WRIGHT COUNTY, MN - A 17-year-old girl named Belinda VanLith from northern Wright County disappeared in 1974, and the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is making a new effort to find information about her case.
The bureau has released cold case playing cards that highlight VanLith’s case and 51 other cold cases. These cases include violent, unsolved homicides, missing persons and unidentified remains cases that have occurred throughout the state over the past 50 years.
“We’re trying to breathe some life into these cases,” said Special Agent Jeff Hansen, who is in charge of homicide cases at the St. Paul office of the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.
VanLith was a normal teen. She enjoyed gardening, had plenty of friends, and she did a lot of baby-sitting, according to her mother, Beverly VanLith. Today, Belinda would be 51 years old.
Belinda’s family expected her to be home after a weekend of house-sitting for a neighbor in order to attend her sister’s graduation party.
“We kept calling the house on Saturday, but the phone lines were down,” Beverly said. On Sunday, Belinda’s family reported her as missing.
Like all of the cold case cards, Belinda’s card gives brief insight into her case, along with a tip line for anyone who has more information:
“Belinda VanLith: 17-year-old white female-Belinda VanLith was last seen house-sitting for a neighbor around 8 p.m., June 15th, 1974. She then disappeared from the property located on Little Eagle Lake in Wright County, MN. Foul play is suspected in her disappearance; she has not been seen or heard from since.”
Little Eagle Lake is located east of Eagle Lake in Silver Creek Township, northeast of Maple Lake.
“There is nothing to make us believe she was a runaway,” Lieutenant Todd Hoffman of Wright County Sheriff’s Department said, explaining that her behavior the days before the disappearance didn’t line up with the profile of a runaway.
The cold case cards were only handed out to prison inmates and the families of the victims. The aim in handing out the cards to prisoners is to locate a criminal who may have information about the case and is willing to come to the police.
“Since we handed out these cards a week ago, we have already had over 20 leads on different cases,” Hansen said.
He said that the leads were coming from prison inmates and the general public who had viewed the cards online.
“Sometimes you can have a lead and then you don’t hear anything for five years,” Beverly said, speaking of the pain that a victim’s family goes through when leads don’t get the police any closer to solving the crime. She thinks that the cold case cards are a good idea.
The idea for the cards came out of Florida. In handing out Florida cold case cards to the state’s prison inmates, several cases were solved when various criminals and the general public volunteered information.
Jacob Wetterling, and the Reker sisters are among some of the faces on the cards. Wetterling disappeared from St. Joseph, MN in 1989 at age 11, and the Reker sisters Mary, 15, and Susan, 12, were stabbed to death in St. Cloud in 1974.
The anniversary of Wetterling’s disappearance was Wednesday, Oct. 22, 1989. Today, Wetterling would be 30 years old.
Mary and Susan Reker’s killer was never found. The girls were last seen alive leaving their residence in St. Cloud, and their bodies were not found until 26 days later, three miles outside of St. Cloud in a quarry.
At present, the card decks have been distributed to all 515 police departments and sheriff’s offices within Minnesota, as well as 75 countywide jail and annex facilities. In addition, over 10,000 decks have been supplied to Minnesota state prison inmates.
The 52 cases featured on the cards are only some of the cold cases in Minnesota. “We picked some of the toughest cases for the cards,” Hoffman said, optimistic that some of the cases would be solved because of the cards.
To view the cold case cards online
The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension encourages the public to view the cold case playing cards on its web site:
The bureau asks that anyone who has information about any of these cases, call the tip line at 1-877-996-6222.