Jacob Wetterling: Disturbing Details Revealed After Police Discover Boy Missing For 27 Years

The Stearns County, Minnesota, Sheriff’s Department confirmed on Saturday that the remains of a boy missing since 1989, Jacob Wetterling, were found. A suspect, currently in custody for unrelated charges, apparently worked with authorities to unravel the 27-year-long mystery to finally bring a sense of closure to loved ones.

On October 22, 1989, 11-year-old Jacob Erwin Wetterling was riding bikes with his little brother and a friend in St. Joseph, Minnesota, after they’d rented a movie from a local store. It was a Sunday evening, and before classes started back the next day, the kids wanted to watch a flick before heading to bed.

Earlier that evening, Jacob’s parents made last minute plans to attend a friend’s party and asked him if he would watch his younger brother and sister for a few hours. Once the parents arrived at the party, they phoned home to check on things. Trevor, Jacob’s 10-year-old brother, told his parents that they were bored and asked if they could ride their bikes to the Tom Thumbs Convenience Store to rent a movie.

Although their mother wanted to refuse after getting a bad feeling about it, Jacob and Trevor’s dad gave in once the young boy assured them they’d be safe.

“Look, Dad, I’ve got a white sweatshirt on. Jacob’s wearing your jogging vest. I’ve got a flashlight. We’ll go straight to the store. We’ll come straight back.”

Jacob ordered a pizza and invited his friend over, but before he left, he called his parents and asked if a trusted neighborhood friend could watch his 8-year-old sister, Carmen, while they went to rent the movie. Carmen apparently didn’t want to tag along with her older brothers on their bike ride to the store. With that, Jacob, Trevor, and their friend, Aaron Larson, took off for the convenience store.

At around 9:15 p.m., while the boys were making their way back, and only half a mile from the safety of home, a man confronted them with a gun and in a raspy voice, instructed them to get off of their bikes and lie face down in a nearby ditch. The male, later described as Caucasian, wore a nylon mask and dark clothing.

The man then asked each boy their age. Trevor, the youngest of three, was let go first. He was told to run towards the woods and not look back. The man then told Jacob and Aaron to stand up and face him. After eyeing over each boy, he told Aaron to run away and threatened to shoot him in the eyes if he looked back. Jacob became the chosen one and was never heard from again.

When Jacob’s parents, Jerry and Patty Wetterling, learned about the abduction, they reached out to anyone who would listen. They kept their son’s name in the media and on the detectives’ radar for as long as possible. This helped spark one of the largest manhunts in Minnesota history, and Jacob’s case became one of the most well-known kidnapping cases at the time, reaching over into other continents. He eventually became a national symbol for missing children.

Residents in Minnesota were haunted by the abduction, and although half a million tips poured in, investigators couldn’t find the boy. The masked man apparently approached the three boys on foot, according to FOX News, which made the task more difficult as Aaron and Trevor weren’t able to describe a getaway vehicle. However, police were able to determine that at some point, the man drove away after finding nearby car tire tracks.

Detectives never gave up on Jacob, and each year, as his parents released birthday letters to the media, in hopes that their son was somewhere watching the news, authorities were still chasing leads and investigating the disappearance. They got a break in last year when 53-year-old Danny Heinrich was named “a person of interest.”

The Associated Press reports that Heinrich denied any involvement in Jacob’s abduction, but earlier this year, authorities found the DNA of another missing boy on his sweatshirt. The other boy, then 12-year-old Jared Scheierl, of Cold Spring, was sexually assaulted only nine months before Jacob was taken.

From the beginning of Jacob’s disappearance, investigators had their eyes on Heinrich. He matched the description given by the other boys, and his car tires matched the tracks found at the scene of the abduction.

The FBI stated that Heinrich’s description also matched the description given for other child sexual assault cases that occurred in the Paynesville area during the mid to late 1980s. Yet, without enough evidence to hold him, Heinrich was released. He’s now currently awaiting trial in a U.S. District Court case on 25 child pornography charges.

After DNA testing matched Heinrich to the Cold Spring case, detectives put added pressure on the suspect to confess involvement in Jacob’s disappearance. The suspect finally broke down and gave them information, possibly as part of a plea deal for his child pornography charges. Criminal Defense Attorney Joe Friedberg said the following.

“I can’t imagine that he said, ‘Look, I’ve done this and I’ve lived with it for so long I’d like to get rid of it. My guess is some form of immunity was given to him so he would lead them to where Jacob’s remains are.”

For several days, authorities searched Stearns County until they discovered the bone fragments of a young boy and articles of clothing that matched what Jacob wore the last time he was seen. They found the remains off of Stearns County Road 85, near a tree-lined cow pasture on a farm. So far, Heinrich hasn’t yet been charged with Jacob’s murder.

Although it’s a sad ending to a 27-year-long story, Jacob Wetterling didn’t die in vain. His disappearance was one of the driving forces behind the formation of national databases for registered sex offenders, after the creation of the 1994 Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act.

[Image via the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center]

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