In 1989, 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling went missing in Minnesota. A ferocious man-hunt followed, pleas were made via television, radio, and print. The entire upper Midwest went into search mode, and it seemed that it didn’t matter if you were at a diner, at a gas station, at work, or a tavern, the question that was on everyone’s mind was, “What happened to Jacob Wetterling?” The question surged through the minds of every parent who heard about the story causing them to hug their children a little tighter and to be a bit more wary of strangers.
It now seems that the FBI may be one step closer to solving that mystery, almost 27 years after Jacob Wetterling initially disappeared. Authorities in Minnesota revealed last Thursday that they have identified a person of interest in connection with the 1989 abduction of Jacob Wetterling. Federal and local officials announced the arrest of Daniel Heinrich, from Annandale, Minnesota (pictured above). Heinrich was arrested on several child pornography charges, and the authorities said that Heinrich is now labeled a person of interest in the Jacob Wetterling cold case.
A search warrant was executed on Heinrich’s residence on July 28. What the police found there is the stuff of nightmares for parents and children alike. Police found 19 three-ring binders filled with pornographic images of young boys, a computer hard drive filled with images, along with dozens of VHS tapes, officials said.
Several of the VHS tapes appear to have been shot by Heinrich. They show numerous, extended footage of young boys doing things like delivering newspapers on their bikes, chatting with friends and playing games on playgrounds. Some of the footage was taken from what appeared to be a hidden vantage point. There is one video of Heinrich adjusting the camera, and then placing a coin on a stairwell. Shortly, a young boy climbs the stairs and sees the coin. The camera is positioned so that when the young boy bends over to pick up the coin, the camera has a clear shot of the act from the rear.
U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger said at the press conference last week that Heinrich’s DNA was matched to a kidnapping and sexual assault case of a young boy — not Jacob Wetterling — back in January of 1989. The young boy in that case was grabbed off the street, forced into a vehicle where he was sexually assaulted. The boy was later dropped off and told that if he turned around, he would be shot.
Heinrich was actually investigated back in 1989, and again in 1990, in conjunction with the Jacob Wetterling case. About a year ago, when several law enforcement officials, including some from the FBI, met to discuss the Jacob Wetterling case, Heinrich was once again investigated.
The Wetterling family released a statement Thursday afternoon, thanking all those who were, and continue to be, involved in the investigation.
“We are grateful for the prayers, the support and the hope shared in our search for Jacob and the search for answers… today we ask for a little time,” read the family’s statement. “For 26 long years we have said that somebody knows something. If you know anything about this man, his ties to St. Joseph in 1989 and his victimization of children or since, please call the Stearns County Sheriff’s Department.”
On October 22, 1989, Jacob Wetterling, then 11 years-old, was abducted while riding bike near his home with his friends.
[Photo via Sherburne County, Minnesota Sherriff’s Office]