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Gone without a trace; After 25 years, Wadena woman still missing

Carla Beth Anderson

About 25 years after a disappearance shook the Wadena community, local law enforcement is still looking for leads.

Carla Beth Anderson was 23 at the time of her disappearance on Friday, Nov. 13, 1987.

Wadena Police Chief Bruce Uselman said there haven't been any major developments in the last five years, but technology may help them solve the cold case.

"The technology is different than what it was 25 years ago," he said.

Uselman said they were able to look at Anderson's medical and dental records.

Uselman said they were also able to secure DNA samples from Anderson's biological mother, which could potentially help find her.

In 2008, Anderson was listed on the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension Cold Case Playing Cards, displayed in police departments around the state.

Uselman, who started working with the Wadena Police Department a couple years after the disappearance, said the case remains active, even though all the leads they have followed up on haven't been productive. The case will remain active until they make an arrest or find remains.

"We have probably four binders of information that have been documented and categorized," Uselman said.

Anderson's parents, Verne and Roberta Wells, last saw her about 7:30 p.m. Nov. 13 at Anderson's home in Greenwood Apartments, according to a 1987 continuation report by Officer Mike Peters.

Anderson was wearing a Hardee's jacket, a Pepsi and Mountain Dew sweatshirt, blue jeans and pink tennis shoes, according to the initial complaint report.

Anderson had just been named Employee of the Month at Hardee's by Wayne Wolden, the manager at the time.

"She was a fantastic employee. Wonderful personality, lighthearted, smiling a lot," Wolden said. "I used to call her 'spud' because she was like a little potato ... She was probably 4-foot-10 inches tall, maybe, on a good day, on heels."

Anderson and her parents had supper at the new Taco John's to celebrate her getting Employee of the Month. Afterward, her parents dropped her off at home.

On Saturday, Anderson failed to show up for work. When police went to the apartment, there was no sign of a struggle, everything was in order, and Anderson's purse was left on the kitchen table.

Anderson had an intellectual disability and is classified as a vulnerable adult.

Lane Waldahl was the police investigator at the time, and continued on the case until his retirement in 2002. He continued to get tips the entire time.

Waldahl said there was a big swamp fire on the Leaf River bottom north of town the night Anderson disappeared, and it would have been visible from where she lived.

A brown Plymouth Horizon went missing near Greenwood Apartments the same night and was also never recovered.

Waldahl said he believes Anderson was abducted and murdered, but there was no proof.

Wolden said the Wadena Hardee's pitched in with the search efforts, providing food for search parties and doing some searching themselves.

"It was real devastating to the community and to the restaurant," Wolden said.

Now, the former Hardee's is a Burger King, the Taco John's location is a parking lot, and all the police working at the time of Anderson's disappearance have moved on, retired or passed away.

Sgt. Tom Crawford retired last year, and Officer Ron Noon retired this summer. Joyce Kopp, former police chief, passed away Dec. 31, 2010.

"I talked to her about three days before she disappeared," Noon said. "Nice gal, very pleasant."

Noon said Anderson had contacted the police department asking to talk to an officer about some questions or concerns, and he answered as best as he could.

Noon is among the last of the area's former law enforcement officers to have a memory of Anderson.

"Everybody that was working in '87 is gone," Noon said. "That's the whole thing. A lot of the old guys are gone, now it's a whole new generation coming on ... It's a changing of the guard, if you will."

Waldahl said the only thing he regrets is they never solved the case before Anderson's mother passed away.

Verne died Feb. 9, 2008, and Roberta died a few months later on June 3, 2008.

"It's never gone away. It's always there," Waldahl said.

Sgt. Naomi Plautz is now the investigator for the police department.