In one of the afternoons of November 2003, Dru Sjodin was last seen alive in the parking lot of a mall she worked at, and it wasn’t until several months later that her body was found in a ditch in Minnesota. This horrific murder case of the 22-year-old is covered in ’20/20: Missing from the Mall,’ which also delves into the details of the investigation that followed, giving us an in-depth glimpse into the case. The episode also includes heartfelt interviews with Dru’s loved ones, detectives, and other individuals related to the case.
How Did Dru Sjodin Die?
Dru Katrina Sjodin was born on September 26, 1981, in Pequot Lakes, Minnesota, to Linda Walker and Allan Sjodin. Growing up in a seemingly loving and caring household with her brother Sven Sjodin, Dru was studying at the University of North Dakota at the time of her disappearance and demise. As a sorority member of Gamma Phi Beta, she was close to Britni Schmalz, her sorority sister. To support her family and her big aspirations, Dru worked at the Victoria’s Secret store in the Columbia Mall in North Dakota’s Grand Forks as well as at the El Roco nightclub.
It was just another day in her life, on November 22, 2003, but soon, it became her last day on the planet. After getting done with her shift and buying a new purse from Marshall Field’s around 4 pm, the 22-year-old woman left work and was headed to her car in the parking lot of the Columbia Mall while on a call with her then-boyfriend Chris Lang. Soon, the call got disconnected, and she was abducted. Nearly three hours later, Chris received another call from his girlfriend, but all he could hear was the sound of buttons being pressed.
When Dru failed to show up at her other job, her family members started getting concerned about her whereabouts and informed the police. After several months, Dru’s body was found in a ditch near Crookston, Minnesota, on April 17, 2004. The authorities discovered her partially clothed with her hands tied and lacerations on her body, including a cut on her neck. A rope and remnants of a shopping bag were also found around her neck. Upon conducting various tests, the cause of her death was known to be due to a major neck wound, suffocation, or from exposure to certain elements.
Who Killed Dru Sjodin?
As the detectives dived deeper into the case, interrogating any witnesses and loved ones, they found out about the second call that Chris Lang received from Dru Sjodin. Later, it was discovered that Fisher, Minnesota was the place from where the second phone call was made. After connecting the dots from all the pieces of evidence and testimonies, on December 1, 2003, the police arrested a 50-year-old registered level-3 sex offender named Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. as the primary suspect connected to Dru’s sudden disappearance.
Son of migrant farm workers Dolores and Alfonso Rodriguez Sr., Alfonso resided in Crookston, Minnesota at the time of Dru’s murder. He was known to use drugs during his early days and it was at the age of 21 when he committed his first of the many sexual assaults with a knife, threatening a woman whom he had asked to give him a ride home. Just a few months prior to Dru’s demise, Alfonso was released from prison on May 1, 2003, after serving a 23-year sentence for charges of rape, aggravated assault, and kidnapping, of a woman. Besides this, he had been convicted of rape several other times.
When the police interrogated Alfonso and confronted him about Dru’s murder, he admitted that he was near the Columbia Mall on the evening of her disappearance, claiming that he had watched ‘Once Upon a Time in Mexico’ at the Columbia Mall Cinema 4. Upon cross-checking his alibi, the authorities came to know that the movie was neither playing at that cinema nor at any other theater nearby. Apart from that, they found receipts that hinted at the fact that Alfonso had made several purchases near the mall, including a knife from the nearby Menards store. He was also in possession of two tool kit knives.
The detectives took a look at Alfonso’s car where they came across a tool kit knife that was concealed inside a rear wheel well and soaked in a kind of cleaning solution. The car became an important source for even more incriminating pieces of evidence as the investigators also found a woman’s shoe and a bloody knife, which matched the DNA of the 22-year-old Dru. With enough evidence against Alfonso, the case escalated and he stood trial for the murder of Dru Sjodin.
Nearly three years after the tragic demise of Dru, on August 30, 2006, Alfonso was found guilty of kidnapping and murder of the college student. Less than a month later, on September 22, 2006, the jury passed the death penalty against Alfonso, which was the justice that Dru deserved, according to them. On February 8, 2007, he was formally given the death sentence. After that, he was imprisoned at the United States Penitentiary, Coleman in Florida, on death row, but a judge recommended that he be executed in South Dakota. However, in October 2011, the convict’s defense claimed that Alfonso was mentally disabled and filed a federal habeas corpus motion.
In one of his death row interviews, Alfonso came out clean on June 28, 2013, as he admitted that it was he who was responsible for the kidnapping and murder of Dru Sjodin. The convict’s fate changed in September 2021, when the same judge who sentenced him to death overturned his original sentence and ordered a new sentencing in light of the “limitations on mental health evidence.” The court believed that Alfonso had a disadvantage in defending his case due to the limited mental health evaluation he received during the trial. After much consideration, on May 18, 2023, the culprit of Dru’s murder received a life imprisonment sentence without the possibility of parole.
Read More: Where is Alfonso Rodriguez Now?