I believe the time has come to officially close the book on John Vansice as a person of interest in Iowa’s 1983 Copper Dollar Ranch double homicide story.
Vansice, of course, is the Iowa native who became a person of interest in connection with the other high-profile Iowa case that this website is dedicated to: the 1995 disappearance of Jodi Huisentruit in Mason City. Simply put, Vansice was one of the people closest to Jodi in the months before her disappearance, and, though he was never formally detained or arrested, it’s fair to say a cloud of suspicion has surrounded him since that fateful day. In Dead Air, I wrote extensively about Vansice and the connections he and Jodi shared in the months before she disappeared.
So how did Vansice’s name ever get linked to the older Copper Dollar Ranch story in the first place? Some claim he brought it up himself, in preparing for an interview with police on the day Jodi disappeared.
As I have written in the past, my initial interest in the Copper Dollar case grew directly out of witness remarks about what John Vansice allegedly said on June 27, 1995, the day Jodi Huisentruit disappeared.
A look back in time
A friend recounted what he observed about John’s behavior and state of mind that morning. John told police officers he “was the last person to see Jodi alive,” referencing his claim that she had been at his home the previous evening to view a video of her recent birthday party. Later, as John prepared to deliver the video in question to police headquarters and face what he considered to be further scrutiny, the Mason City friend paraphrased John as saying, “I’m really sweating this interview, because I’m already a person of interest in a double murder in Newton.” That statement led many to speculate how well Vansice really knew the key players in the Copper Dollar Ranch case.
It’s a good example of how misinformation is likely to start. The witness’s remark may have been made in good faith that day; it also may have been made in error. It’s possible the remark has been long forgotten by the person who is alleged to have said it. Whether it was said at all or spoken at another time and place is also in question.
The late Jim Feldhaus of South Dakota immersed himself in the Jodi Huisentruit case for years. An independent investigator who called himself “The Cat,” Feldhaus made calls, talked to people, and conducted research. Though he worked independently from police and from Jodi’s family, it’s believed he may have been one of the first investigators who publicly linked John Vansice with the Copper Dollar Ranch. In fact, one of Feldhaus’ early theories had Vansice working at the ranch during the time of the murders of Steven Fisher and Melisa Gregory.
“I wouldn’t know him if I saw him face to face.”
We do know that John Vansice is a native of central Iowa. Born in Baxter, he lived in Newton at the time of the infamous March 3, 1983 double slaying. The then-married father of two did not leave Newton until his divorce in the early ‘90’s. Late in 1994, Vansice moved to the Key Apartments in Mason City, where he became fast friends with Jodi Huisentruit.
Even though he lived and worked in the Newton area during the 1980’s, Vansice was never employed at the Ranch, according to former Copper Dollar Ranch owner, Hal Snedeker. Snedeker recently confirmed that fact to Gary Peterson and me, saying he wants to set the record straight.
Of course, in a town the size of Newton, it is likely the two men knew each other, even if they were not close acquaintances. But Snedeker now says, “I wouldn’t know him if I saw him face to face.”
Jasper County Sheriff John Halferty also has taken a step toward clearing Vansice’s name. After the March 3, 2014 arrest of Theresa Supino, Halferty clarified that John Vansice is not even of peripheral interest in connection with the slayings at the ranch.
This largely ends one line of speculation that surrounded the case for many years. It is good news, certainly, that the recent arrest of a suspect takes the Copper Dollar Ranch slayings off the cold case list. The prime suspect, Terri Supino (Steve Fisher’s then-wife), is now in custody in Jasper County, Iowa, waiting for the legal gears to turn. We are anticipating her case to come to trial later this year.