The Disappearances of Sandra & John Jacobson

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Sandra Jacobson was born on December 8, 1959. An employee with the North Dakota Department of Transportation, she was the mother of two sons, five-year-old John and 16-year-old Spencer. She is said to have been very close to her children, especially Spencer.

Sandra was married twice, with both relationships ending in separation. At the time of her separation from her second husband, Alan, she and her sons were living in an apartment in Center, North Dakota, a rural city in Oliver County.


On the evening of November 16, 1996 Sandra and John were scheduled to visit her parents’ house for dinner in Bismarck, North Dakota. On their way there, Sandra made a call to the Bismarck Police Department to report what she believed to be satanic ritual abuse taking place at a farm near Center. When asked why she hadn’t called local law enforcement, she replied that she didn’t trust those with the Center Police Department and the Oliver County Sheriff’s Office. According to the dispatcher, she’d sounded upset.

Sandra and John arrived at her parents’ house, in the vicinity of the 1100 block of University Drive, at around 7:30pm. While there, her mother, Bernice Grensteiner, felt she was displaying signs of mental distress – she had a history of mental health problems – and thus asked her to seek help from the local hospital. Sandra agreed to this, but said she first needed to fill her car with gas.

Sandra and Jacob were last seen leaving her parents’ home at around 8:00pm, with a promise to return after filling up at the nearby gas station.


When Sandra and John did not return to her parents’ residence by 10:00pm, Bernice grew worried and reported them missing.


The next day, police officers discovered Sandra’s grey 1990 Honda Civic abandoned at the Centennial Beach parking lot in Bismarck. The location is adjacent to the Missouri River. The driver’s side door was open, with the keys still in the ignition, and her purse was on the front seat. All that was missing was her driver’s license. The beach around the car was searched and a shoe was found, which might have belonged to John.

The Burleigh County Sheriff’s Department dive rescue and recovery team attempted to search the river between Centennial Beach and the railroad bridge, but found it difficult, due to the swift current and the amount of ice in the water. As such, they were unable to search as thoroughly as they wished.

Due to the scene at Centennial Beach, it’s been theorized that Sandra murdered her son, then died by suicide after jumping into the river. However, there’s no hard evidence to support this.

Through a receipt found in her vehicle, investigators have been able to confirm that Sandra did stop for gas at a local convenience store.

There was an unconfirmed sighting of both Sandra and John in Warroad, Minnesota in June 2004. This helped to temporarily revive the search for the pair, as the case had since gone cold. The local police department used the newspaper and city television station to inform the Bismarck-Mandan area, while posters with age-progression images of John were hung across Minnesota. The images were created by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

The involvement of the NCMEC in the case has led to tips being called into investigators, with the latest being from February 2016.

Sandra’s family has consulted with psychics, in the hopes of learning something of her and John’s whereabouts.

The pair have since been declared legally deceased. Sandra’s dentals and fingerprints are available for comparison, should her body be found. John’s DNA has also been uploaded to a national database.

Investigators have stated there’s no evidence to support foul play in the case, and there has never been a suspect in the disappearances. The case remains open.


Alan Jacobson, who has since relocated to Mandan, remarried a couple of years after Sandra and John disappeared.

Sandra’s mother raised Spencer after she went missing.

In 2005, Spencer’s biological father was run over by his own vehicle and left to die in the ditch of a maintenance road north of Tuttle, North Dakota. His murder remains unsolved.

Spencer eventually married and had three daughters. Unfortunately, his wife passed away in 2009 from a rare form of strep.


Sandra “Sandy” May Jacobson was last seen in Bismarck, Burleigh County, North Dakota on the evening of November 16, 1996. She was 36 years old, and was last seen wearing a blue sweatshirt; a blue down-filled jacket; a pair of blue jeans; glasses; and a pair of brown lace-up boots. At the time of her disappearance, she stood between 5’5″ and 5’6″ and weighed 145 pounds. She had brown hair and green eyes. Her ears were pierced.

John Henry Jacobson was also last seen in Bismarck, Burleigh County, North Dakota on the evening of November 16, 1996. He was 5 years old, and was last seen wearing a green winter coat with blue cuffs. There are differing reports regarding his height and weight at the time of his disappearance, with some outlets reporting he was 3’0″ and 47 pounds, and others saying he stood at 4’8″ and weighed 75 pounds. He had light brown hair and brown eyes.

Currently, both cases are classified as endangered missing. If alive, Sandra would be 61 years old and John would be 29 years old.

Those with information regarding the disappearances are asked to contact the Bismarck Police Department at 701-223-1212.

Image Credit: NamUs

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