Parents, investigators recall long quest for answers after Jacob Wetterling’s 1989 abduction

Source: 10/12/23

A new “20/20” examines the chilling case that remained unsolved until 2016.

Nearly 34 years ago, the abduction of an 11-year-old boy from a dark road in rural Minnesota terrified the community and went on to become one of the biggest mysteries in the state’s history.

Jacob Wetterling was kidnapped at gunpoint a half-mile from his St. Joseph home just after 9 p.m. on Oct. 22, 1989. He was never seen alive again.

The chilling case, which remained unsolved until 2016, is the focus of a new “20/20” airing Friday, Oct. 13 at 9 p.m. ET. It features interviews with investigators, one of the boys who witnessed the abduction, and details from Jacob’s parents, Patty and Jerry Wetterling, about their long quest for answers in their son’s disappearance.

Police launched an investigation and began looking for clues at the abduction site. They found tire tracks on a long driveway adjacent to the road, along with adult and child-sized footprints. With the community and parents on edge, the hunt for Jacob Wetterling quickly became one of the biggest search missions in Minnesota history.

Shortly after Jacob’s abduction, investigators in the Wetterling case learned of an incident that occurred over nine months earlier. In January 1989, 12-year-old Jared Scheierl was abducted by a man while walking home from a café in Cold Spring, Minnesota. The man put Jared in the backseat of his car, drove him to a remote location, and sexually assaulted him.

When the assailant dropped him off, Jared said he told him to run and not look back or he would shoot — similar to the statements the masked man made to Trevor and Aaron on the night Jacob was abducted.

In 2014, the FBI’s Child Abduction Rapid Deployment team did a cold case review of the entire Wetterling investigation and began taking a closer look at a longtime person of interest, Paynesville resident Danny Heinrich.

Investigators sought a search warrant for Heinrich’s residence, where he now lived in Annandale, Minnesota. In that search warrant, law enforcement alleged Heinrich’s involvement in eight Paynesville incidents.

During the search, investigators found child pornography in Heinrich’s home, leading to his arrest on federal charges in October 2015. Authorities also announced that Heinrich was a person of interest in Jacob’s abduction.

Nearly a year after his arrest, Heinrich agreed to a plea deal and led authorities to farmland near Paynesville where he had buried Jacob’s remains. Heinrich confessed to abducting, assaulting, killing, and later burying Jacob. While driving out that night, Heinrich said he had noticed the three boys riding to the store so he decided to pull into the Rassier driveway and wait for them.

In exchange, prosecutors agreed not to charge Heinrich with Jacob’s murder. Heinrich wasn’t charged in the eight Paynesville incidents, as the statute of limitations had run out and there was a lack of evidence. Heinrich denied any involvement in those cases to the police.

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I don’t understand. He confessed to the assault and murder and lead them to the body. How did this fall off from prosecution but images on his computer gave him 20 years? I think this speaks in ear-shattering volume how much distain there is for us and laws surrounding it.

Just in time to stir up all the myths and hysteria about people on the registry that legislators can use to enact more useless laws that lead people to falsely believe they are making the world a safer place to live and keep their legislative jobs until next re-election.

And what I gleen from this meandering article is that the person convicted would not have been on a registry. He was a person of interest but had not been convicted of anything. If he did this horrible thing, then we are all being treated as if we were the same as him, the worst of the worst.