Our card this week is Donna Ingersoll, the Ten of Clubs from Minnesota.
On a snowy December night in 1990, 25-year-old Donna stormed outside and disappeared into
the night after a heated argument with her boyfriend,
leaving behind several important belongings and a twisted web of mysteries that investigators
have spent decades trying to untangle.
But some recent developments have present-day investigators questioning everything they
thought they knew about the case, and believing that they’re closer than ever to cracking
I’m Ashley Flowers, and this is The Deck.
It was 2012, and Jim Warren had just been appointed police chief of Wabasha, a rural
Minnesota city hugging the Mississippi River and the Wisconsin border.
It’s a tiny community, like population 2,500, ripe with small-town charm where everyone
knows each other.
And aside from some issues with drug crimes and petty theft, not much ever goes wrong.
Except for one cold night in 1990, when one of its residents vanished without a trace.
The woman’s name was Donna, and her case had been haunting Chief Warren for years.
He actually reviewed the case back when he was a detective in 2006, helping the then-police
chief get Donna’s story on social media.
And the details of her case stuck with him.
So much so that, now that he was chief, one of his first priorities was doing everything
he could to warm up Donna’s hopelessly cold case.
But before making any investigative steps, Chief Warren wanted to form a cold case board
to go over the two decades’ worth of records and documents with a fine-toothed comb.
Not only to familiarize themselves with the case, but also to see if the initial investigators
missed anything, or if there was something they could poke holes in.
This was the timeline that they sorted out.
Right around 11.45 p.m. on December 16, 1990, the Wabasha County Sheriff’s Office got
a call from a 33-year-old man named Gary Murphy, who said that his girlfriend Donna was missing.
He said that they’d gotten into an argument an hour or so prior during a get-together
at a friend’s house in downtown Wabasha.
He said that she got so mad that she stormed outside into the cold and snow, leaving behind
her car and purse.
And she hadn’t come back.
Police reports didn’t make it seem like there was a sense of urgency about her disappearance yet.
After all, Donna was 25 years old.
She could simply not return after an argument if she wanted to.
Chief Warren told our reporting team that since Gary didn’t mention anything about
finding signs of foul play, authorities probably wanted to wait it out, and to see if she would
Back then, it was common if you called in and said, hey, we have someone missing.
Well, technically, if you’re an adult, you can be missing.
And it’s on how the caller states what kind of issues they’re dealing with.
But Gary ended up calling again, about 15 minutes later, around midnight.
And this time, a deputy responded to the friend’s house to see if they could find any signs
of foul play or anything worrisome.
Just like Gary had said, they found Donna’s car sitting in the driveway, her purse still
inside of it.
But those weren’t the only things that Donna had left behind.
Gary also handed the deputy a lens that he said was from Donna’s eyeglasses, like just
The deputy asked Gary why just the one lens, and Gary said it must have fallen out.
And right away, this probably should have been pretty concerning, because it either
meant that Donna was out in the freezing, snowy night without full use of her glasses,
or maybe without them entirely.
And I know that she probably wouldn’t want to be far away from them for too long.
I think she could make out objects and stuff like that, and she could make her way, but
I mean, she could still see, but not well.
Now, I don’t know how glasses worked in 1990, but to me, this is also a sign that maybe
something bad happened.
Like, I don’t see lenses just falling out randomly, but for some reason, the fact that
there was only one lens, and the fact that many of Donna’s most important belongings
were left behind, didn’t raise any red flags for the deputy.
He seemed to think that Donna was probably fine and would just return on her own.
But night turned to morning, and still there was no sign of her.
So Gary called the sheriff’s office yet again.
The police reports from the time make it seem like authorities still wanted to wait
it out a little bit longer before launching an investigation.
Even as Monday faded into Tuesday, many people still weren’t too concerned.
They figured she’d just gone to one of the nearby stores or a downtown bar.
But there might actually be a possible reason that so many people, including law enforcement,
It was known that she’d do that.
And family members said there was times where she’d get mad and you wouldn’t hear from her
for a day or two.
She’d drop off the map basically for a day or two if she was mad.
I did read that in the reports.
I think one time I read that there was, she had gotten in an argument and went out and
hung out with some friends near the airport and then came back and everything was fine.
And she had a history of that as well.
And I can only speculate being me back then, with the same technologies and the same way
you respond to calls, that’s what their thought would have been because she had done this
before and you never want to rush into something, especially if you’re adults, you have every
right to go anywhere you’d like, but there was no caveat to this.
But Tuesday went by with no word from Donna.
So by the time Wednesday the 19th rolled around, authorities and Donna’s loved ones made the
call to file a report and have Donna officially labeled a missing person.
With that, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension got involved.
Now, in a lot of cases that I’ve talked about, like Dale Williams, Darwin Vest, and
Shelton Sanders, once the missing person’s report is officially filed, the investigation
kind of takes off, but that wasn’t really the case with Donna.
Even with the report filed, not much was done.
Everyone was just waiting for Donna to call up her parents and say that she was okay or
just come walking through the door at any moment with a story about where she’d been.
But as the days passed, people started wondering if something terrible had happened to her.
Like maybe she’d fallen into the nearby Mississippi River and froze to death or drowned.
So finally, on December 21st, this is five days since Donna was last seen and two days
since she was reported missing, this is when authorities set out on their first search.
And they went all out, maybe trying to make up for lost time.
Local fire departments and search and rescue dogs did ground searches in the area.
And a Minneapolis helicopter flew in to do an aerial search.
They didn’t find anything.
Police also sent out a release to the press about Donna’s disappearance.
And they finally sat down for interviews with four critical people to this case, those who
were there that night at the get-together.
That was Donna’s boyfriend Gary, Gary’s ex-girlfriend, who was the mother of his child,
her name’s Colleen Harwick, Gary and Colleen’s preschool-age child, who we’re gonna call
Adam, and Colleen’s current boyfriend, Chuck Darnell.
So again, that’s Gary, Gary’s ex, their kid, and Gary’s ex’s current boyfriend.
So Gary was interviewed first, and here’s what he said happened.
On the evening of Sunday, December 16th, he and Donna made the 20-something minute drive
from the home that they shared in Plainview to Colleen’s house in Wabasha to drop his
son Adam back off after a weekend visit.
And when they arrived, Colleen invited him and Donna in for drinks, and they accepted.
Things were going well, they were all drinking, having a good time, until sometime between
10 and 11 p.m.
That’s when he and Donna got into an argument.
It’s not super clear what the argument was about, but it seemed like it had something
to do with the fact that Gary used to date Colleen.
Well, she wasn’t mad until they started to enjoy their evening and have cocktails, and
then it came up, and that’s where she got irritated.
And you know, I can’t imagine being there and having cocktails, and then maybe they
were being, you know, batty-eyed and flirtatious, I don’t know, I wasn’t there, but that’s
what I’m reading is what happened, and she became upset over it.
Gary said that the argument got heated, and even physical at one point.
He told investigators that he ended up pushing Donna, and that was kind of the final straw
After that, she stormed off into the kitchen area.
Gary says that he took a moment to cool off, and then he went to go talk to her, but she
wasn’t in the kitchen.
According to an interview Gary did with Winona Daily News, that’s when his preschool-age
son told him that he saw Donna walk out the door.
So Gary walked outside to find her, but he didn’t see her anywhere.
He noticed that her 82 Pontiac Bonneville was still in the driveway, and when he looked
inside of it, he saw her purse was sitting there, which meant that she probably wouldn’t
have gone too far.
Gary told Winona Daily News, quote, I went out and looked in the alley, around the house,
anywhere I could look.
I looked under trees, anything, end quote.
Now remember, it was snowing that night, but Gary didn’t mention seeing any footprints
or anything indicating where she’d gone.
By the time 1145 rolled around with no signs of Donna, Gary decided it was time to call
He was especially worried about his girlfriend because he told police that she wasn’t dressed
for the freezing temperature and the snow.
And so that was Gary’s story.
Next police talked with Chuck, who actually didn’t have anything to offer.
He said that he was passed out on the couch from drinking too much when all of this went
down and he didn’t remember a thing.
And like Chuck, Colleen didn’t have much to say.
She told investigators that she was upstairs and didn’t see anything.
Police even tried talking to Adam, the preschooler, but he couldn’t really tell them anything
All investigators had was Gary’s statement and a woman who had vanished without a trace.
Even as the days continued dragging by with no word from Donna, authorities still weren’t
a hundred percent convinced that she was the victim of a crime.
On December 26th, then Wabasha police chief Dave Kruger told Winona Daily News flat out
that foul play was not suspected.
But it was clear that people in the community were losing hope that she would be found alive.
Local newspapers documented rumors that were flying around about Donna’s disappearance
as the weeks and months passed by with no sign of her.
Some people were saying that she’d been found dead in the Zumbro River, a tributary
of the Mississippi River on the outskirts of Wabasha.
Other people were gossiping that she’d been found murdered and sexually assaulted in a
Still, others claimed that they’d seen her alive at local bars.
A psychic even came forward and said that they had a vision of Donna’s body floating
in the Mississippi River.
But even though all of the talk going around town was nothing more than unsubstantiated
gossip, it still bothered Donna’s mom, Phyllis.
She knew that Donna wouldn’t have gone this long without calling if she was okay.
She certainly wouldn’t have left her beloved car behind, but the thought of her daughter
dead somewhere was more than Phyllis could bear.
Donna’s best friend, Mary Klein, agreed that vanishing with no word like this was
super unlike the Donna that she knew.
Mary was also quoted in the Winona Daily News saying that something had to have happened
to Donna for her to just disappear like this.
She thought maybe she drank too much alcohol and had become disoriented.
That mixed with the fact that she didn’t have her glasses, maybe she walked into the
But not everyone agreed with Mary.
In that same article, Gary said that he thought Donna was still alive.
He knew she was drinking pretty heavily that night, but he said that she wasn’t like
a sloppy drunk or anything, and certainly not incoherent enough to put herself in danger
of drowning in the Mississippi River.
He said, quote,
“‘Who the hell would walk into the river when it’s freezing out?’
Instead, Gary had his own theory about what happened.
He thought Donna ran away, perhaps with another man.”
Despite Donna’s family growing less hopeful that she’d turn up alive, they put out one
last desperate plea.
In that same Winona Daily News article, Donna’s sister, Christina, said, quote,
“‘We just want Donna to know she should call us and that we love her.’”
It took until March 1991 for investigators to really begin to consider the possibility
that Donna was the victim of a crime.
Three months after Donna vanished, then-Chief Kruger told the Star Tribune that there were
She got disoriented and wandered into rough terrain and died there.
She hitched a ride somewhere, or she was the victim of foul play.
But with no evidence or clues, investigators were stuck, still not knowing if they had
a crime on their hands.
Donna’s case remained at a standstill for the coming months, and things were only further
frustrated in July, when Gary died by suicide.
Since Gary was the last person to see Donna that December night, his death was a huge
blow to the investigation.
If there was anything that Gary had neglected to tell police about the night she vanished,
that information died with him.
And it left the community wondering what led to Gary making such a decision.
Was he driven by a shattered heart or a guilty conscience?
There were plenty of people who truly didn’t think Gary had anything to do with Donna’s
Her best friend Mary told Winona Daily News that she didn’t think Gary would ever hurt
She said, quote,
She would always talk about him.
I think she loved him, and he really loved her, end quote.
Mary also noted that Gary and Donna had big plans for their future, such as possibly publishing
a children’s book that they had been writing together before she disappeared.
After Gary’s death, Donna’s case went ice cold.
There were a few tips here and there, supposed sightings and such, but nothing that ever
The next big push in her case didn’t come until 2006, when authorities tried using social
media to get her story out there, but that didn’t really amount to anything noteworthy
So when Chief Warren’s Cold Case Board finished reviewing Donna’s case in 2012, they were
ready to make some big moves.
Two decades was far too long for any case to sit essentially stagnant like that.
And once word got out that the police department was reexamining Donna’s case, tips actually
came flooding in.
They got a psychic tip that Donna was in a wooded area well lit by the moon, but they
also got another psychic tip that was more specific and easier to investigate.
The tipster said that they felt Donna was behind the National Guard post in Wabasha
along Highway 61.
Now this tip was interesting because Chief Warren was already thinking about searching
He basically took this tip as the push he needed to get a search in motion.
He called in volunteers from the Community United Effort, or CUE, Center for Missing
He wanted to search not only the area behind the National Guard building, but also a nearby
Since the people from the CUE Center were volunteers, he only had them in Wabasha for
the weekend, so they got busy.
Volunteers and cadaver dogs searched the National Guard armory area, but they found nothing.
And just as they were about to move on to that nearby pond, police got another tip.
We’re getting close to that body of water.
Someone had called in a tip and said that they found what they believe to be a monkey
skull on Highway 42, and that’s just down the road here about four miles up on the hill.
So word came to me and I made a knee-jerk reaction call and suspended everything going
on in Wabasha and sent everybody up to this area where this skull was found.
Listen, I know what you’re thinking.
A monkey skull in Minnesota?
And just to save you a Google search, no, monkeys are not native to Minnesota, or even
North America for that matter.
So why this tipster would assume it was a monkey skull when they found it, I truly do
not have the slightest clue.
Chief Warren was also super baffled by this when he got the tip.
For good reason.
He assumed the quote-unquote monkey skull was probably human, maybe even Donna’s.
So like Chief Warren said, he asked everyone to go to the farm where it was found, not
only to collect the skull, but also to search the area for any other remains.
But here’s the thing.
When he got to the farm, he was told there had been a misunderstanding.
The tipster said that they didn’t actually have the skull with them anymore.
They hadn’t even found it recently.
They found it back in the early 90s.
And since they just assumed, again, that it was a monkey skull, they didn’t report it
And then get this.
After they found it, they ended up just tossing it into their manure spreader and spreading
it all across their fields.
You heard that right.
That skull had been completely destroyed years ago and was now fertilizing their fields.
I felt kind of awkward at the time.
I tried to hold back some of my reactions because I didn’t understand how that could
But that wasn’t their fault.
It’s mine for suspending what’s going on.
So what I did was I pulled everybody up on that hillside and we searched two areas of
farmland that are about 100 acres.
And cadaver dogs had a couple hits.
But we took what we found and nothing ever came back to being human bone.
I’ll be honest.
When I first heard that this tipster found a human-like skull and then proceeded to completely
destroy it, alarm bells started going off in my head.
Like saying that’s suspicious is the understatement of the century.
But Chief Warren told our reporting team that he doesn’t see it that way.
For one, they didn’t think it was anything.
What perked their interest was all this stuff going on.
Years later, you know what?
Remember when I found that?
Yeah, call them.
And that’s what happened.
No offense to them.
I mean, we’re in a rural area and farming is pretty big in Minnesota and a lot of things
go into those spreaders and get spread.
They didn’t think nothing of it.
But then years later, they’re trying to help by saying, hey, we found this back then and
we thought it was a, but it wasn’t.
Well, then again, I don’t know what age bracket this person was and I don’t have a name, but
I know that they, they meant well, their intentions meant well.
After the devastation of that dead-end tip, Chief Warren said that he kind of took a step
back and realized that the investigation had gotten too big for their small agency to handle.
It just got blown out of the water and it got too big too quick.
It’s hard to control.
It was like a wildfire.
So to contain it, we shut some things down just so things didn’t get overblown.
And then, you know, you have psychics calling in cause this just, it blew up and then they’re
calling in saying, well, she could be here.
And I took every single tip as if it were happening, but we’re so small, we got overrun.
We couldn’t handle it.
So we had to shut it down.
Chief Warren wanted to return to that pond that they nearly searched before getting the
But the timing with the Kew Center didn’t work out.
And it wasn’t clear when it ever would.
But even though there was a pause on the large scale searches and the investigative efforts
for now, that didn’t stop Chief Warren from quietly mulling over the case and looking
into his long held theory about what really happened to Donna.
I’ve been saying it from the get-go, I don’t believe she ever left the house.
I’ll just tell you what I think happened and hopefully I don’t get criticized too much
But my theory is they had that argument and I think Gary shoved her, like he said he did.
And I think it’s as easy as her hitting her head on the side of that table or the floor
and killed her and he freaked out.
And Chief Warren’s theory wasn’t coming from out of left field.
He’d actually received a few tips from some of Colleen’s old neighbors that she’d gotten
a lot of cement delivered to her house just two days after Donna went missing.
So I checked the records, of course, they had some work there done from the cement company
and I’m like, what the heck?
Making things even more suspicious was the fact that there was no record of Colleen hiring
anyone to do the cement work.
She just had the cement delivered to her house.
And there was still one more thing supporting Chief Warren’s theory, the fact that one
of Donna’s eyeglass lenses was found at Colleen’s house.
He found it hard to believe that she would just run out the door into the night without
her glasses fully working or intact.
So in 2013, armed with a hunch and a little bit of evidence, Chief Warren decided to see
if he could prove his suspicions that Donna never left the house and was buried somewhere
in the basement.
Now obviously a hunch, no matter how strong, isn’t probable cause, so Chief Warren knew
he wouldn’t be able to get a search warrant.
And instead, he needed to get the current homeowner’s permission to search the basement.
Colleen no longer owned the house, but one of her relatives did.
Understandably, Chief Warren was worried that the relative wouldn’t welcome into their
home a search team that might prove their family member helped cover up a homicide.
But to his surprise, they okayed the search.
Like I mentioned earlier, Wabasha is a small, rural city, so they didn’t have all the
resources like a large metropolitan police department might have.
And they certainly weren’t equipped to do a scan of a cement basement all by themselves.
So Chief Warren called in reinforcements.
We brought a team in.
It was a non-profit out of Wisconsin with a floor scanner and some cadaver dogs and
some screens that we could sift dirt on.
So what we did was we drilled boreholes.
First of all, we scanned the entire basement.
Well, not the entire basement, but we scanned it.
And we took some tests with the homeowner’s permission that we’d fix anything that we
We finished our testing and we left.
Chief Warren wasn’t sure when he would get the results of those tests back.
So he waited patiently.
And eventually, he got tired of waiting.
So I called.
Look, I want to see that floor scan because there’s a portion of that basement that wasn’t
done by this non-profit, right?
So I called the place and I won’t say names because it’s not right for me to point fingers.
But they said, well, we don’t save that data.
And I said, well, but I never saw the data.
You heard that right.
The non-profit didn’t save the data of the scan, but they also never bothered to tell
Chief Warren what was found with the scan, if anything.
So all of that hard work, all of those results were just completely gone.
I was professionally disappointed that I was on that and didn’t know that I didn’t get
to see the data.
You talk about having dreams about it even, I mean, you work so hard on something.
I didn’t know they didn’t save that data, but that’s how you learn.
Chief Warren said that even if he had gotten the results back, he’s not sure that they
would have been what he was hoping for because they didn’t get to examine the entirety of
The basement theory is one that he continued holding on to.
Even after leaving the Wabasha Police Department in the fall of 2015 to become the chief deputy
at the Wabasha County Sheriff’s Office.
But when he left the police department, he didn’t want to leave Donna’s case behind,
especially considering that the sheriff’s office had more resources at their fingertips
than the police department did.
So I wasn’t doing it to, hey, I want to keep this for me.
I was doing it saying, hey, we’re going to ride with this because we have more resources.
And, you know, instead of just you working on it, let’s all work on it.
Since 2015, there hasn’t been much movement in Donna’s case, but that doesn’t mean it’s
sitting on a shelf just collecting dust.
Even when there have been lulls, Chief Deputy Warren has been thumbing through the case
file hoping something new will pop out at him with each read through.
He’s also actively planning to return to Colleen’s old home, which, by the way, is
still owned by that same relative.
He wants to retest the basement for human remains.
So sometime soon when I get permission, I do plan on going back and having ground zero
completely done so I can tell the residents I won’t be back.
I’m satisfied nothing’s here, but I can’t say that right now because I still believe that.
Sometimes some things aren’t as far away as you think they are, you know what I mean?
And if it ends up that way, then so be it.
But it’s got to be found.
This time, instead of using a nonprofit for the testing, he is bringing in the Minnesota
Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, who have more tools at their disposal.
Well, they have the ground penetrating radar that got better since the last time I used it.
They have forensic testing they can do on the underfloor of that house.
Even today, they can do that, the luminol.
They could do that and see the blue if they’d like, but yeah, it’d be different to see.
Well, let’s put it this way.
They have more things at their disposal than I ever thought even existed, and we don’t
have that type of technology.
We asked Chief Deputy Warren if he’s worried that the first search scared someone who might
have knowledge of the case.
And if Donna really was buried down there in the basement, maybe they dug her up and
But he’s confident that’s not the case.
Wabasha is a small city, and Colleen’s old house is located on one of the main roads,
so he thinks that someone would have definitely seen something suspicious.
Chief Deputy Warren remains hopeful that future testing will yield results to confirm his
And he told our reporting team that a very recent conversation with a key person in the
case has him more confident than ever that it will.
But he didn’t want to elaborate on who that person was or what they said so as to protect
the integrity of the investigation.
We asked him if the next search of the basement doesn’t show any sign of Donna, what else
does he think could have happened to her if she truly did storm out of the house that
cold December night?
What else would have happened?
As easy as leaving the house, walking down the 60, getting in the truck with a trucker
He also thinks it’s possible that she was dumped in that nearby pond that he wanted
to search with the Kew Center back in 2012.
And it’s actually something he still wants to search.
With technology comes better equipment, and I think maybe we could have a search of that
pond done to the owner’s wall.
It’s all murky.
Can’t see nothing.
Well, but maybe the technology can.
If I’m the Titanic, why not?
Chief Deputy Warren also said that both Colleen and Chuck are still alive, and he wants to
re-interview them soon, hoping that maybe, just maybe, they hold the key to solving a
case that has haunted Wabasha since 1990.
For more than 30 years, Donna’s family and friends have been left wondering what happened
They deserve closure, and Donna deserves justice.
If you have any information about the 1990 disappearance of Donna Ingersoll, please contact
Chief Deputy Jim Warren at the Wabasha County Sheriff’s Office at 651-565-3361, or you
can email him at jwarren, W-A-R-R-E-N, at co.wabasha.mn.us.
We’ll have all of that in the show notes.
Donna was 4'11 and about 106 pounds when she vanished.
She has blonde hair and green or hazel eyes, and was last seen wearing boots and blue jeans.
She would be 57 years old today.
The Deck is an AudioChuck production with theme music by Ryan Lewis.
To learn more about The Deck and our advocacy work, visit thedeckpodcast.com.
So, what do you think, Chuck?
Do you approve?