The Land of 10,000 Lakes (S1, E5)

Summary Notes

Season 1, Episode 5

Date of Release: August 8, 2022

 

Welcome to Simply Vanished, an investigative podcast about missing persons. The show is produced by Trembling Leaf Media in Minneapolis and hosted by civil rights lawyer Josh Newville. Alternating between serial and episodic format, Simply Vanished digs deep to tell the stories of unsolved disappearances. In this first season of the show, Josh dives into a story that hits especially close to home for him—that of Joshua Guimond, a college student at Saint John’s University in Minnesota who disappeared in the middle of the night on Saturday, November 9, 2002.

In this episode, Josh begins by discussing three leads that he is currently working on that involve apparent attacks/attempted abductions on college men in the area. First, he asks listeners for help with a lead from a year or two before Guimond's disappearance. Second, we hear from a tipster ("Jeff") who describes another incident from mid-November 2002 in which three men tried to lure him into a car in the same that Jeremy described in episode 4. Third, another tipster ("Mitchell") describes how three men tried luring him into a van in the fall of 2008.

Josh then tackles the question of whether Guimond may have accidentally drowned. He begins by revisiting the massive search effort, which included more than 200 volunteers and members of the National Guard, helicopters, horses, divers, and dogs.

 

The sheriff seems to have focused almost exclusively on the theory that Guimond drowned, ostensibly because a police ​bloodhound led searchers to a culvert alongside a road on campus. Josh talks with a retired police officer and K9 handler, who explains the interpretive limitations of that report.

We learn that the bodies of two other college men (Chris Jenkins and Michael Noll) were discovered in water in the spring of 2003 and that authorities used those discoveries to justify their conclusion that Guimond had most likely drowned. For example, Josh shares a memo written by a medical examiner from a different county (Dr. Michael Boyd McGee), who recommended that police not engage in "further intensive investigation." 

 

After describing the thorough search of the lakes and nearby areas (which included cadaver dogs and one of the best underwater recovery teams in the world), Josh reminds us that we have to avoid having tunnel vision and must continue following the evidence as we consider the various explanations for Guimond's disappearance.

Please rate the show and subscribe on Apple podcasts, and download the Simply Vanished app! You can find more information and resources on our website.

 

If you have any information about Joshua Guimond, please contact us or the Stearns County Sheriff’s Department. You can submit tips anonymously on our website or via our tip line at (612) 439-3646.

Transcript

Dr. Michael Boyd McGee (as read by voice actor): "This office is regularly involved in the investigation of deaths where deceased subjects are recovered from water. Recently, this has included three unrelated deaths where the deceased subjects were reported missing during the latter months of 2002. These subjects were finally recovered during the last two weeks, having remained in the water over the winter. . .

 

Based on this information, I would not recommend further intensive investigation by the Sheriff's Office at this time. This office does understand the burden this places on the subject's family, and we do extend our condolences to them."

 

Josh Newville: This is the Simply Vanished podcast, produced by Trembling Leaf Media in Minneapolis. I'm your host, Josh Newville.

Officially, this is episode number 5 of season 1, which is focused on the November 2002 disappearance of 20-year-old Joshua Chaney Guimond. My current plan is to produce 3 more numbered episodes about Josh's case, tentatively to be released on August 29, September 12 and November 14. I will also host a bonus episode next week in which I will address a number of inquiries and comments from listeners. You may submit questions and thoughts via voicemail or the website.

 

After the conclusion of season one, we will temporarily switch to an episodic format in which I will tell you about one unsolved disappearance per episode. We will continue to solicit tips for each case that we discuss, we'll share that information with law enforcement, and at some point we'll switch back to a serial format with Season 2, which of course will be another deep dive into one specific disappearance.

 

Provided that we remain both helpful and successful, we will continue onward alternating between serial and episodic format, covering unsolved disappearances throughout the United States and Canada. And as you've seen already, it's you, our listeners, that can make that happen. I continue to be blown away by your tips and your thoughtful engagement.

 

Each week we are receiving and processing more and more leads and including additional reports of threatening interactions between strangers and young men that occurred in the area of Josh's disappearance before, during and after November 2002. Let's talk about one example of each.

 

We are currently digging into a reported incident from a year or two prior to Josh's disappearance in which a man reportedly pulled a student into the bushes and held his head underwater. If you have further information about any such incident, we would very much like to hear from you. You can reach us via our tip line at 612-439-3646.

 

Second, here's a report of another incident from mid-November 2002 from a tipster I'm calling Jeff. The incident he described happened within two blocks of that that Jeremy described in episode number four.

 

Jeff: I bought a Snickers bar at the gas station and as I left I was walking out onto Birch there and a car pulled up right next to me. And there was three guys in the car and the driver said to me... Okay, how did he say it? He said, "Do you know where the White House is?" And the White House was a party house in St. Joe at the time. So I just said, "It's up around the corner over there." And I pointed off to my left because that would've been where the law was and all that. And they opened the door then to the car and they said, "Well, get in and we'll go."

And I don't know why, but I was just creeped out because they opened the door and there was a guy in the driver's seat, a guy in the passenger seat and a guy in the back seat. And I'm a big guy, built and I play football, and that guy in the back was probably bigger than me. And I don't know why, but I was just creeped out because he would not look at me but he had his arm up around the back seat of the car. And they tell me to get in the car and I just was creeped out so I took off. I ran behind the car and there's a dirt alleyway there. I ran down the dirt alleyway and as I started running, they peeled out and took off.

And I came out a block or so down and they actually pulled around to where I was coming out and I darted back behind some more houses and I ended up... My friend was in town so I was on the phone with him as I was running. And he picked me up down by Sal's a little bit on that main strip there where the bars are. And yeah, that was basically what happened.

 

When it happened, I guess I have a little bit different recollection than Jeremy was saying where everybody was on edge. I don't feel like the campus was super on edge. There was a lot of people out still at the bar and things.

 

The thing that got me, I guess, was I hadn't listened to your podcast. My friend, ********, the one who actually picked me up, texted me right when you had the first episode. He was like, "Oh, you should listen to this." And I hadn't gotten around to it. And we got together because another friend was back in town this weekend. And we were all standing there and my friend, he was talking about the podcast. I was like, "Oh yeah, I've got to listen to that."

 

And then my friend, *******, who I told him about this story so I do have people who can corroborate that, he's like, "Yeah, you had something happen to you like that. You were freaked out that night." And I was. I remember, I don't know why, but I took off because they just were not... I don't know. They just not seemed like they should be there.

And then description that Jeremy gave then from your podcast, the door to the car was longer, I do know that. The car, I want to say, was a brownish tannish color. I can't remember the interior color. I just remember the guy in there in the back seat looking straight ahead with his arm around the seat. They were wearing ball caps and I remember them having facial hair.

 

And yeah, the door thing, when he said the door of the cars were longer, that really got me. And I want to say it was more like a hatchback wagon, a wagon type of car, and I do remember the rack on top. So that was... Yeah.

Josh Newville: And here's another incident as reported by a tipster I'm calling Mitchell from the fall of 2008.

 

Mitchell: I remember it was a beautiful kind of crisp fall evening around dusk, probably around 7, 7:30 or so. I had driven to Cash Wise in St. Cloud where a lot of people that work at St. John's and students and stuff go to shop. And everything was normal. I parked my car. I was in the parking lot.

 

And I got out of my car, started walking to the store and I noticed a large white conversion van with, for sure, one guy in the front in the driver's seat. I don't remember for sure if there was somebody else in the passenger seat. But he called me over and he said, he's like, "Hey man, would you be interested in buying some very discounted Best Buy speakers?"

And so that kind of struck me as being a little bit odd, just coming out of nowhere. And so I sort of got a little bit closer to the van and he was like, "Yeah, no, we're just trying to get rid of them. We're getting rid of them dirt cheap. Whatever you have, we'll be willing to give you these speakers."

 

And kind of being the polite Minnesotan that I am, I got a little bit closer. And they had the back doors of the white van open. And I should mention another thing that struck me, I remember, when I looked at the van was all of the windows were tinted basically so you couldn't see inside.

 

And so I got to the back of the van. I was a little bit weirded out and so I kind of kept a little bit of distance. And when I looked inside, I was probably about maybe five, six feet away, I saw, I'm fairly certain, it was two men in the back of the van. And they had a few long sort of rectangular what kind of looked like speaker boxes in the back. And they're like, "Yeah, yeah, here, come here. Just come take a look. Come take a look at these speakers."

 

And I kind of awkwardly kind laughed it off and said, "No, no, I'm good. I don't really need any speakers." They were like, "No, we want to get rid of them. They're really cheap, just whatever you want to give us." And it's just like you have those instances with life where things strike you as very unusual and very just kind of freaky and wrong. And so I kind of said, "No, I'm good," and I walked away.

So I was a little bit on edge after that. And the part that really scared me was... So I walked into Cash Wise and I noticed that one of the guys from the van got out of the van and started following me. If I had to describe the men in the van, I would say probably age 35 to 45. Nobody that would really stand out to me, kind of dressed in sort of like a denim and flannel type look. It was a fall evening. I think kind of scruffy maybe a little bit, but nothing that really made them stand out.

 

So I got into Cash Wise, saw the guy following me. And at this point, I really had this sort of animal instinct of panic. And when I described the situation in the past to friends and family, I tell them that you have experiences in life where you kind of like, "Oh, somebody was after me. Oh, this was a scary incident." This was one of those instances where there was not a doubt in my mind that something really foul was going on.

And so got into Cash Wise. I started walking around. I kind of put some things in the cart. I wasn't really in the state of mind to do my full shop at the time. But the guy very suspiciously followed me throughout the entire store. I kind of did a few turns in different aisles and kind of swerved around a little bit to see if it was just in my head or not. And sure enough, I looked back and he would kind of be poking out from behind an aisle or kind of just lurking a ways back from me.

 

So at this point, I was incredibly scared. I called my dad and I told him what was happening. I was like, "I'm in Cash Wise. These guys tried to sell me these speakers out of their van. One of them is tailing me." And I don't exactly remember what my dad told me. I think he said, "Be careful. If you need to call somebody, call somebody. But don't put yourself in a situation where you're going to be in danger."

So eventually, got a few things, I checked out. When I left the store I don't remember if he specifically followed me out of the store or if he kind of trailed off and exited a different location. But when I got to my car, I looked around for the white van and, sure enough, it was still sitting there. At this point, it was completely dark. So it wasn't an empty parking lot or anything, but it was dark. And so I was quite a bit more nervous, threw my stuff in the trunk and then I started driving back to St. John's.

 

And to make a situation that was already incredibly disturbing to me worse was that as I pulled out, the white van followed me. And at this point, hair is standing up on my arms, you kind of can feel it physically in your body, kind of these sort of tingle and, in my head, just this very out of body experience because like, "Is this really happening to me?"

And so I drove, got back on 94 and it followed me, kept following me. It's not a long drive from St. Cloud back to St. John's. And at some point between the time that I left Cash Wise and when I got off the exit to go back to St. John's, they trailed off at some point. I don't exactly remember when. And that was sort of the end of it. I was still pretty shaken. I remember telling some of my friends when I got back about the experience. But it was an incredibly distressing experience.

 

And being, I guess, about six years after Josh's experience, I didn't necessarily make a direct connection to the two, whether or not there is. I think my friends and I sort of discussed it sort of in passing. But it was one of those experiences where I'm like, now reflecting back, I still get really just kind of freaked out when I think about it.

 

And thank God that, for whatever reason, I was able to kind of get them off my trail or they left me or for whatever reason I didn't go into the van to buy the speakers or whatever because who knows would have happened but-

Josh Newville: So you think there were three, possibly a fourth, but you don't vividly remember anyone in the passenger seat, right?

Mitchell: I don't vividly, but it was so long ago. There could have been two in the front. For sure, one. And I'm about 99% sure in the back there were two. Because that the fact that there were two people in the back struck me as, I guess, more unusual as one person would have been in the back, which I guess would have been a little bit weird too.

 

Josh Newville: Were all the guys white?

 

Mitchell: From what I can recall, yeah, they were all white.

 

Josh Newville: How about height and weight, roughly?

 

Mitchell: The guys in the car, and again it was fall, so from what I can recall, they were dressed in sort of bulkier type jackets and jeans and things like that. The guy that followed me into the store, I would say he's maybe like 5' 8". I guess relatively average, 5' 8", 5' 9". Weight, maybe, I don't know, 150, 160.

 

Again, it was hard to tell with kind of the bulkier clothes on. I think brown hair, from what I can recall. I think he had a hat on as well. And I kind of remember him having sort of like a short beard or kind of scruff on his face.

 

Josh Newville: How tall are you?

 

Mitchell: I'm 5' 10".

 

Josh Newville: Did you call anyone when they followed you out of the lot?

 

Mitchell: I've thought about that. I think, I'm not a hundred percent sure, but I'm pretty sure that I called my dad again and got him on the phone. And I was like, "Now I'm in the car and they're following me." And I believe that I stayed on the phone with him until I got back to St. John's, just because I was just that nervous.

 

I was just kind of freaked out about the whole thing. Like I mentioned before, there's really no doubt in my mind that I had a narrow escape of something that could have been really dangerous and really, really bad.

 

Josh Newville: In addition to bordering the largest fresh water lake in the world, if you account for every lake, river and pond, the state of Minnesota has more than 124,000 bodies of water, including more than 43,000 lakes with over 10,000 of those being larger than 10 acres in size.

 

It's also true that accidental drowning has long been a leading cause of death among young men, especially where alcohol was involved.

 

But of course, drownings are not always accidental.

 

And as you know, disappearances, simply because they happen in the general vicinity of water, are not always caused by drownings.

 

One of the most common questions I am asked in this case is why we are so confident that Josh was unlikely to have drowned on the evening of November 9, 2002. To answer that, let's start with November 11 and revisit the search effort.

 

On that day, a massive search began on the entire campus of St. John's University, including by foot, horseback, divers, helicopter and dogs. Between 2:00 and 3:00 AM, Waite Park Police Department brought a German Shepherd patrol dog to aid in the search. Between 32 and 40 hours after Josh left Nate's dorm, a bloodhound from the Pope County Sheriff's Office led searchers to a culvert alongside a road on campus. At that point where the canine lost the scent, it seems one of two things happened. Either Josh went in the placid knee to waist height water or he got in a vehicle.

As you will learn, Sheriff John Sanner became convinced that Josh had drowned, seemingly ignoring the possibility that he got in a vehicle. Although that itself is extremely frustrating, particularly in light of the additional evidence we have and we've been uncovering about random roadside attacks, I've also been concerned about this car versus water being a false dichotomy, particularly in light of the computer evidence suggesting the possibility that Josh made it back to his dorm room that night.

 

So, I spoke with a retired police officer and canine handler.

 

Retired Police Officer: I partially got involved in law enforcement due to the Jacob Watterling incident that happened in Minnesota. I graduated high school in 1990 and really decided that I wanted to go into law enforcement, try and be involved in helping cases similar to that or helping people in general. I was a police canine handler for about 16 years. I had two dogs, both of them were patrol dogs that were both certified in tracking.

 

I have also owned a company that assist in selling and raising police dogs specifically used for tracking. I've been involved in numerous training throughout the Midwest, specifically a lot in the Minnesota area. I've been to seminars on tracking both in Canada and in different areas in the United States, including Texas, out on the east coast. I have trained with bloodhounds. I have seen them work, I have seen them operate. And dogs are incredible and they can do incredible things, but they also have some limits of what they can be able to do.

First of all, the first dog that was brought in, most of their training would be done looking for fairly fresh human scent. Not typically most patrol dogs don't train for 24 hour old area searches. The bloodhound, you're still talking about 32 to 33 hours which is a very long time for a track in a highly densely populated area, which this was at the time, at least being traveled by a lot of people who are just on their day to day walking or traveling, but also the people who were looking for Josh. I think it's very hard for a dog to be able to reliably lose a track in that area and be able to say that, "Well, they either got into a car or possibly they went over the bridge."

I don't know that I would base my investigation... I wouldn't say beyond any reasonable certainty that that is the case. I would not rely an investigation on that. Especially if the dog handler was already told ahead of time, "We believe this is the path that they took," or where they just basically just said, "We want you to check the area for this scent." I also wonder if the dog could have been picking up their track walking there as well.

 

Josh Newville: But Stearns County Sheriff's Office was certain that Josh had drowned or otherwise succumbed to the elements of the rural, heavily wooded university. Over the next few weeks, more than 200 volunteers and members of the Minnesota National Guard helped search the 2,700 acre campus, including swamps, fields and woodlands. In addition to diving and dragging the lakes, officials lowered the water levels and even drained one lake completely.

 

Although campus buildings and tunnels continued to be searched, those searches were mostly conducted by volunteers and campus security personnel. Police failed to secure Josh's dorm room, including his computer, until the Thursday following his disappearance. And they waited weeks to interview everyone who was at Nate's dorm on the evening of Josh's disappearance.

They didn't canvass gas stations and businesses along the freeway exits and they never bothered to inform the public that they were aware of the reported attacks on both Anthony and Zach. If they had, perhaps they would have heard from Jeremy and others.

 

The public messaging remained clear: there was no evidence to suggest that Josh left campus or was the victim of foul play. And the most plausible explanation, according to the Stearns County Sheriff's Department, was that Josh Guimond had accidentally drowned.

 

Josh's parents began coordinating with the parents of Chris Jenkins and undertaking their own investigative efforts. Additionally, rumors started to percolate about whether a member of the St. John's monastic community had anything to do with Josh's disappearance. That community had arguably been infested with pockets of overtly sexual monks, many of whom had openly, even gleefully, preyed on young men.

 

As 2002 came to a close, St. John's grew increasingly concerned about its public image. It began pulling on its levers of community influence and coordinating messaging with the Stearns County Sheriff's Department.

 

Meanwhile, a St. John's employee tried desperately to pass along a tip to investigators about a possible suspect who worked at the university. The tipster grew so frustrated with being ignored by detectives that they anonymously passed along the tip to Josh's family.

 

Josh's dad then pleaded with County Attorney Janelle Kendall to ensure that investigators did more than just search for a body. He begged her to pursue other leads, including those on campus and even if that meant subpoenaing members of the monastic community and the Abbey itself. Kendall, whose husband worked at St. John's, flatly refused, nor did she have someone take over the case who didn't have such a perceived, if not actual, conflict of interest.

 

In late February, Chris Jenkins' body was found in the Mississippi River near downtown Minneapolis. Initially, police incorrectly classified his death as an accidental drowning only to later correct that and classify it as a homicide.

 

Meanwhile, at the end of March, 2003, the body of another college student surfaced. During the same two week period as Josh and Chris's disappearance, Michael Noll had gone missing in nearby western Wisconsin. Noll's death, which does appear to have been in accidental drowning, solidified Sheriff John Sanners's view that Josh had drowned.

 

Josh's family was desperate to put that theory to rest in hopes that detectives would actually start investigating all of the potential explanations for Josh's disappearance. On April 1, 2003, Brian Guimond went to the Stearns County Board of Commissioners and asked them to put pressure on Sanner to bring in the Colorado based Trident Foundation who was widely seen as one of the best underwater body recovery teams in the world. They have never cleared a body of water in which a victim was later found. What better way to put the drowning theory to rest?

 

That brings us to April 2, 2003. And I'll be honest, what I'm about to share with you makes my blood boil. And although I have been cautious not to get too sidetracked with all of the incompetence and even downright nastiness that has previously led this investigation astray, this one cannot be ignored.

 

It's not yet entirely clear who pulled the levers to make this happen, but on the morning of April 2, 2003, a medical examiner from a different county faxed a memo to Stearns County. The sender's name was Dr. Michael Boyd McGee. And, side note here, Madeline Baron and others have uncovered repeatedly terrible conduct by McGee. Feel free to Google him after this episode. Here is what he wrote:

 

Dr. Michael Boyd McGee (as read by voice actor): "This memo is prepared following recent discussions regarding the above caption death investigation and the possibility of locating and recovering the subject.

 

It is my understanding that this young man was reported missing on November 9th, 2002. Despite an extensive investigation carried out by the Stearns County Sheriff's office, as well as other agencies in the area, they have been unable to locate and recover the subject. Further, given the location, there's a strong probability that the subject's body may be within a body of water.

 

This office is regularly involved in the investigation of deaths where deceased subjects are recovered from water. Recently, this has included three unrelated deaths where the deceased subjects were reported missing during the latter months of 2002. These subjects were finally recovered during the last two weeks, having remained in the water over the winter. We have been informed that this is due to the cold winter and the associated cold water temperatures and ice formation.

 

Based on this information, I would not recommend further intensive investigation by the Sheriff's Office at this time. I believe the probability of locating and recovering the subject may increase with time as in the above cases.

 

This office does understand the burden this place is on the subject's family, and we do extend our condolences to them.

 

If I can be of further assistance in this matter, please contact me."

 

Josh Newville: How McGee or anyone with half a brain thought that he had the foundational basis to give that advice is beyond me. And while this podcast is not the forum for it, and so I'm going to say this and move on, someone should be demanding answers. Because Michael McGee didn't fire off that fax on his own volition. Clearly, someone asked him for it and for pretty obvious reasons. And those people should be required to explain that conduct.

 

Alas, Stearns County and St. John's agreed to allow the Trident Foundation to search the campus lakes, although Josh's family was responsible for raising the requisite funding and St. John's was adamant that the Trident Foundation could only come after graduation.

The Trident Foundation would ultimately be arriving during the second week of May. And so for a month and a half, John Sanner engaged in an all out blitz to find Josh's body before Trident showed up. He brought in sonar, helicopters, more divers. They dragged the lakes again. He even brought in another county sheriff's department.

 

And eventually, he brought in cadaver dogs. For a while, the dogs obsessed over an area of Stumpf Lake that ultimately proved fruitless. And a quick glance at Google Maps satellite view explains the likely reason for that confusion. That area of the lake is fed by runoff from St. John's 150-year-old cemetery.

In mid-May 2003, the Trident Foundation searched all three lakes on campus. They used sophisticated equipment and some of the best personnel in the world. Ultimately, they cleared all three lakes of Josh.

 

And so now you can hopefully see why everyone close to this case, including the current personnel at Stearns County Sheriff's Department, is no longer interested in pursuing the theory that Josh accidentally drowned.

 

But John Sanner didn't let go. He started peddling theories like Josh was eaten by snapping turtles... or maybe he sunk in quicksand.

 

Yeah, a soil conservation expert who works for the state ultimately wrote a letter explaining that there is no such quicksand in that area.

So what did happen to Josh? Well, let's not make the same mistake that John Sanner did. Because the answer is - we don't know. We know that it's more likely than not that Josh did not drown, at least accidentally, and not in the lakes on St. John's campus.

 

Beyond that, all we can do is follow where the evidence leads. And right now there is evidence leading in a lot of directions, some more robust than others.

 

But the only way we are going to help the detectives that are truly trying to solve this case now to get it across the finish line is to give them actual evidence.

 

So keep talking. Because what you're doing, it's working.

 

And as we continue to have these conversations, publicly and privately, we are giving actual hope to Josh's family and friends who, for a long time, wore buttons that talked about keeping hope alive.

Daniel Gunnarson: (singing "The Rivers Told Me Lies")