November 6, 2015 Update
On Thursday, Oct. 29, 2015 law enforcement authorities named 52-year-old Daniel James Heinrich of Annandale, Minn., as a “person of interest” in the October 1989 abduction of Jacob Wetterling. Heinrich has been arrested on child pornography charges.
During a news conference in Minneapolis detailing the charges against Heinrich, U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger and other officials stressed that Heinrich has not been charged in relation to the Wetterling abduction or the kidnapping and sexual assault of a Cold Spring boy named Jared nine month earlier in 1989.
However, forensic analysis established a DNA match between Heinrich and trace evidence on the clothing worn by Jared, the Cold Spring boy, on the night of his kidnapping and sexual assault in January 1989.
Furthermore, investigators have long suspected a link between the cases of Jared and Jacob and it is probable circumstantial evidence in the Wetterling case points to Heinrich as the likely offender in Jacob’s kidnapping.
November 7, 2015 Update
Dan Rassier’s Alibi
Excerpt from pages 265-266 of Robert M. Dudley’s book It Can’t Happen Here: The Search for Jacob Wetterling:
A significant problem for investigators is that for nearly fifteen years they expressed the belief that Jacob’s October 1989 case was related to Jared’s Cold Spring, [Friday] January  1989, case. Investigators have also suggested that Rassier was a suspect from the very beginning of the Wetterling investigation.
What is puzzling about that assertion is that Rassier has a solid alibi for the night Jared was assaulted. Rassier would often play the trumpet with Betty Wolf when she performed a solo show without her polka band, The Deutschmeisters. Such was the case on the night of [Friday] January 13, 1989. On the night that Jared was abducted and assaulted, Dan Rassier was playing a music show with Betty Wolf at the American Legion in Eden Valley, a half-hour away from St. Joseph.
If Rassier could not have been Jared’s assailant then it seems contradictory that for so many years investigators were certain of a link between the two cases, and that they considered Rassier a suspect from the beginning of the Wetterling investigation.
On Wednesday, June 30, 2010, more than 20 years after Jacob Wetterling’s abduction on Oct. 22, 1989, law enforcement converged on the farmstead on the outskirts of St. Joseph, Minn., where a masked man took Jacob at gunpoint at the approach to the driveway of 29748 91st Ave.
Stearns County Sheriff John Sanner said the County Attorney’s Office advised him that a court order prevented him from stating the purpose of the search and he declined to describe the court order or the search warrant approved by Stearns County District Court Judge Vicki Landwehr.
The property where the warrant was being executed is owned by Robert and Rita Rassier. Directory information shows that Daniel Rassier also lists the address as his residence.
Satellite image of the Wetterling abduction site and surrounding area. (Google Earth / Joy Baker; click on image for larger display)
“Jacob’s last footsteps are shown on that driveway,” said Jacob mother, Patty Wetterling.
The FBI, the Minnesota state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), K-9 units, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children are assisting with the search.
At the conclusion of the second day of the search Thursday, Sheriff John Sanner said his department had completed the first phase of the investigation and that further details would be released Friday morning.
Acknowledgment: The above notes were adapted and excerpted from reporting by Kari Petrie and David Unze in the St. Cloud Times, July 1, 2010.
» Resources from the St. Cloud Times
Map of abduction site (.pdf)
The Missing Link
The latest developments in the Wetterling investigation cannot be fully understood without reference to two investigative reports conducted in 2004 by KARE 11 and FOX 9.
The KARE 11 report describes an unsolved kidnapping in nearby Cold Spring, Minn., on Friday, January 13, 1989 — nine months before Jacob’s abduction — likely committed by the same offender. I have it on good authority that DNA evidence was obtained from the Cold Spring abduction, though it’s an open question whether that evidence was properly preserved.
This information is important, because as noted in the FOX 9 report, the person of interest in the current search of the Rassier farm gave a DNA sample six years ago when he was first developed as a suspect. The fact that no arrest was made at the time suggests no DNA match was found.
KARE 11 Investigates: Coincidence in the Wetterling Case
(May 5, 2004)
KARE 11 Investigates: News in the Wetterling Case (May 6, 2004)
Man Questioned in Wetterling Case
(KMSP Fox 9, Feb. 23, 2004)
Video report: No longer available at Fox 9
Please contact webmaster if you have a link or copy.
KMSP-TV Fox 9 Transcript
It’s been nearly 15 years since Jacob Wetterling vanished near his St. Joseph home.
And he’s the man who says he has recently become a “suspect” in the Wetterling Investigation.
Stearns County authorities don’t use the word. That’s because of gaps early in the investigation. They haven’t been able to link him to the crime or rule the man out.
Trish Van Pilsum: “Did you have anything to do with Jacob’s disappearance?”
The Man: “I didn’t have anything to do with it.”
FOX 9 won’t identify this man because he hasn’t been arrested or charged. He lives near the abduction site. He was home alone on October 22, 1989. There is no one to confirm his whereabouts. Police questioned him the day after the abduction, more as a witness than a possible suspect.
The Man: “They needed to check me out. They said they had to check me out.”
They searched his car at work but not until later in the day.
The Man: “That morning when I left, I had a car full of …”
Trish Van Pilsum: “Boxes. Big boxes.”
The Man: “… and they never looked in my car. I mean it was that bad.”
They searched his property, too. But not until five days later.
The Man: “They didn’t come in the house that night. It could have been over with.”
Investigators, new to the case, agree important things were overlooked in the early days of the search. That there were just too many people and too many agencies involved.
More than 14 years passed. Why the renewed interest in this man now? The FOX 9 Investigators have learned that investigators now doubt one of the main theories of Jacob Wetterling’s disappearance. That theory: While Jacob, his brother, and a friend walked their bikes and scooter home from a convenience store, somebody got out of a car, grabbed Jacob, and fled in his car.
Stearns County investigators are steering away from the car, leaving their suspect on foot, and local. That fits with what the other boys said.
This is a copy of a statement Jacob’s best friend Aaron gave police.
[Investigator:] “Was there any vehicles or anything around at this point that you observed?” [Aaron Larson:] “Uh uh. Not that we could see.”
How did the car come into play? Remember the witness turned possible suspect? It was his account that placed a car at the scene that night. He said it turned around and sped away about the time Jacob disappeared.
The FOX 9 Investigators also have learned there was a car nearby that night. We found the driver. He is not a suspect.
Kevin: “It’s sad. It chokes me up. But what can I do. What could I have done.”
He’s a man in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Kevin: “I never came forward. I figured I didn’t have to.”
Kevin was 21 at the time. He heard something on the scanner. Saw a police car speed by his house. Curious, he tried to follow the squad. He was there so fast there was no police crime scene tape around the bikes and scooter yet. He drove away and told a police officer what he’d seen.
Kevin: “He said, yeh we know all about that. I know about the bikes. And that was it. It was like I was bothering him. We backed out and left and that was it.”
Trish Van Pilsum: “He didn’t take your name or phone number.”
Kevin: “He didn’t take my name.”
Trish Van Pilsum: “He didn’t ask, did you see a man lurking around?”
Kevin: “Didn’t ask me a thing.”
Nor, it appears, did the officer pass along his conversation with Kevin to investigators. It strikes the new investigators now working on the case 14 years later as strange. It also strikes them as a huge problem. In fact, investigators didn’t know about Kevin at all until this October . This came about because he met a federal marshal at a party who urged Kevin to talk to the lead investigator of the Wetterling investigation.
Kevin: “He was really shocked. ‘Cause after I told him who I talked to, what I seen, he couldn’t believe he didn’t know about me. In reality, I could have been the kidnapper and they never would have found me.”
In fact, of the thousands and thousands of pages of leads, none places Kevin at the scene around the time of the kidnapping. A source close to the case said they wasted 14 years looking for him.
Trish Van Pilsum: “Kevin, do you think, ‘Boy if my information didn’t get passed along, what else was missed?’”
Kevin: “Yes. Who else knows something about the case they might not think was crucial.”
Kevin even heard the police were trying to track down the car using tire tracks.
Kevin: “I was scared. I got really scared.”
Kevin expected police to come to him. They never did.
Trish Van Pilsum: “So if they couldn’t find you, what were the odds that they could find the kidnapper.”
Kevin: “Exactly. I think about that all the time. It’s sad. A young kid like that you know, 14 years.”
Why didn’t he go to the police? He figured he’d gotten to the scene after everything was over. He doubted he had anything to add. And he didn’t want to get caught up in the widening net of the Wetterling search.
Kevin: “I knew they were looking for someone and I didn’t want to be put in the position of being a suspect.”
Now investigators believe the car is accounted for. The investigation narrows to a small area surrounding the abduction scene. And, specifically on one man. One of Jacob Wetterling’s neighbors.
The Man: “I’m not worried. I’m thinking they’re going to figure out I couldn’t, I wouldn’t have been able to do something like that.”
Investigators questioned him as recently as two weeks ago, February 7th . They took a sample of his DNA. Five days later they questioned his family and searched his computer files at home.
The Man: “I just have to hope they make sense out of it and not wreck my life.”
Remember he is the witness who placed a car at the scene. Later that night he heard a commotion. It was the search and it was in his yard. He went back to bed.
Trish Van Pilsum: “Why would you go to bed when a kid had just disappeared?”
The Man: “I wanted to get some sleep. I wasn’t going to waste my time.”
The man FOX 9 talked with may never be connected with the Jacob Wetterling kidnapping case.
St. Cloud Times Executive Editor John Bodette, in his weekly Sunday column on Oct. 3, 2010, writes as follows:
Last week’s news that tests failed to turn up any evidence in the Jacob Wetterling investigation should be viewed as yet another step in the 21-year search for the boy who was abducted by a masked man near his St. Joseph home.
Fear, anger and frustration continue to build as the search for Jacob goes on without resolution.
In past columns, I have appealed to the person who took Jacob to turn themselves in to authorities and end the nightmare.
The appeal was fallen on deaf ears.
Today I make an appeal to anyone who may have knowledge about the abduction: Call authorities. Bring the nightmare to an end.
Our parents and teachers taught us right from wrong. It is wrong to abduct a child from his family. It is the right thing to do to tell authorities what you know or suspect about the crime. This isn’t the time to lose hope and give up the search.
Call the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office [320 259-3700] to report information about this crime.
Expose the wrong and do the right thing.
Related reports on this site
New Book on Wetterling Abduction, Search, and Suspects (April 17, 2015)
Wetterling Suspect Dan Rassier (July 3, 2010)
Josh Guimond: New Developments (May 24, 2010)
Jacob Wetterling Freedom Walk (Dec. 21, 2009)
Guimond: “Justice for Josh” March (Nov. 9, 2009)
Missing Person Joshua Guimond (Nov. 7, 2009)
Jacob Wetterling 20 Years On (Oct. 22, 2009)
Jacob Wetterling Celebration (Oct. 16, 2009)
Patty Wetterling sings with Red Grammer during the “Celebration of Children” concert at the College of St. Benedict, St. Joseph, Oct. 17, 2009. (Photo credit: Adam Hammer / St. Cloud Times)
Wetterling Friend Shares Story (Apr. 28, 2009)
U.S. Army Reserve Staff Sgt. Aaron Larson poses with his fiancée Jackie Tentinger and 2-year-old son, Anikan, as he arrives home April 17, 2009 in Slayton, Minn., after a year-long deployment in Iraq. As an 11-year-old boy in St. Joseph, Aaron was with his best friend Jacob Wetterling when Jacob was kidnapped by a masked gunman on Sunday, Oct. 22, 1989. (Photo credit: Justine Wettschreck — Daily Globe /Associated Press)
Jacob Wetterling Lead Unravels (Jan. 7, 2009)
Vern’s Barber Shop in St. Francis, Wisc.
(Photo: John Klein / Journal Sentinal)
Jacob Wetterling shortly before the abduction
By Allen Costantini
July 2, 2010
Of course, I never met him, but I know Jacob Wetterling. I know him in the smiles and the tears of those who actually were in his brief presence on the planet. I have had the experience of conveying some of facts and emotions of his story over more than 20 years and it is as fresh in 2010 as it was in 1989.
Perhaps I identify with this story because Jacob was just a year younger than my own son when he was snatched from his familiar Central Minnesota life by some person it is tempting to describe as sub-human. There is even somewhat of a resemblance between the two boys. However, one is now 32 and a doctor. The other may be eternally eleven with an unfulfilled promise. Can there be a greater definition of tragedy?
Through the years, I have had the kind of remarkable access and contact with those who suffer his absence the most. I spent Thanksgiving Day with the Wetterlings in their Saint Joseph home in 1989, just a month after the abduction. To this day, I cannot imagine the pain of that day. I stood in their living room as they formed a circle to pray and sing and try not to let the day dissolve into misery.
Some years later, I had the privilege of being Patty’s “escort” at the black-tie annual 11 Who Care awards dinner. The whole family was there to honor her efforts for millions of other children through the Jacob Wetterling Foundation. It was one of many occasions over these last two decades in which I would be in their presence, often at the most tender and potentially painful moments. And always, they were gracious and helpful.
Twice, I stuck a microphone in Patty’s face when she had lost her hope of winning election and taking her fight for children to the floor of the House of Representatives. Gracious, as always, in defeat as in the success on the day her Jacob Wetterling Act was signed into law at the White House. …
FROM THE ARCHIVES: One Year Ago — July 1, 2009
One-year retrospective: One year ago today I reported that PolitiFact’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Truth-O-Meter rated U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann’s (R-Minn.) “ridiculously false statement” that the Constitution only requires people to tell the Census Bureau how many individuals are in their home as [Liar, Liar] Pants on Fire.
“The Constitution only requires us to tell the Census Bureau “how many people are in our home.”
— Michele Bachmann on Wednesday, June 17, 2009 in an interview with the Washington Times.
Bachmann stuck to her misguided guns in a Fox interview on June 25, 2009, this time backing up her concerns about privacy by noting that in the 1940s the Census Bureau handed over information used to round up Japanese people and put them in internment camps.
Bachmann is not only wrong here, she is engaging in fearmongering that encourages people to break the law. And in doing so, she’s falsely telling people that the Constitution would support them. … And so we feel it’s necessary to rate this one Pants on Fire.
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