Crystal Arensdorf has been missing for more than 12 years, but on Saturday morning, the pain of her disappearance was still fresh for seven members of her family who attended the Day of Remembrance event in Dubuque.
“Today was hard day because this was the first time we have ever done anything that was in memory of Crystal,” said Jennifer Puetsch, Crystal’s sister. “Everything else has been in search, search, search, trying to find her.”
Arensdorf, a 20-year-old Dubuquer, went missing after leaving Knicker’s Saloon about 2 a.m. July 4, 2001. No trace of her has been found since, and her disappearance remains a mystery.
On Saturday, family members, wearing buttons with pictures of Crystal on them, held each other, listening intently to the speakers, tears in their eyes.
The event was organized to remember 12 unexplained homicides and disappearances over the past five decades in the Dubuque area.
The program opened with the reading of the 12 names. They included Arensdorf, whose family has never had closure.
“We’ve laid to rest other family members, but we know what happened to them,” Puetsch said. “We know where they’re at — we can go to them. With Crystal, we have no idea. We have none, and that’s the hardest part of it all. It’s the unknown. There’s been no memorial. It’s been a private hell.”
Puetsch and others recalled Crystal “always had plans,” including a trip to Florida scheduled for the week after her disappearance.
But there was no trip. Puetsch described her sister as a “very fun-loving and happy girl” would have been 33 this year.
The family, like others, needs closure. If someone came forward with information on Crystal, “I would owe them my life,” Puetsch said.
“There is no amount of money I could place on this. We would be very grateful. There is nothing that could match what that could do for our family,” she added. “Please, please, please, no matter what it is or how small you think it is, please, please, please come forward. If you don’t want to tell the police department, find me. I’m on Facebook. I’m everywhere.”
On March 6, 1965, Janet and Donald Martin escaped from their burning house in Dubuque but were unable to save their two daughters, Sherrie Lee and Victoria Lynne. Investigators later determined that the house fire was deliberately set.
Pat Bates Feipel, the two girls’ aunt, remembers.
“It’s been horrible,” she said. “A nightmare.”
Her sister Janet Martin, who has since moved away, “lives it every day,” Feipel said.
“We think of it every time there are birthdays and holidays,” she said. “We sure wish we knew.”
Sister Carol Hoverman remembered Theodore “Ted” Hoerstman, 45, who was reported missing Dec. 6, 1982.
At the time, Hoverman was teaching school at St. Mary’s Parish in Dubuque, and Ted and Sharon Hoerstman had two children who attended St. Mary’s School.
“Often, families feel forgotten,” Hoverman said, holding a picture of Ted. “In an event like this, they see a community effort and a step toward healing.”
On Saturday, Jackson Park was a place of peace. The respectful crowd of more than 100 listened and prayed, calling on God to bring hope and light to darkness and fear and turn death into life. They also listened to hymns from the University of Dubuque Gospel Choir.
“This is something we should never, ever forget as a community,” said Margareet Ryan, one of the speakers at the event. “We wanted to bring this to the fore. This is something the whole community needs to be a part of, and we hope it will continue."