TURNING DESPAIR INTO HOPE
Like Jerry and Patty Wetterling, Michael Anderson of Owatonna has experienced the anguish of having a child murdered. And similarly to the Wetterlings, Anderson has been waiting for answers for years, but not nearly as long.
The finding of Jacob’s remains and the confession from his killer are giving Anderson renewed hope that his daughter’s case will be solved. It’s something he’s been wanting for seven years.
Lacey Anderson, 19, went missing in Norfolk, Neb. in August 2009. Deer hunters found her body three months later in a remote wooded area. She was only identified through dental records and a shoe found at the scene.
Even after Lacey’s body was found, Anderson still wanted to believe it wasn’t his daughter. “It felt like I was living in a nightmare,” he said.
No one has been arrested in the case. And now seven years later, her father is still wondering who is responsible for her tragic death.
“It feels like a brick wall,” Anderson says, “But I’m holding out hope there will be answers.”
Answers are rarely pleasant. The Wetterlings finally heard a detailed and horrifying account of what took placed after their son was snatched while riding bicycle. “It has got to be hell to hear as a parent, but it’s better than not knowing,” Anderson said.
He wonders, “What kind of hell did she go through?”
While he hopes he doesn’t have to wait 27 years like the Wetterlings did to find out what happened to their son, Anderson is confident he will get an answer some day.
Besides the Wetterling case, Anderson also finds striking similarities with another local murder. The details surrounding the June killing of Richard Jurgensen in rural Steele County may be similar to what happened with Lacey.
Authorities have identified a suspected drug connection between all parties involved in the Jurgensen murder. The top prosecutor has said the victim and two suspects arrested in the killing were heavy users of methamphetamine. Investigators learned that the suspects thought Jurgensen was a police informant, though police have denied that.
“Hearing how they did that on a country road, killed him execution-style and possible snitching involved,” Anderson said, “There are a lot of similarities as to what I suspect happened to Lacey.”
Unlike Anderson’s case, the Jurgensen murder was solved and arrests made within a week. “I was happy that they got quick closure,” Anderson said. “I can’t help but wonder when Lacey’s time is going to come.”
Lacey also was heavily involved in meth. A short time before her disappearance, Lacey was involved in a drive-by shooting and charged with a felony. Her father says her life was threatened if she wouldn’t pull the trigger.
Just a month before her death, Lacey called her father and said, “Dad, I’m in trouble.” She also indicated she wanted to go into treatment. Anderson arranged a bed for her in Minnesota to help with her addiction.
But she never arrived back in Minnesota. The next thing Anderson got was a phone call from Lacey’s mother indicating she was missing.
Anderson kept holding out hope that she would show up on his doorstep any day. After a month went by, Anderson said, “It started hitting me that something was wrong, but I was in denial.”
The last person to have seen Lacey was a well-known drug dealer in the Norfolk area, according to Anderson. Police have questioned the drug dealer, but he reportedly knew nothing about her disappearance and subsequent killing.
Anderson is convinced the drug dealer killed his daughter.
“I went nuts trying to hold it together,” Anderson said of his daughter’s disappearance. “That last month was hell. It seemed like it was a crazy blur.”
Ever since Anderson received the phone call notifying him that Lacey was dead, he said with tears, “Everything has changed. I’m almost shamed to say it seems hopeless.”
Anderson admits he’s not the same person he used to be. He has trust issues, especially with two younger children. His marriage fell apart. And it’s hard for him to find enjoyment in life.
“When a child dies, a part of a parent dies, too,” Anderson says. “A part of me died with Lacey. I used to have a lot more passion for life.”
He has undergone extensive therapy with clergy, counselors and support groups. It has helped him push forward to be there for his other kids, who are 9 and 11.
With no evidence, no weapon and no suspect in his daughter’s death, Anderson said he feels “incredibly powerless.”
Anderson has joined in with others on social media in hopes of finding evidence leading to Lacey’s killer. There have been several strangers that have joined in recently, fueling hopefulness for Anderson that something will help crack the case.
“Lately that has been my optimism,” he says.
He also has helped to develop a motorcycle ride each year called, “Justice for Lacey.” Money raised from the benefit helps fund a scholarship program in Lacey’s honor.
Anger and desperation have defined Anderson over the past seven years. But he hopes to turn that outrage into healing once answers bring his daughter’s killer to justice.