TV show profiles Cora Jones
Investigative series focuses on local homicide
By Greg Seubert
An upcoming television documentary on the Cora Jones case has been in the works for almost a year.
Producers from “On the Case with Paula Zahn” first contacted Cora’s parents about profiling the 1994 Waupaca County kidnapping and murder case in September 2017.
Eleven months later, the show is ready to go. The hour-long program will air at 9 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 12, on the Investigation Discovery (ID) channel.
Cora, then 12 years old and a seventh-grader at Weyauwega-Fremont Middle School, vanished Sept. 5, 1994, while riding her bicycle near her grandmother’s home in the town of Dayton. Two hunters found her body five days later in rural Langlade County, about 90 miles from her town of Lind home.
Zahn, the show’s host and also one of its executive producers, interviewed Cora’s parents, Rick and Vicki Jones, as well as investigators involved in the case in February in New York. A crew from the show later visited Waupaca County later to film footage for the show and conduct more interviews.
It usually takes about six months to complete an episode for the series, which has profiled nearly 250 true crime cases since the show premiered in October 2009.
“Typically, we do between 25 and 30 hours a year,” said Larry Israel, also one of the show’s executive producers. “If you kept track of all the stories we have in development and in production, I would say we might have between seven and 10 cases going at any one time. If you include research, that number probably doubles.”
David Spanbauer confessed to Cora’s murder, the 1992 murder of Ronelle Eichstedt of Ripon and the 1994 murder of Trudi Jeschke of Appleton in November 1994. He pleaded guilty or no contest in Dec. 8, 1994 – on what would have been Cora’s 13th birthday – to several consolidated charges in connection to crimes in five counties. A judge sentenced him to three life terms plus 403 years and he died in prison in July 2002 at age 61.
The ID show will focus on Cora, according to Israel.
“This case really touches on Cora,” he said. “We do discuss the string of crimes he was committing and how those ended up leading to him being interviewed for Cora’s murder, but we are not touching on the other murders.”
The show often includes interviews about cases that have been resolved for years.
“I’ve never found there to be actual closure,” Israel said. “What you have is some healing, some emotional growth that’s allowed the families to find a path to go on usually because of support from their own loved ones and perhaps members of their church or religious community. That’s something we focus on more than the perpetrator’s perspective: what is it that gave you the strength to overcome this unbelievable devastating blow?”
Spanbauer tried to abduct the 24-year-old Illinois woman at gunpoint July 3, 1994, while she rode her bicycle on Golke Road near Hartman Creek State Park.
“That’s our secondary story because law enforcement talks about how they discovered the similarities,” Israel said. “She was young and knocked off her bicycle and (Spanbauer) threatened her. She ended up giving a very good description of the perpetrator and that story plays a big role in our hour because law enforcement tells us it’s at that point that they feel that ‘If we can find the guy that did this to this young woman, we’ll find Cora’s killer.’”
The show is believed to be the first documentary about Cora’s case.
“I’m not certain that anything would be new, but I don’t know if people have ever seen it compiled in one place,” Israel said. “They may have seen a story at the beginning of the investigation, then another story or two three weeks later, then another story or two when they picked up the trail of this person. I think it’s the compression of time in a single hour.”
Cases featured on the show usually take place in small towns, Israel said.
“We typically stay away from big-city crime,” he said. “We bring a lot of subjects for interviews with Paula and when they come, they’re surprised that they’re not stepping over dead bodies here in New York City. Most of our shows (take place) in the last place you would expect something like this to happen. That element does play a big role in the shock value of it: ‘We’ve never had a murder here before, we didn’t know what to do, we had to call to get people down here that knew how to investigate this.’ I’m not saying that was the case in this instance, but that part of the storytelling is a compelling event.”
Hundreds of people showed up to help search for Cora in the days following her disappearance.
“That’s one of the things we really focus on, how this basically captivated the state, not just the community,” Israel said. “People came from out of state to help. I think that’s how the family was able to survive, the support of these people. Part of the story they tell is they wouldn’t have been able to get through it without that level of support and how grateful they still are today to those people.”
Israel said there’s one common thread in each of the show’s episodes.
“We always do the best we can to give a voice to the victim and also make sure that we honor the victim,” he said. “We’re coming up on 250 episodes and I probably have that same number of notes from victims’ families thanking us for honoring what we said we were going to do and being compassionate and caring about their loss.
“You have a criminal that’s wreaking havoc across the state destroying lives all over the place,” he said. “I hope that we’ve captured the magnitude of that.”
Family discusses show on Cora
Cora Jones may have disappeared 24 years ago, but her memory is alive and well.
“On the Case with Paula Zahn” will feature the 1994 Waupaca County kidnapping and murder case at 9 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 12, on the Investigation Discovery (ID) channel.
Cora, 12, disappeared Sept. 5, 1994, while riding her bicycle near her grandmother’s town of Dayton home south of Waupaca. Her body was found five days later northwest of Antigo. David Spanbauer eventually pleaded guilty to Cora’s kidnapping and murder, as well as two other murders and several other crimes, in December 1994.
Producers from the show first contacted Cora’s parents, Rick and Vicki Jones of rural Weyauwega, last September and asked if they’d be interested in being interviewed about the case.
“I talked to her for about an hour and she asked if we’d ever consider coming out there,” Vicki said. “I was like, ‘Oh, my goodness.’ I asked why and they said, ‘Well, we get these old stories coming through.’ They sent Rick and I and three investigators out to New York City in February.”
Those investigators, who worked on the case in 1994, included Allen Kraeger with the Waupaca County Sheriff’s Department. Ben Baker and Dan Woodkey were also interviewed. Baker was with the Langlade County Sheriff’s Department and Woodkey with the Appleton Police Department.
A crew from the show later filmed scenes at Cora’s grave in Fremont and the Jones’ town of Lind home.
Zahn interviewed Vicki, Rick and the investigators Feb. 12.
“For me, (she asked) about Cora’s life and how it affected our family,” Vicki said. “It was more about Cora’s life and what she was like as a 12-year-old girl. I went out there knowing that if they were just going to talk about Cora, I had no problem with it. It’s hard to talk about it, but I knew I could do it.
“She was so easy to talk to,” she said. “She sent us a picture and signed her name on it. They wouldn’t let me wear my glasses (in the interview) and I have a really hard time seeing, so that was really tough for me for an hour. I don’t think it looks like me without my glasses.”
The show will also feature several family photos of Cora through the years.
“We took a stack of pictures and they scanned them all,” Vicki said. “I was surprised how many pictures they wanted from the time she was a baby until she was kidnapped. They wanted pictures of every age.”
More than 200 episodes of “On the Case with Paula Zahn” have aired since the show premiered in 2009.
“We watch it,” Vicki said. “It’s on every Sunday night at 9. We watched another one where it was a case of another 12-year-old girl that was kidnapped, but she was found alive.”
Cora’s family won’t see the episode until it airs, Vicki said.
“They won’t show it to us,” she said. “After it airs, they’ll give us all a copy. I know it would be nice to see it, but they won’t let us.”
Hundreds of people showed up to search for Cora after her disappearance.
“Unless it was going to go to trial, there were things that we really didn’t want to know,” Vicki said. “It was so heartbreaking for us and it was so fortunate for us that he pleaded guilty and we didn’t have to go to a trial. There are probably things that the investigators told Paula that we don’t even know.”
“I think there’s going to be a lot stuff that comes out (in the show) that people didn’t know,” said Rick, who retired in January 2015 after 40 years at the Waupaca Foundry.
Vicki also retired after 24 years at the Weyauwega Health Care Center.
“I think it’s wonderful that they can still do something about her,” she said. “It’s good to remind people of what could happen.”
Where to see program
The case of Cora Jones, the 12-year-old rural Weyauwega girl kidnapped and murdered in Waupaca County in 1994, will be featured on an upcoming episode of “On the Case with Paula Zahn.”
The show will air at 9 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 12, on the Investigation Discovery (ID) channel.
Investigation Discovery can be found on Channel 285 on Direct TV and Channel 192 on DISH Network. It may also be included on local cable TV packages. “On the Case with Paula Zahn” episodes can also be found on the channel’s website, www.investigationdiscovery.com.