Update: September 3, 2016 … Dan Rassier Exonerated
Danny Heinrich in federal court confessing to the abduction and murder of Jacob Wetterling. (Sketch: Nancy Muellner / KARE 11)
Update: November 6, 2015
On Thursday, Oct. 29, 2015 law enforcement authorities named 52-year-old Danny 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 months 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.
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.
Rocori Middle School. (Photo: Ambar Espinoza / MPR)
KMSP-TV Fox 9
August 25, 2010
ST. JOSEPH, Minn. — Parents in Cold Spring met about the man who is considered a ‘person of interest’ in the disappearance case of Jacob Wetterling. He was announced as the new music teacher at a St. Boniface school. …
For the past 32 years, the man whose family farm was searched in connection to Wetterling’s disappearance, has taught sixth grade band at district schools. Due to layoffs, the district moved him to St. Boniface.
After three days of digging at the family farm, police still call the 54-year-old man a person of interest. …
Dozens of parents got together at a nearby park to talk about the teacher. They found out last week through an email that he would be the new new teacher.
By Dave Aeikens
St. Cloud Times
August 28, 2010
COLD SPRING — Dan Rassier understands the parental concern.
The longtime Rocori music teacher who in July was named a person of interest in the 1989 abduction of Jacob Wetterling is the target of some concerned parents at the St. Boniface Catholic School. The Cold Spring school has for years shared Rassier’s music-teaching services with the nearby Rocori Middle School. Some parents have now told Principal Sister Sharon Waldoch that they are uncomfortable with Rassier’s position.
“What can you expect parents to do after law enforcement and the St. Cloud Times, after they have presented a lopsided, one-sided, incredibly impossible picture? What do you expect parents to do?” Rassier said Friday. “I can’t believe it took this long for parents to make an issue out of it.”
Rassier, who turns 55 Oct. 25, has not been named as a suspect in the case, but Stearns County Sheriff John Sanner did tag him as a person of interest in July after two days of searching the family farm where Rassier lives.
In an interview last month with the Times, Rassier said he had nothing to do with Wetterling’s disappearance and that he has cooperated with authorities.
“We are telling the parents that Dan is hired by the district and we are part of the shared-time program and he was assigned to us prior to the investigation. We have no evidence of guilt, which they know. They are fully aware,” Waldoch said Friday.
Rassier has taught at Rocori since August 1978 and has no complaints or disciplinary action in his file.
Rassier has taught band and music in the Rocori school district, which includes schools in Cold Spring, Rockville and Richmond. He is also a former volleyball, basketball and softball coach and advised the yearbook for the district. Efforts to reach Rocori administrators Friday were unsuccessful.
Rassier is scheduled to be paid $62,241 this year.
Rassier grew up in St. Joseph and graduated from Apollo High School. He graduated from St. Cloud State University in 1976. He has a master’s degree from the University of Illinois. He is the treasurer of the St. Joseph Township board and an adjunct music professor at the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University.
For Rassier, it’s the latest development that has cast a cloud over him with a connection to what is probably the state’s most famous child abduction case.
“I can feel for the parents. If I had small children and didn’t know the situation — they don’t know me at all. I’m just an innocent bystander witness. This has been going on for 21 years,” Rassier said.
Budget reductions have trimmed Rassier’s teaching assignment to teaching music half-time at St. Boniface and teaching band half-time at Rocori’s three elementary schools, St. Boniface and Sts. Peter and Paul Elementary School in Richmond.
He said the reductions to Rocori’s music program is a bigger concern than the spotlight that has been cast on him this summer.
“The kids are going to be hurt by the cuts. The whole issue of who is teaching the music class, in the end, the kids have lost no matter what I turn out to be,” Rassier said.
Waldoch said the parents who have talked to her are apprehensive about an unknown.
“Everyone who has expressed their viewpoint, the number-one common denominator is we care about their children and their safety. We are not here to make judgments. We care about their safety,” Waldoch said.
By Allie Shah
August 27, 2010
A teacher whom police call a “person of interest” in the Jacob Wetterling abduction case has been assigned to a different elementary school, provoking an outcry from some parents at his new school.
“They’ve brought concerns about placing their children in a potentially dangerous situation,” said Sister Sharon Waldoch, principal of St. Boniface School in Cold Spring, Minn.
The man will teach music at the elementary school.
Waldoch sent an e-mail Thursday to parents, addressing their concerns and explaining the school’s position.
“I said we’re faced with an unknown and the truth is not clear,” she said. “We want to safeguard the children but we also want to respect the rights of an individual who has not been charged.”
Though the man has worked with students at St. Boniface before and his identity was known to parents, his new role as a music teacher puts him in contact with more students.
An employee of the Rocori School District for more than 30 years, he has taught band at several schools in the district.
This year, he was assigned to teach music at St. Boniface as a result of layoffs in the district. The Catholic school has a partnership with the public school district to provide music and physical education instruction.
“He’s instructed us in band and in choir,” Waldoch said. “He has not been assigned as a music teacher to most of the students before.”
According to a Fox 9 TV report, about a dozen parents met Wednesday night to discuss their concerns.
Waldoch said she has received calls both from concerned parents and those who don’t have objections.
The outcry is a first, she added.
“There’s never been a complaint or concern,” she said.
Rocori Superintendent Scott Staska could not be reached for comment.
Earlier this summer, investigators returned to the St. Joseph farm where the man lives with his parents and dug up six truckloads of dirt and ash from a fire pit or dump site at the property.
They conducted the search over two days on June 30 and July 1 and found “some items of interest,” according to an investigator.
The items were sent to the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension lab in St. Paul for further testing. Results are pending.
The farm is near the place where Jacob Wetterling, 11, was abducted 21 years ago, sparking a massive search.
On the night of Oct. 22, 1989, Wetterling was heading home from a local convenience store with his brother, Trevor, 10, and his best friend, Aaron Larson, 11.
A masked man with a gun stopped them at the intersection of the farm’s driveway and the road. The man let Trevor Wetterling and Larson go, and they fled to the nearby woods. When they looked back, Jacob was gone. He has not been found.
Stearns County Sheriff John Sanner has called the man, who was home alone the night of the abduction, a “person of interest” in the case.
Investigators have searched the property several times over the years. They took DNA samples from the man in 2004.
No one has been arrested.
By Dave Aeikens
St. Cloud Times
September 2, 2010
COLD SPRING — Two schools who share a music teacher who is a “person of interest” in the Jacob Wetterling disappearance are taking different approaches to his classroom teaching this year.
St. Boniface Elementary School, which has had a shared music program with Rocori school district for years, plans to have a non-licensed teaching assistant in the room when Dan Rassier teaches its students, principal Sister Sharon Waldoch said.
“… (The decision was made) for the sake of the kids just to hopefully provide a little comfort and ease in the situation,” Waldoch said.
Rocori school district, which has employed Rassier for 32 years, will not provide additional staff supervision, Superintendent Scott Staska said.
“We don’t have the space or reason to do that based on the history. Nor do we have the resources,” Staska said. …
Rocori and St. Boniface, which has students in kindergarten through grade 6, share a music program that is taught at Rocori Middle School. An assistant walks the children from St. Boniface across the parking lot to the school.
Waldoch said on Friday she was getting calls from parents concerned about having Rassier in the classroom with their children. Staska said he has received two calls and has not received complaints at the same intensity as Waldoch. …
Rassier will teach half time music and band to St. Boniface students and the rest of the time teaching music at Rocori’s elementary schools. Rocori also has another music teacher who teaches St. Boniface students at the middle school.
Rassier has taught at Rocori since 1978 and does not have a complaint record of any discipline in his file, Staska said.
“He has a very good record in the district,” Staska said.
Waldoch said the case has gotten a lot of attention, and there is an unknown about what the truth is in the situation. …
Stearns County Sheriff John Sanner said he couldn’t comment on whether Rassier poses a threat to students and it would be inappropriate to speculate. He said it’s a decision that each individual must make. …
The 54-year-old Rassier has denied any involvement in Wetterling’s disappearance and said Friday that he understands the concerns of the parents considering the attention the case has received in the news.
The Associated Press / St. Cloud Times
September 29, 2010
A paraprofessional is no longer stationed in the classroom of a teacher whose property was searched in the Jacob Wetterling case.
Daniel Rassier says St. Boniface elementary school principal Sister Sharon Waldoch called him early Wednesday and told him the news.
Rassier says he was given no reason for the decision. But it comes a day after the Stearns County sheriff said items taken from the Rassier farm this summer yielded no new evidence in the case. …
After Rassier was called a person of interest, Waldoch hired a paraprofessional to accompany him, citing concern from parents. Rassier says he had nothing to do with Jacob’s abduction.
The Associated Press / St. Cloud Times
August 2, 2012
MINNEAPOLIS — A man who has been publicly identified as a person of interest in a Minnesota boy’s 1989 abduction told The Associated Press on Thursday [Aug. 2, 2012] that he sent a letter to 14 state officials and agencies, complaining about how he has been treated by law enforcement.
In the letter obtained by the AP, Dan Rassier [link added] wrote that law officers violated his civil rights and his family’s rights and “abused the privileges of their power” in relation to the Jacob Wetterling case. Rassier also criticized the way the investigation has been handled over the years.
This is the first time Rassier, an elementary school music teacher, has put his complaints in writing. When asked why he did so after all this time, he said: “They are just going to keep me kind of on this lifeline dangling there forever, and I want that to stop.”
Jacob was 11 when he was abducted Oct. 22, 1989, by a masked gunman at the end of Rassier’s driveway in St. Joseph, about 80 miles northwest of Minneapolis. …
Rassier, now 56, was home alone at the time. He has been questioned multiple times, but his name didn’t come out publicly until 2010, when authorities searched his family farm over two days [link added]. Forensic tests on items taken from that search have yielded no evidence linking them to the crime, but investigators are still testing some items, or waiting for technology to advance so additional testing can be done.
Rassier, who says he is innocent, has not been cleared.
“Is it considered legal for law enforcement to give the public the perception I am guilty of something when I’m not?” Rassier wrote, adding: “To destroy our family’s name the way they did because they had a ‘Hunch!’ is in itself, a serious crime. Nothing can make it right now. The damage has been done. But to leave the whole thing open to speculation and open to the public’s imagination is just wrong!”
In his letter, Rassier also complained that authorities have not returned his property or listened to details he is offering about what he witnessed the night Jacob was taken.
Stearns County Sheriff John Sanner is among a handful of people named in the letter. He said Thursday he hadn’t seen it, but couldn’t comment regardless because the investigation into the boy’s abduction is still active. …
Authorities have not elaborated on what prompted them to search Rassier’s family farm two years ago, saying only that they had probable cause.
Rassier said he mailed the letter on Wednesday [Aug. 1, 2012] to 14 different agencies or state officials, including the Department of Public Safety, the Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training, the Board on Judicial Standards, as well as the Stearns County administrator and Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, Rep. Michele Bachmann, and Gov. Mark Dayton.
The AP reached out to all 14 people to whom Rassier sent the letter. As of Thursday [Aug. 2, 2012], no one confirmed that the letter had been received.
Rassier said if nothing else comes of the complaints he’s lodging, at least he spoke out about what he perceived to be problems with the investigation.
“Like any unsolved crime, Jacob Wetterling and his family along with the public deserve nothing less than the truth,” he wrote. …
Related reports on this site
Wetterling Suspect Dan Rassier (July 3, 2010)
Jacob Wetterling: Rassier Search (July 1, 2010)
Stearns County sheriff’s deputies control access to the Rassier farmstead in St. Joseph Township, Minn., while search warrants are being executed on the property in the Jacob Wetterling kidnapping investigation, July 1, 2010. (Photo: Aubrey Immelman)
Josh Guimond: New Developments (May 24, 2010)
FROM THE ARCHIVES: One Year Ago — August 28, 2009
One year ago today, I reported that Jaycee Lee Dugard, kidnapped in 1991 from a school bus stop at the age of 11, was found alive after being held captive by a convicted rapist in his backyard as a sex slave for nearly two decades and forced to bear two of his children.
FROM THE ARCHIVES: Two Years Ago — August 28, 2008
Two years ago today, on the 45th day of my 2008 campaign against U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann in Minnesota’s 6th Congressional District, I traveled to Annandale, where I appeared live with Dan “Ox” Ochsner and Mike Landy of Newstalk KNSI AM 1040 (Leighton Broadcasting) at Camp Friendship to benefit Friendship Ventures, a non-profit agency that creates educational, recreational, and social opportunities for people with mental and physical developmental disabilities.
You must be logged in to post a comment.