Authorities in Wright County are starting anew in trying to determine the fate of Belinda VanLith, the 17-year-old who disappeared nearly 39 years ago while housesitting west of Monticello and is believed to be the victim of foul play.
“The current sheriff [Joe Hagerty] pulled up the file and said, ‘Let’s take another run at this,’ ” sheriff’s Capt. Greg Howell said Wednesday.
Howell said there is no specific reason, such as new evidence, that his office is dedicating new investigatory time to the case. His office has notified the family that the case is being reactivated.
VanLith lived in rural Monticello at the time and was last heard from on the morning of June 15, 1974, while housesitting near the northern edge of Eagle Lake. That’s about 6 miles west of Monticello.
“Her disappearance is believed to be the result of foul play,” the Sheriff’s Office said in a statement issued Wednesday. She has been described as someone who enjoyed gardening and was not the type to run away.
As for specific suspects, Howell said a longtime sex offender with a history of raping women is “one of many names that have surfaced” as being potentially responsible for VanLith’s disappearance. “We’re trying not to limit our investigation to one suspect,” he said.
The man lived by himself in a cabin near where VanLith had been housesitting. His history includes restraining and physically assaulting his victims. He’s now in custody in the state’s sex-offender treatment program in Moose Lake.
VanLith’s mother, Beverly, said she found out Wednesday about her daughter’s case being reopened but declined to say more until she can notify other family members.