Murder of Jacob Wetterling

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Jacob Erwin Wetterling (February 17, 1978 – October 22, 1989) was an American boy from St. Joseph, Minnesota. At age eleven, Wetterling was kidnapped from his hometown and murdered. His kidnapping was a mystery for almost twenty-seven years.

On Thursday, September 1, 2016, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) discovered human bones from a pasture near Paynesville, almost 30 miles from the site of the kidnapping. On September 3, the Wetterling family made an announcement saying that the bones were those of Jacob. Local law enforcement officials stated that the identity of the bones was confirmed by dental records.[1] The location was given out by Danny Heinrich, a long-time person of interest for the kidnapping of another boy, twelve-year-old Jared Scheierl, in the town of Cold Spring which was near the area.[2] Three days later on September 6, Heinrich admitted to kidnapping and murdering Jacob Wetterling and to kidnapping and sexually assaulting Scheierl.[3]

The kidnapping[change | change source]

On the evening of Sunday, October 22, 1989, not long after 9pm CDT, Jacob Wetterling (11), his brother Trevor (10) and a friend, Aaron Larson (11) were biking home from what was then a Tom Thumb convenience store in St. Joseph. The boys had gone to the store for renting a video. But then, Danny Heinrich came from a driveway. He was wearing a stocking cap mask and had an unloaded revolver. Heinrich ordered the three boys to throw the bikes into a nearby ditch and lie face down. He then started asking each boy his age. Jacob's brother Trevor was told to run to a nearby wooded area and not look back or else he would be shot. Heinrich then asked to see the faces of the two remaining boys. He picked Jacob and told Aaron to run away. He (Heinrich) threatened Aaron in a similar way to how he threatened Trevor. That was the last time Jacob was seen alive.

The investigation[change | change source]

On Friday, January 13, 1989, just over nine months before Wetterling was kidnapped, twelve-year-old Jared Scheierl was kidnapped, sexually assaulted and then physically threatened by an unknown adult man. The boy's statement given that night showed the habits of the adult man were similar to that of when Wetterling was kidnapped. The adult man, who was later identified as Danny Heinrich, had threatened the boy with a gun. The man then released the boy and warned him to not look back or he (Jared) would be shot. That kidnapping took place almost ten miles from where he (Heinrich) would later stop the Wetterling brothers and their friend.[4]

A person of interest[change | change source]

In May 2014, investigators began taking more looks at a series of tried or actual child molestations that had taken place in the Paynesville area within several years before Jacob Wetterling was kidnapped and murdered. Between summer 1986 and spring 1987, five teenage boys were attacked. Nobody was arrested for the attacks, though. Authorities talked with some of the victims again. They also worked with an Internet blogger who brought the information to light. After several months of research and talking to some of the victims, the investigators realized the attacks were not random. They also realized the culprit might be linked to the kidnapping of Wetterling, almost 40 minutes from the other crime scenes.[5]

In late October 2015, Danny James Heinrich was publicly named a person of interest in the disappearance of Jacob Wetterling. The Federal Bureau of Investigation had questioned him on December 16, 1989. A DNA sample was taken. Heinrich, though, was not charged with any crime. On July 28, 2015, however, Heinrich's DNA was matched to the DNA sample in the case of Jared Scheierl when he was kidnapped in Cold Spring in January 1989.[6] When local officials performed a search warrant on the home in which Heinrich lived, they found several hundred images that depicted child pornography on the hard drive of his computer and with three-ring binders. Almost three months following that search, Heinrich was arrested on charges involving child pornography.[7]

The plea agreement and discovery[change | change source]

Heinrich decided to cooperate with the authorities as part of a plea bargain. On September 1, 2016, almost eleven months after his arrest, Heinrich led the investigators to the burial site.[8] Jacob's clothing and human remains had been unearthed from a pasture near Paynesville, almost 30 miles away from Wetterling's home and kidnapping site.

In the plea agreement, Heinrich pleaded guilty to one count of the 25 federal child pornography charges against him.

In exchange with the Heinrich plea, prosecutors agreed to not charge him with Wetterling's murder.[9] With the plea agreement, Heinrich was given the maximum prison term of twenty years under the child pornography charge. The plea deal will also permit the state authorities to seek his civil commitment as a violent sexual predator after his federal prison term ends. That could prevent Heinrich from ever being released.[10]

In 2017, Heinrich was transferred to the Federal Medical Center, Devens. It's a Massachusetts federal prison. He is serving his 20-year sentence there.[11]

References[change | change source]

  1. "Paynesville Reeling with the News About Jacob". Star Tribune. Retrieved July 13, 2021.
  2. "Minnesota Man Describes Killing Eleven-Year-Old Jacob Wetterling in Chilling Detail". Guardian UK. Retrieved July 13, 2021.
  3. "Jacob Wetterling's Killer Assaulted Another Boy". Twin Cities Pioneer Press. Retrieved July 13, 2021.
  4. "The Hidden Traces". Court TV. Retrieved July 13, 2021.
  5. "The Investigators Probe a Possible Wetterling Link". KMSP-TV. Retrieved July 13, 2021.
  6. "The Timeline of Events in the Jacob Wetterling Abduction". KSTP News. Retrieved July 13, 2021.
  7. "Annandale Man, 52, a Suspect in the Wetterling Case". CBS Minnesota. Retrieved July 13, 2021.
  8. "The Remains of Jacob Wetterling Have Been Found". KSTP News. Archived from the original on May 11, 2021. Retrieved July 13, 2021.
  9. "Danny Heinrich Confesses to Abducting and Killing Jacob Wetterling". Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Retrieved July 13, 2021.
  10. "Jacob Wetterling killer: "I Am Truly Sorry for My Evil Acts". CBS News. Retrieved July 13, 2021.
  11. "Jacob Wetterling Killer Reaches His Final Prison Destination". The Twin Cities Pioneer Press. Retrieved July 13, 2021.