In a stunning twist in one of the nation’s most notorious disappearances, a Wright County man has led Federal Bureau of Investigation agents to remains recently discovered in Stearns County. Those remains are believed to be of Jacob Wetterling, the 12-year-old boy kidnapped on a fall night in 1989.
Patter Wetterling, the boy’s mother, told local Twin Cities television stations that Daniel Heinrich of Annandale, who worked in Buffalo, told authorities where to find Jacob’s remains. A body was discovered in recent weeks, and Patti Wetterling confirmed to KARE 11 that the boy has, after more than 25 years, finally been found.
“We are heartbroken,” she said.
Authorities have not confirmed that the remains are Jacob’s.
Federal investigators and members of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and the Stearns County Sheriff’s Department released information in October that played a large role in cracking one of the nation’s highest profile disappearances.
Daniel James Heinrich, then 52, was arrested in October 2015 on federal charges of receiving and possessing hundreds of images of child pornography. An investigation into Heinrich’s Annandale home also recovered DNA evidence that linked the man, who works in Buffalo, to the sexual assault of a Cold Spring boy, who was 11-years-old at the time.
The statute of limitations has expired on that case, authorities said. However, Heinrich’s DNA was found on clothing that matches DNA in the case.
As a result, BCA and federal investigators said they’re looking at several abductions around the Paynesville area, which is where Heinrich lived at the time. Heinrich, in fact, was a person of interest in the Wetterling case when the boy disappeared in October of 1989.Documents released in October show Heinrich, who is similar in height, build and facial make-up according to a sketch released in the early investigation of the Wetterling case, owned a 1982 pickup with the same tire tread that made impressions on the gravel road near the spot the boys were abducted. Shoe prints found also matched shoes owned by Heinrich.
Still, the Stearns County Sheriff would go no further than to call Heinrich a person of interest in the Wetterling case when the man was arrested last year, and all authorities involved took pains to state Heinrich was not facing any charges in connection to Minnesota’s most infamous missing persons case.
Heinrich, who worked at Buffalo Veneer and Plywood, denied any involvement in the case, according to U.S. Attorney Andy Luger. That changed recently, as multiple reports say Heinrich was pulled from his cell in federal prison as he awaits trial and interviewed multiple times about Wetterling. According to reports, he broke his silence and told authorities where to look for the body late this summer.
During the child porn case, investigators found hours of video tape in the home, showing children in neighborhoods playing, riding bikes and delivering newspapers.
Jacob Wetterling went missing from St. Joseph, Minn., on Oct. 22, 1989. He was riding his bike home from the local Tom Thumb store with his younger brother, Trevor, and friend Aaron Larson when a masked man with a gun appeared on the remote road, told the boys to lie face down in the roadside ditch. The man all three of the boys to state their age, then telling two of them to run into the woods and not look back. Jacob was taken.
After the press conference held in October, the Wetterling family released this statement to media:
“The Wetterling family would like to thank all involved in the investigation of Danny Heinrich and his crimes against children. The search for Jacob is an ongoing investigation, and we will watch and learn with everyone else. Right now we know what is being reported. We know what you all know.
“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 at 320-259-3700 or 320-656-6625.
“We also need to point out the obvious. Child pornography is a devastating, harmful criminal activity. …” Today we ask for a little time. We will be available for comment next week but ask for some space at this point in time.”