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Son of a missing mother: Shelly Julson's son recounts life after his mom disappeared in North Dakota in 1994

Jaden Woodworth describes his memories of his mother, and tells how police claims drove a wedge between him and his father -- and how Dakota Spotlight's debunking of those claims might help reconnect them.

A 31-year-old old Jaden Woodworth looks into the camera. He has short dark hair and a short dark beard and mustache. He wears his sunglasses backwards over his neck.
Jaden Woodworth, son of Michele "Shelly" Julson and Kevin Woodworth, at age 31. He was 3 years old when his mother went missing in 1994.
Contributed / Jaden Woodworth
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Jaden Woodworth was only 3-and-a-half years old when his mother Michele "Shelly" Julson dropped him off at his paternal grandparent's home in 1994. She said she was going to run errands, but never returned.

In recent years, law enforcement told him his father reported his mother missing prematurely, and suspiciously—a claim now debunked by Dakota Spotlight podcast, which has centered its seventh season delving into Julson's disappearance.

Listen to Episode Number 8 — Interview with Jaden Woodworth

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In this episode of Dakota Spotlight, Michele "Shelly" Julson's son Jaden Woodworth opens up about his life in a candid and heartfelt interview.

Without a mother, the trajectory of Woodworth's life has not been without speed bumps and detours. He tells Dakota Spotlight about his fuzzy memories of his mother Shelly, and shares his thoughts on his grandparents, and his father, Kevin Woodworth.

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Kevin Woodworth helped report Julson missing more than a day after she was last seen. But the timing of when that call was made became a sticking point later for Bismarck police investigators.

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When Kevin Woodworth was re-interviewed about the case in September 2019, investigators inaccurately claimed he had reported Julson missing only a few hours after she was expected to return, which they found suspicious.

That claim is incorrect, as Dakota Spotlight proves using the police file into the case and contemporaneous accounts.

When Kevin Woodworth protested and attempted to correct police on the timeline in that 2019 interview, he was interrupted and dismissed by investigators. He then ended the interview in frustration.

screen shot from police report of interview with Kevin Woodworth performed on 9/4/2019
Segment of police interview report by Bismarck Police and Kevin Woodworth. Investigators incorrectly maintain that Kevin Woodworth and his father called the police on the same day Shelly went missing.
Contributed / Bismarck Police Department - Michele Julson file

Police also separately told Jaden Woodworth this incorrect information, and their suspicions about his father.

"You know it, it made me look at my dad a lot differently for the time being," Jaden Woodworth said. "It made me feel pretty empty at the time. I mean, it was like, it was it was kind of a wild moment. You know, it broke my heart in a way."

In his interview with Dakota Spotlight, Jaden Woodworth described how that incorrect claim affected his relationship with his father, and what its debunking could mean for them.

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Evidence regarding the Julson missing person call (5 pages)

About Dakota Spotlight, Season Seven: 'Call Me Shelly — The Mysterious Disappearance of Michele Julson'

In this season of Dakota Spotlight, creator, host and Regional Emmy Award-winner James Wolner looks into the cold case of 26-year-old Michele "Shelly" Julson, who vanished from Bismarck, North Dakota on Aug. 2, 1994. Granted exclusive, unprecedented access by police to the cold-case file, Wolner presents a play-by-play review of the initial investigation and further examines the strange events surrounding Shelly's life and her disappearance.

With the aid of new interviews with Shelly’s friends, family and retired police investigators, Wolner dives into the shadows of Shelly’s world at the time — Bismarck’s bar and gambling scene — and tracks the movements of several persons of interest. All in an attempt to answer the biggest questions of the case: What happened to Shelly? And what's the aftermath of her disappearance?

People in this episode

(In alphabetical order)

  • Bill Connor: Bismarck Police Department investigator
  • Officer Rob Carvell: Bismarck Police Department officer and patrolman, who responded to the Julson missing person report 
  • Clifford Emmert: Bismarck Police Department investigator
  • Tony Hulm: Shelly's latest on-again/off-again boyfriend, and a bartender at Burnt Creek Club
  • Linda Julson: Shelly’s mother
  • Michele "Shelly" Julson: a 26-year-old blackjack dealer and mother of 3-year-old Jaden, who went missing on Aug. 2, 1994.
  • Wes Julson: Shelly's father

  • Don Schaffer: Bismarck police officer and patron at Burnt Creek Club. Shelly told friends Schaffer had been harassing her at work.
  • Rick Snell: Did not return to work at Great Lines after Aug. 2, 1994 
  • Dennis Walls: Bismarck Police Department sergeant who was the initial and lead investigator on the Julson case
  • Jaden Woodworth: Shelly's son, 3-and-a-half years old when she went missing
  • Kevin Woodworth: Shelly's former boyfriend and Jaden's father
  • Richard Woodworth: Jaden's paternal grandfather and the last person to acknowledge having seen her when she dropped Jaden at 104 American Ave.
  • Julie Thompson: investigator with the Bismarck Police Department.

People in previous episodes

  • Chris Aziz: Bartender at the Elbow Room. Witnessed Shelly with two men Sunday night.
  • James Becker: Shelly's friend
  • Kim Borner: Shelly's friend
  • Russ Bryant: Investigator for Burlington Northern Railroad
  • Walter Czerwinski: Retired Burlington Northern employee
  • John Drath: Wes Julson’s co-worker and acquaintance of Shelly
  • Jack Erhardt: Kevin Woodworth's foreman at Miller Insulation
  • Sheila Heil: Shelly’s boss and co-worker at Fort Abraham Lincoln Foundation
  • Darrel Helbing: One of two railroad workers kicked out of The Comfort Inn swimming pool at 3 a.m. on Aug. 3, 1994. The men were in the company of two unidentified women and a third man in a cowboy hat.
  • Larry Helfenstein: Shelly's friend
  • Mitch Maher: One of two railroad workers kicked out of The Comfort Inn swimming pool at 3 am on Aug. 3, 1994. The men were in the company of two unidentified women and a third man in a cowboy hat.
  • Robin Mostad: Shelly’s co-worker at The Elbow Room
  • Bonnie Munsch: Shelly's friend and coworker, worked with Shelly at the Burnt Creek Club the night before Shelly vanished. Bonnie felt Shelly did not seem her usual self that night.
  • Holly Ness: Shelly’s friend
  • Tarileen Olson: Blackjack dealer at Fort Abraham Lincoln Foundation
  • Mike Quinn: Agent at North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation
  • Amy Sansburn: Claimed she partied with Shelly at WE Fest.
  • Tammy Sumner: Shelly’s babysitter
  • Troy Schaner: Bismarck police officer who helped North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation's aerial search for Shelly's car
  • Nick Sevart: Bismarck Police officer
  • Carol Thomas: Assistant manager at The Fleck House hotel near The Elbow Room bar
  • Jenny Yantzer: Barmaid at Burnt Creek Club. Shelly speculated that Jenny was responsible for hangup phone calls and damage to her car.  Jenny has denied any involvement. 
More from Dakota Spotlight
Exclusive
'Clinker' found on the engine block of Michele 'Shelly' Julson's abandoned car in 1994 may be linked to an early sighting in rural Burleigh County, North Dakota, the Dakota Spotlight true crime podcast reports.

Jeremy Fugleberg is editor of The Vault, Forum Communications Co.'s home for Midwest history, mysteries, crime and culture. He is also a member of the company's Editorial Advisory Board.
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