What happened to 15-year-old Barbara Louise Cotton, vanished from the streets of Williston 40 years ago?

Barbara Louise Cotton disappeared from Williston, N.D., on April 11, 1981. She was reportedly last seen walking towards her home after having dinner with her boyfriend and another friend. Barbara never arrived at her destination and has never been seen or heard from again. Her case is considered open and unsolved. Dakota Spotlight's podcast series, "A better search for Barbara" explores and investigates this cryptic cold case from the north-west corner of North Dakota.

barbara-louise-cotton-williston-nd-cold-case-investigation-dakota-spotlight.png Photo courtesy of the Cotton family
"A Better Search for Barbara Cotton" is a five-part investigative podcast about the 1981 disappearance of a Williston, N.D. teen.

Her name was Barbara but everyone called her Barb.

Her friends recall that Barb was incredibly kind and giving. She was soft-spoken and yet not a pushover. She was petite, yet unafraid. Walking home along the streets of Williston in the northwest corner of North Dakota was something she had no problem doing by herself.

On the evening of April 11, 1981 she did just that. She was reportedly last seen five blocks from her house but never arrived. Barbara Cotton has never been heard from since that night.

She's just gone.

"A Better Search for Barbara" is a five-part podcast series about this long-running cold case.


Last seen near the park

Barbara would possibly have passed through Recreation Park and then continued along 5th Street West on her way home.

According to the young man she had dinner with (a young man described by some as her "boyfriend"), she was last seen near or entering Recreation Park . The park is five blocks from where Barbara lived.

Recreation Park, Williston, N.D.

Assumed a runaway?

Much confusion surrounds the story of Barbara's disappearance and new questions continue to surface. Some of the most curious aspects of the mystery pertain to Barbara's last known whereabouts in downtown Williston on April 11, 1981. Versions of the events are both fuzzy and sometimes contradicting. "A Better Search for Barbara" attempts to untangle this peculiar evening and map out what might have actually occurred.

Video: Area of Barbara's last known whereabouts (no audio)


See also: Videos and Photos of area Barbara was last seen .

Open and Unsolved

Stacey DeMarr Werder was reportedly the last person to see Barbara Cotton alive. He hung himself in jail in Malta, Montana in July of 1981

Barbara Cotton's missing person's case remains open and unsolved . No arrests have ever been made, but Dakota Spotlight Podcast uncovers never-before-heard details and reopens questions in the search for Barbara.

Lora Werder Facey was about 15 years of age when she became last person to speak with her brother Stacey just before his suicide. She has never previously been contacted by law enforcement in regards to Barbara Cotton's disappearance.

Listen to the Podcast, "A Better Search for Barbara"

Episode 1:


Episode 2:

Episode 3:

Episode 4:


Episode 5:

Episode 6:


Episode 7:

Episode 8:

Episode 9:


Episode 10:

Episode 11:

Episode 12:

Episode 13:

Other True Crime from Dakota Spotlight:

Barbara Cotton was reportedly last seen walking from the area of the Plainsman building towards Recreation Park.

Barbara Cotton was reportedly last seen walking from the area of the Plainsman building towards Recreation Park.

James Wolner is a Digital Content Producer at Forum Communications Company, Fargo North Dakota and the creator, producer and host of Dakota Spotlight, a true crime podcast. He has lived the Upper Midwest since 2013 and studied photojournalism at California State University at Fresno. He is fluent in English and Swedish.
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