know ... and I'm not ready to give up hope until I know one way or the other."

Keeping hope, and memory, alive

On the 20th anniversary of Susan Swedell's disappearance, her mother said she would like people to not only take another look at her daughter's picture, but light a candle as a sign of memory and hope.

"That's really symbolic for us," she said. "It makes us feel good to know that people are doing that, to know that people are thinking about her and keeping the hope alive."

Watson said even a simple gesture like that can send a powerful message.

"It's important for people to know that a symbolic act - like lighting a candle to remember Susan, and all the other long-term missing, unresolved cases - is an act that acknowledges this particular family's pain and says that we all, as a society, are diminished when these things happen."

Swedell said she's comforted by the fact that friends throughout the country and on several continents will light candles in memory of her daughter tomorrow, even if none of them knows what happened to her.

"Having no closure is really, really difficult, because you just can't say- we don't even know if she's dead or alive," she said. "I guess it's just human nature to keep that hope going until you know something for sure."

But that doesn't make it easy.

"The curiosity wears on you. ... You do find a way of going on, but it's a real challenge. That much I can tell you."


On January 19, 1988, 19 year old Susan Anne Swedell phoned her family members at 4:00 PM from her place of work, K-Mart, in Oak Park Heights, MN. She had said she planned on going straight home from work and watch movies. Before she had left work, it was noted she had changed into a short skirt, which was odd because it was blizzard-like outside that day.

On Susan's way home, her vehicle overheated. She stopped at a gas station along Highway 5 and at the corner of Manning Avenue, which was one mile away from her home in Lake Elmo, Minnesota. The gas station attendant let Susan leave her car there, and observed her leaving with an unidentified man shortly afterwards who had been waiting for her near the station. The man she left with was described as having shoulder length curly hair, tall, unshaven and a well built physique. He was wearing a leather jacket at the time Susan entered his car. Susan has never been seen or heard from since, and the man is still unidentified.

When Susan vanished, she was 5'4" and 100 pounds. She has sandy brown hair and hazel eyes. She has had extensive dental work and both her ears are pierced. She was last seen wearing a winter jacket with earrings in and a short skirt. She goes by "Sue". At the time she vanished, she was working two jobs, and was active at Christ Lutheran Church. She graduated from Stillwater High school, then attended University of Wisconsin at River Falls for a semester. She returned home because she felt she was not ready to live away from home yet. She moved back in with her mother and younger sister.

When Susan's car was found, her driver's license was still inside. Her mother took the vehicle to a repair shop and it was found out the petcock on the radiator was loosened and the car had no water in it, which explains why her car overheated. Law enforcement believes someone deliberately loosened the petcock, and followed Susan in hopes the car would malfunction so they could offer her a ride.

At the time she vanished, her loved ones reported she had been receiving phone calls at work from a man named Dale in 1989. It is not known how he knew Susan, why he was calling her or if he is connected to her disappearance. 
Susan's mother believed she made it home that night because the red pantsuit she had changed out of previously at work that day were found balled up on her bed. There were dirty dishes in the sink, as well as the smell of fresh cigarette smoke. There was no sign of Susan herself, and it was unknown if she was ever in her residence that night. In 2006, there was activity on her social security card, but it turned out to be a case of identity theft.

I will first note how odd it is for Susan to have changed into a skirt during cold weather. Could she have had plans to go out and about for the night? Did she have plans with "Dale"? I also have many questions as to who Dale is. Was he a friend? Someone Susan had a quiet relationship with? It seems that is most probable because why else would he call her at work instead of at home? I also wonder if "Dale" is who met her at the gas station. Possibly she called him from work to let him know she was headed home. Maybe he knew to meet her there because he knew her route home. Not saying he is responsible for her disappearance, but I do find those phone calls quite odd. 

The unknown man Susan was seen leaving with was sporting a leather jacket,
more in the "rocker" Bret Michaels style than biker style.
I also agree with Law Enforcement that her car was deliberately tampered with to malfunction so her abductor (I do believe she was abducted) could offer her a ride. It makes sense why this person would sit and wait for her as she came out of the gas station. I only wonder if she knew the person she got the ride from. We must remember cell phones were definitely not common back then, so the fact this person was waiting for her at the gas station as her car stalled is a big factor in their intentions. As for whether or not she ever made it back to the residence, could the person who had taken her been responsible for her pants being there? Maybe the person took her back her home to have her make it look like he brought her back there, and then she just left. Or, if this is someone she had a relationship with (Dale), maybe they went back to her place to hang out, and things went sour. I think if we found out who Dale was, if she was seeing someone, if she smoked, and what time her mom came home to find her missing, it would help. I did not see it listed that Susan smoked, so I'm wondering if the anonymous, leather jacket rocker smoked, because that would piece together the cigarette smoke. 

What should also be noted is that Stillwater Prison is ten minutes away from Lake Elmo. They have a level 4 maximum security, as well as minimum security. It would be interesting to check records to see any Dales who were incarcerated before or after she vanished.

Despite this being a very baffling case, it is still actively pursued today. If you know absolutely anything about the disappearance of Susan, who "Dale" is or know someone who matches the style and physical description of the unknown person who gave her a ride in 1988, please step forward and give her loved ones some peace. There is a $25,000 reward for anything that leads to Susan.


SAINT PAUL, Minn., June 12 /PRNewswire/ -- Four years ago Minnesotans were shocked by the murder of 16-year old Julie Ann Holmquist, who had been abducted while rollerblading on a rural Northwestern Minnesota road near her home. Nearly 20 years ago a senior citizen from Kandiyohi County was brutally murdered in his home by unknown assailants. And, the unusual disappearances of Laurie Ann Feiner of Oakdale and Susan Swedell from Lake Elmo remain a mystery. The connection between these four cases? Each remains unsolved.

Minnesota law enforcement officials are hoping that $225,000 in new reward money will prompt someone with information on each of these cases to come forward. "When it comes to getting people to come forward with information,money talks, plain and simple," said Minnesota Public Safety Commissioner Charlie Weaver. "We hope new rewards or increasing existing ones in each of these cases will be an incentive for someone with information, even the tiniest of clues, to share what they know with investigators."

The reward is being offered by Spotlight on Crime ( ), a fund established by Minnesota businesses in conjunction with state and local law enforcement officials. The reward fund is designed to reenergize cases where investigations have grown cold.

About the Four Cases:

 -- Julie Ann Holmquist/Hallock, Minn. (Reward: $100,000) -- Holmquist, 16, was reported missing by her parents on July 29, 1998 when she didn't return from rollerblading on a local rural road near her Kittson County (NW Minn.) home. Her body was discovered three weeks later in a gravel pit north of Lancaster, Minn., about 15 miles from where she is believed to have been abducted. Because the gravel pit was historically a popular local party spot, authorities believe that the perpetrator is a local person or someone with local knowledge. Anyone with information about Julie Holmquist's murder should call the Kittson County Sheriff's office at 218/843-3535.

-- Joseph "Scriver" Olson/Belgrade, Minn. (Reward: $50,000) -- Olson, 75, was found dead in his rural Kandiyohi County home on February 18, 1983. He was beaten and stabbed to death. Burglary has been mentioned as a possible motive. After his death the Kandiyohi County Sheriff's Department received an anonymous letter describing a brown pick-up truck with signage on the side parked at Olson's house the week of the murder. Anyone with information about Scriver Olson's murder should call Kandiyohi County Sheriff's office at 320/235-1260.

-- Laurie Ann Feiner/Oakdale, Minn. (Reward: $50,000) -- Feiner, 29 at the time of her disappearance, was last seen around 1 a.m. on May 9, 1992 outside of Chuck's Bar, located on Payne Avenue in St. Paul. Witnessessaw Feiner speaking with a man with whom she had been dancing inside the bar. She has not been heard from or seen since. Anyone with information about Laurie Ann Feiner's disappearance should call the Oakdale Police Department at 651/738-1022.

-- Susan Swedell/Lake Elmo, Minn. (Reward: $25,000) -- Swedell, 19 at the time of her disappearance, was last seen on January 19, 1988 at a gas station about a mile from her home in Lake Elmo. Employed by K-Mart inOak Park Heights, Swedell had frequently received phone calls at work from a man she referred to as "Dale." On the night of her disappearance, a snowy evening, she called her mom from K-Mart to let her know she planned on coming home to watch a movie. Before she left work Susan changed into a short skirt, which seemed odd because of the blizzard-like conditions. A short time later she asked a gas station attendant if she could leave her car at the station because she was having car trouble. She then got into another car with a man that was waiting for her. Witnesses described him as unshaven, tall withshoulder length curly hair, well built and wearing a leather jacket. She has not been heard from or seen since. Anyone with informationabout Susan Swedell's disappearance should call the Washington County Sheriff's office tipline at 651/430-7850.

"Over the past year Minnesota businesses have offered more than half-a million dollars in reward money to help law enforcement close some of our state's most heinous crimes. The goal of this unique partnership is to provide resources for crime fighters to bring criminals to justice and make Minnesota a safer state for all of us to live and work," said Target Corp. vice president of government affairs Nate Garvis. Target Corporation is a lead sponsor of the fund. Spotlight on Crime only focuses on crimes that remain unsolved after investigative efforts have been exhausted. Only violent crimes against innocent victims are considered. This brings the total number of cases offered a reward by the Spotlight on Crime fund in the past year to 10. The other six cases include (information available at ):

-- Nancy Daugherty, Chisholm
-- Carrie Nelson, Luverne
-- Wesley Morrison, St. Paul
-- Kevin Brewer, Minneapolis
-- Baby Marshall, Marshall
-- Anita Carlson, Bemidji

The Spotlight on Crime Fund is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization administered by the Minneapolis Foundation. Donations to the fund, which may come from any individual, corporation, foundation or other source, are tax deductible. Donations to the Spotlight on Crime fund are welcome. To make a donation, contact the Minneapolis Foundation at (612)672-3878.For more information on Spotlight on Crime and how it works, contact the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension at (651)642-0600 or visit .

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