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For the past 27 years, the police, the family, and the public have been asking, “Where’s Jacob?” Now that his remains have been found, the question becomes, “Why did it take so long?” APM Reports, with reporter Madeleine Baran, explores that question in an eight-part podcast, “In the Dark.”

The bedrock public presumption about the Wetterling case is that the sheriff’s office, along with other law enforcement agencies, did all it could to find Jacob. And while it’s true that many officers worked long hours and followed tens of thousands of leads, a close look at the quality of that investigation reveals a different story — one that has not been told.

In the Dark
An American Public Media investigative podcast about a 27-year child abduction investigation that changed the nation

Child abductions are rare crimes. And they’re typically solved. For 27 years, the investigation into the abduction of Jacob Wetterling in rural Minnesota yielded no answers. In the most comprehensive reporting on this case, APM Reports and reporter Madeleine Baran reveal how law enforcement mishandled one of the most notorious child abductions in the country and how those failures fueled national anxiety about stranger danger, changed how adults parent their kids, and led to the nation’s sex-offender registries.



Introducing ‘In the Dark’

After he disappeared nearly 27 years ago, Jacob Wetterling’s remains have been found. Why did it take so long? APM Reports asks that question in an eight-part podcast.


The Crime

The abduction of Jacob Wetterling, which made parents more vigilant and instigated the first national requirement that states track sex offenders via registries, took place before moonrise on a warm October night in 1989.


The Circle

When Jacob Wetterling was taken, authorities launched what would turn into one of the largest searches for any missing person in the history of the United States. But that first night, law enforcement didn’t cover all the basics.


The One Who Got Away

The closest you can get to a conversation with Jacob Wetterling about his abduction is to talk to Jared Scheierl, who was forced into a car and assaulted by Danny Heinrich in January 1989. That was nine months before Jacob.


What’s Going on Down There?

In November 2012, a police officer named Tom Decker was shot and killed in Cold Spring, Minn., after getting out of his car to check on a man who lived above a bar. The man was quickly arrested and held in the Stearns County jail. He was interrogated but then released without charges. The state crime bureau later ruled him out as a suspect. … Joshua Guimond, a 20-year-old student at St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minn., vanished without a trace in 2002. Brian Guimond, Josh’s father, says the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office has never fully investigated the case.



Related Report

APM Investigative Unit Announces Podcast Series on Wetterling Case

By Jon Collins

August 29, 2016

American Public Media will launch an investigative podcast next month looking at the disappearance of Jacob Wetterling, the 11-year-old boy abducted from his hometown of St. Joseph, Minn., almost 27 years ago.

Wetterling was taken by a masked gunman on Oct. 22, 1989. A friend and younger brother say the three were bicycling home after renting a video when a man came down a driveway and ordered them to lie on the ground. The other two boys were told to run away and not look back or they’d be shot.

The intersection at 16th Avenue Southeast where Jacob Wetterling was last seen on Oct. 22, 1989. (Photo: Peter Cox | MPR News)

The podcast, called In the Dark, is led by reporter Madeleine Baran, who won a Peabody Award for her reporting on clergy sexual abuse in Minnesota. The name of the podcast refers to the crime itself, Baran said, but also to the lack of transparency around the decades-long investigation.

“So it has these two senses,” Baran said. “There’s this crime that happened in the dark and, also, there’s this investigation that happened in the dark.”

The abduction was a pivotal moment in Minnesota and beyond, sparking concerns about child abduction and a national focus on sex offenders. Because the case has been closely covered by local media for all those years, Baran was surprised to find details that had been overlooked.

“When I started reading just basic information about the case, there were certain things that stood out to me as interesting, like the fact that this happened on a dead-end street, this happened in a town of 3,000 people, the police got there right away,” Baran said. “That changed how I thought about it and made me think, ‘Why hasn’t this been solved?'”

The Wetterling case led to the passage of a federal law in 1994 that required states to create sex offender registries.

“This was obviously a sensational crime in Minnesota, but for us to spend this much time as investigative reporters looking into it, it has to have something more than that,” Baran said. “The something more in this case is that it’s affected the lives of hundreds of thousands of people who are on sex offender registries in this country.”

Following the success of Serial, podcasts are seen as a way to tell a longer, more complex story.

“It can go much deeper even than one long radio documentary can,” Baran said. “It’s hard for me to imagine, given what we’ve found out, doing it in a different way. The format really does lend itself, because these are complicated stories.”

Unlike Serial, though, In the Dark’s mission isn’t to solve the crime. Baran said it’s looking at why the case hasn’t been solved and the impact it’s had on the people swept up in it, including Jacob’s parents.

“In the eyes of Minnesota there’s this person, Jacob, who is missing, but he’s their son,” Baran said. “You can talk to a lot of people … who want to talk about it as a mystery or this sensational crime. But, really, what is it like if that’s your kid?”

APM Reports editor-in-chief Chris Worthington is overseeing the reporting project.

“While this case has been covered locally and nationally, no one has really gone in depth about the investigation itself,” Worthington said in a statement. “We wanted to examine what went wrong and why this case has not been solved. And most importantly, why Jacob Wetterling hasn’t been found.”

The podcast is produced by APM Reports, which began work last year as American Public Media’s investigative reporting and documentary unit. American Public Media is the parent company of MPR News.

In the Dark begins Sept. 13. After that, a new installment of the eight-episode series will be released each week. It will be available on iTunes.

Preview: In the Dark | Find it on iTunes



Update: September 15, 2016

Blogger, Survivor Pushed Investigators to Re-Examine Wetterling Case: Part 2

By Esme Murphy
September 14, 2016

MINNEAPOLIS — Despite being told they were wrong by law enforcement, sexual assault survivor Jared Scheierl and blogger Joy Baker never gave up.

They teamed up to provide critical clues in the Jacob Wetterling case.

WCCO aired the first interviews with them in 2014. They had evidence Wetterling’s case was connected to a series of unsolved sex assaults on boys in the mid-80s in Paynesville, and to Scheierl’s own 1989 sexual assault.

It is a theory that led to a breakthrough in the case.

Law enforcement kept telling Scheierl and Baker they were on the wrong track in their investigation, but the duo never gave up. …

Jared Scheierl and Joy Baker (credit: CBS)
Jared Scheierl and Joy Baker (Photo credit: CBS)

They began an informal partnership in the summer of 2013, tracking down leads after Baker uncovered a series of articles detailing unsolved sexual assaults on boys in Paynesville in 1986 and 1987. …

Scheierl was assaulted and kidnapped in Cold Spring nine months before Wetterling was kidnapped.

It was Scheierl who helped the FBI put together the now-famous sketch of his own attacker.

Just weeks after Wetterling was taken, the FBI issued a statement saying Wetterling and Scheierl’s cases were linked

“These facts match up with Jacob’s abduction,” said FBI Agent Jeff Jamar in December of 1989.

But in 2004, under the leadership of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension’s Kenneth Macdonald and Stearns County Sheriff Captain Pam Jensen, the investigation moved away from that theory.

Kenneth Macdonald and Pam Jensen (credit: CBS)
BCA agent Ken Macdonald and Stearns County Sheriff’s Dept. Capt. Pam Jensen (Photo credit: CBS)

“They had told me that, ‘We don’t believe that your and Jacob’s cases are connected,’” Scheierl said.

BCA search warrants starting in 2004 say investigators believed “no vehicle was used” in Wetterling’s kidnapping, and the kidnapper had to be on foot.

The BCA and Stearns County believed Wetterling’s kidnapper was farmer Dan Rassier, who they investigated for 10 years — even digging up his farm in 2010 and publicly naming him as a person of interest.

“I told them back in 1999, I told them in 2004 and I told them in 2013 that Dan Rassier was not my person,” Scheierl said.

Neither Stearns County or the BCA would comment on why in 2004 they did not go back to what we now know they knew in January of 1990: the tire tracks and a shoe print at the Wetterling abduction scene were consistent with, but not a scientific match, to Danny Heinrich — a man who court documents reveal was back then a suspect the Paynesville, Wetterling and Scheierl cases.

It was a theory that law enforcement abandoned for a quarter of a century, only to be pushed by a blogger and survivor who would not stop. …

The Stearns County Sheriff’s Department declined to comment. …

Read the full story at WCCO



Blogger, Survivor Pushed Investigators to Re-Examine Wetterling Case: Part 1 (WCCO, Sept. 13, 2016)

“Stearns County Sheriff’s Department wasn’t buying Joy and Jared’s theory that the Paynesville cases, Jared’s case, and Jacob’s case were connected.”



Update: September 18, 2016

‘Dots’ Always Pointed to Wetterling Suspect Heinrich

By Dennis Dalman
The Newsleaders
September 8, 2016

Hindsight is often 20/20, they say, but it’s difficult for many people to understand how Jacob Wetterling’s abductor and killer, Danny James Heinrich, slipped under the radar so often when the dots to be connected were clearly there.

Some or all of those “dots” point to the 53-year-old from Annandale.

Now that Wetterling’s remains have been found and Heinrich has confessed to the crime, the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office, and others will conduct a thorough re-examination of the Wetterling case, and much of the investigation will involve how those connections were missed right after the abduction and in the nearly 27 years since.

In 1989, the year Wetterling was taken by a stranger, there was no Internet, no Amber Alert emergency-notification system, less awareness of child abductions, and all too often police and sheriff’s offices worked independently of one another in their day-to-day tasks. In addition, DNA-matching technology in criminal cases was not then widely known or available.

In Paynesville, in the late 1980s, there were eight complaints made to the police department of a sinister man who accosted young boys while riding their bikes, or walking in or near the downtown area. The man, sometimes wearing a ski mask, would usually grope the boys through their clothing on their genital areas, make threats in a raspy voice, then rush off.

At the time of the assaults in Paynesville, Heinrich was living in the city, alternating from time to time between the homes of his divorced parents. One of the dwellings, his mother’s, was a downtown Paynesville apartment.

Troy Cole

In recent days, a Paynesville resident, Troy Cole, a father of a 5-year-old daughter, was interviewed by WCCO-TV Channel 4.

Cole told about how he had been sexually assaulted one night in November of 1986 by a man with a rough voice. While riding his bicycle from a downtown pizza parlor, a man on the street grabbed him off of his bicycle and forced him under some nearby pine trees where he sexually assaulted the boy while keeping a knife held against his back. The man then used the knife to cut off a lock of hair from Cole. Cole and his father reported the incident to the Paynesville police, but he recently said there were no follow-ups at the time to the crime, which still angers him.

Cole’s case is just one of many that occurred during a three-year period from 1986 to 1988 in Paynesville, mainly right in the downtown area. In the other cases, a rather short male, usually wearing a ski mask, would accost boys riding bikes or walking, then grope their genital area through their pants. Some of them he threatened. He usually asked the boys how old they were. His voice was described by the victims as “raspy” or “a deep low whisper” or “like he had a cold.” He also threatened some of the boys, telling them to run off or saying he would shoot them if they said anything.

Cole told the TV interviewer he is sorry about the Wetteling family’s loss of Jacob.

“We were lucky,” he said of himself and other victims. “At least we got to go home.”

Jared Scheierl

On Jan. 11, 1989, nine months before Wetterling was abducted, a 12-year-old Cold Spring paper boy, Jared Scheierl, was abducted after walking from a downtown café in Cold Spring.

The incident is detailed in an Aug. 5, 2016 U.S. District Court decision regarding Heinrich and the accusations against him.

According to the information in the U.S. judges’ decision, the man asked Scheierl if he knew where someone named “Kramer” lived. As the boy came closer to the car, the man grabbed him and forced him into the back seat.

The man drove for about 15 minutes, ordered the boy to take off his snowsuit, pants and underwear. The man then forced Scheierl to perform a sexual act on him and attempted a sexual act against the boy.

The perpetrator, Scheierl said, was wearing camouflage fatigues, black Army-style boots, a military-style watch and a brown baseball cap. On Jan. 18, 1990, when law enforcement searched the home of Heinrich’s father in Payneville, where Heinrich was staying at the time, they found two brown baseball caps, a camouflage shirt and pants and lace-up black Army boots. Heinrich had been a member of the Minnesota National Guard.

He then let Scheierl put his snowsuit back on but not the pants or underwear. Scheierl was also wearing a sweatshirt the perpetrator allowed him to keep. The man drove the boy back to Cold Spring and ordered him to roll around in his snowsuit on the snow. The man told Scheierl to run and not look back or he would shoot him.

Scheierl also told police the abductor told him he’s “lucky to be alive” and that if the police ever got a “lead” about what had just happened, he would find Scheierl after school and shoot him.

Jacob Wetterling

Nine months after the assault against Scheierl, on Oct. 22, 1989, Jacob was abducted at about 9:15 p.m. while he, his brother Trevor and best friend Aaron Larson were biking home from a Tom Thumb store where they went to get a movie video.

A masked man holding a handgun appeared on the rural road and told all three boys to lie down in the ditch. He asked each boy how old he was. Then he told Trevor and Aaron to run toward nearby woods, and to not look back or he would shoot them.

When the boys looked back, near the woods, Jacob and the man were gone.

In 1990, when Heinrich was detained and questioned about the Scheierl incident and the Wetterling abduction, he denied having anything to do with either and said he couldn’t remember what he was doing on those two nights.

Investigators at the scene of Jacob’s abduction said tire marks and shoe prints in the dirt seemed to approximate those of the Ford car Heinrich drove and of a pair of shoes he owned at that time, but the matches were not good enough to be perfect matches.

Police arranged a line-up of suspects, but Scheierl could not with certainty identify which of the two men in the line-up was the perpetrator. Heinrich was then released from custody for lack of proof.

DNA testing

Earlier this year, a DNA test was taken from the sweatshirt Scheierl’s was wearing during the sexual assault. The sweatshirt had been kept in police storage as possible evidence. The DNA on the sweatshirt matched the DNA in a hair taken from Heinrich when he was detained briefly in 1990.

However, charges could not be brought because the statute of limitations in the Scheierl case had long since expired.

Joy the Curious

About six years ago, Joy Baker, a writer and blogger in New London, came across an old local newspaper from May 1987 with a front-page headline, “Local police seek help in accosting incidents.”

The mother of two daughters, Baker had been deeply troubled by the inability of law enforcement to solve the Wetterling abduction.

The story was about the assaults that had been happening in Paynesville. It was then Baker began connecting dots between those crimes and the Wetterling abduction: a rather short stocky man, wearing a ski mask, often wearing a baseball-style hat, sometimes Army-style clothing, black boots, a raspy voice, asking boys their ages or what school grade they were in, telling them to run off and threatening to shoot them if they looked back or told anybody.

Baker got together with Scheierl, the sexual-assault victim, and they both began doing investigations of their own, interviewing people (including the assault victims), researching and trying to put the pieces of an old puzzle together.

They put their findings on Baker’s blog, entitled “Joy the Curious.”

Their work, the dots they connected, gave new impetus to the ongoing official investigations and helped point the way to Heinrich’s possible guilt in all the crimes. …

Read the full report at the Newsleaders

9 Responses to ““In the Dark” Podcast — How Law Enforcement Mishandled the Jacob Wetterling Investigation”
  1. The Immelman Turn » Blog Archive » Danny Heinrich Search Warrant in Jacob Wetterling Kidnapping Says:

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  4. The Immelman Turn » Blog Archive » Jacob Wetterling: Rassier Search Says:

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  5. The Immelman Turn » Blog Archive » Jacob Wetterling Lead Unravels Says:

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  6. The Immelman Turn » Blog Archive » Danny Heinrich Questioned in Wetterling Abduction — Investigator’s 1990 Case Notes Says:

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  7. The Immelman Turn » Blog Archive » Wetterling Suspect Dan Rassier Says:

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  8. The Immelman Turn » Blog Archive » Wetterling Friend Shares Story Says:

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  9. An analysis of Jared Scheirel – the boy kidnapped 10 months before Jacob Wetterling :: Andy Nicholson Says:

    […] The thing that blows me away about this article is that even though Heinrich was a suspect in Jared’s case, he wasn’t accused of anything until 30 years later. Why is that? Why did it take 30 years? More on that here. […]

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