Search for missing woman continues

The search for Barbara Zenk, a Vermillion woman who has been missing for three weeks, continues.

On Friday, March 26, officials from the South Dakota Games, Fish & Parks Department joined by personnel from the Clay County Sheriff's Office took sonar readings in the Missouri River near the Newcastle-Vermillion Bridge in case Ms. Zenk may have drowned in the river.

So far, all efforts to locate Ms. Zenk have been unsuccessful.

"Game, Fish & Parks has what is called a side-scan sonar, which basically gives an image of objects that are on the bottom of the river," Clay County Sheriff Andy Howe Friday afternoon. Two boats began the search shortly before 10 a.m. They wrapped up the day's activities at 2 p.m., with the equipment failing to find any signs of a body in the river.

The day's efforts were hampered by strong winds and choppy water.

Howe said there are no immediate plans to resume searching the river using the sonar equipment.

"But we have been out there regularly. Ever since the river opened up, we've had boats out," he said. "We will continue to put boats out there, but we don't have anything scheduled right now."

A report was received Saturday morning, March 6, of an abandoned vehicle on Highway 19 south of Vermillion at the Missouri River. The vehicle is registered to Ms. Zenk, 52, of Vermillion. She was formerly a resident of Newcastle, NE.

As of Monday morning, March 8, Ms. Zenk had not reported for work at Masterworks in Vermillion or at The University of South Dakota where she is employed as a custodian.

Local law enforcement began an immediate search for her, and on Wednesday, March 10, personnel from the local sheriff's office continued the search of the area where Ms. Zenk's vehicle was found. They were assisted by the Codington County Search and Rescue Team, which has the capabilities to conduct cold water diving and searches using bloodhounds.

Three dogs were used to search the area along the highway and the Missouri River in the area where the car was found as well as out on the ice covering the Missouri River. Conditions were too treacherous to permit a diver to go under water in the strong current and freezing temperatures at that time.

The ground search efforts at the scene at that time again produced no indication that Ms. Zenk is in that area.

Howe is hoping for better conditions on the river for the next scheduled search.

"The current today made it real hard to control everything," he said. "On a different day, a still day, it might be worthwhile to try again."

Information about the missing woman has been entered into the NCIC computer system nationwide and an Endangered Person Advisory was issued for her by the state of South Dakota. A copy of the missing person poster is available at the state of South Dakota homepage at and at the Clay County Sheriff's home page at

"We're still treating her as a missing person," Howe said. "If she's gone off somewhere else, she has every right to do that, but there is concern for her, and of course, if she is in the river, we want to find her for her family's sake. So really, we're looking at those two different alternatives, and investigating both."

Anyone with information regarding Ms. Zenk's whereabouts or her vehicle parked near the Vermillion/Newcastle Bridge on Highway 19 is encouraged to contact the Clay County Sheriff at (605) 677-7100.

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