Friends, family hope billboard will help locate woman who went missing in 1981

A billboard asking people to share information about a 40-year-old disappearance went up earlier this summer.

A few weeks ago, something new popped up on the landscape in Williston.

On U.S. Highway 2, heading north through town, a billboard went up asking for help with the case of Barbara Cotton, a teenage girl who went missing 40 years ago.

Lisa Jo Schiele was the driving force behind the billboard. Schiele was married to the son of Cotton’s older sister and connected with the family that way. She heard about the 15-year-old girl’s disappearance over the years.

Earlier this year, a podcast about Cotton’s disappearance brought new attention to the case. Schiele met James Wolner, the man behind the podcast, and helped with research.

She wanted to do more, thought

“I felt like there needed to be, you know, some sort of something out there to remind people about Barb because, you know her case has been, you know it hasn’t gotten much coverage, there’s plenty of people who had no idea anything about her at all,” Schiele said. “You know, so I thought that would be great for that. But also, I really tend to believe that somebody out there must know something, and I really wanted that reminder there. You know, it kind of stir up those memories with whoever that might be.”

The billboard asks whether people remember Cotton and shows a photo of her. It also has an imperative for anyone who knows something, “It’s time for you to speak up,” along with the web address

Schiele said no tips have come from the billboard yet, but she remains hopeful.

In addition to the billboard, Schiele was involved with a signature drive. After the podcast, a petition started to find a dedicated cold case investigator to look into Cotton’s disappearance.

“I decided that, come hell or high water, I was getting that petition 5,000 signatures,” she said “So I really pushed it hard at that point. I’m like ‘You guys are tired of hearing it, and once we’re there, we can be done with it.’ You know, I think I probably did get some signatures in hopes of me shutting up about it.”

Schiele hopes the petition and the billboard will help kickstart the investigation. She said she understands why detectives can’t make the Cotton case a priority, but time is running out.

“I’m so on board with it, you know, and the biggest thing is, we know that, you know the police department is obviously busy, and something that’s happening right now is absolutely going to take precedence over a 40 year old cold case,” she said. “We wouldn’t expect them to drop everything and focus all their efforts on Barb’s case. But it’s also not fair to let it go on without the attention that many of us feel that it never did get. And that needs to happen before any more people that know anything, pass away or, you know, the trail goes even colder if that’s even possible.”

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