Williston, ND

Barb Cotton Vanished into Thin Air 40 Years Ago


Barbara Louise Cotton.Missingkids.org

Fifteen-year-old Barbara Louise Cotton disappeared from the Plainsman Hotel in Williston, North Dakota on the 11th of April 1981. She had spent the evening roller-skating with her friends and eating at a restaurant inside the hotel. When the meal was over, she started walking home and vanished into the night.

It was first assumed that Barb was a runaway, that her disappearance was a choice she had made herself, but her family never believed this to be possible. Barb didn’t have any of her personal belongings on her; nothing that she would need to run away and be able to support herself.

Barb’s mother, Louise Cotton, made a police statement claiming that after Barb had dinner with her boyfriend and a mutual friend of theirs, her boyfriend asked to walk her home, but Barb insisted she would be fine walking home alone. He watched as she walked into Recreation Park, but lost sight of her there.

Louise states that Barb told her she would be home that evening. She had a shift to work at the Country Kitchen the next morning. But she was never seen after midnight that night.

There has been no trace of her since that somber night in April. She has never been seen and her body has never been found. No one knows whether Barb is even dead or alive.

The money in Barb’s savings account was never used after she went missing. All of her belongings, including all of her clothes and an uncashed paycheck from her job, were left behind at her home.

Very little information exists to suggest that police any kind of a thorough investigation in Barb’s missing person's case. It is unclear whether significant people in the case have even been questioned by authorities. There were two main persons of interest in Bard’s disappearance.

Both of them are now deceased.

Barbara’s boyfriend was one of the two people police were considering in the early stages of the investigation. However, those close to Barb say they knew nothing about Barb having a boyfriend at the time. Louise, her mother, is the only one who knew about him. His name was Stacey Werder.

Stacey Werder.Findagrave.com

Rumors suggest that Stacey moved to Montana within days of Barb’s vanishing. His family has claimed that he was capable of violent outbursts towards members of the family. Stacey had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. He had left the family after an episode where he had tried to strangle his father with an extension cord.

On the 15th of July 1981, in Malta, Montana, Stacey Werder was taken into custody for disorderly conduct. He hung himself in his jail cell the next morning.

Barb’s best friend, Diane, said the two were close-knit and did everything together. They were working to save up money so they could move into an apartment at 16. Barb was even asked to be Maid of Honor in Diane’s upcoming wedding.

Unfortunately, in the days leading up to Barb’s disappearance, she and Diane hadn’t been spending as much time together. It’s possible that if Barb had a new boyfriend, she was spending more time with him that week instead. Diane knew nothing about her best friend seeing anyone at the time.

Frank J. Delapena.Lincoln County Sheriff’s department, Hugo Colorado.

The second suspect, Frank Delapena, was working in Williston during the time that Barb Cotton went missing. After losing his job, he took off in his 1973 Ford van and left for Wyoming.

In Rawlins, Wyoming, Delapena kidnapped two underaged girls and murdered them. The girls’ bodies were found dumped off of the interstate east of town. This wasn’t his first attempt. People came forward with eyewitness accounts of Delapena asking children to come see a puppy he was trying to rehome.

He was eventually caught in Limon, Colorado on the 12th of May. His vehicle was registered in Williston, North Dakota. Before his death, Delapena wrote a suicide letter and gave it to the media. The letter proclaimed his innocence. Ten days after being taken into custody, he hung himself.

Police say the investigation into this case remains open. April 2021 was the 40th anniversary of her mysterious disappearance. A life celebration in her memory was held at Recreation Park in Williston, the last place she was ever seen. Barb has been gone for four long decades now, but by family, friends, and the true-crime community, she is far from forgotten.

If you have any information about the disappearance of Barbara Cotton, please call the Williston Police Department at 701–577–1212.

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