Sheriff: Signs Point to Heinrich From Day One in Wetterling Case
ST. CLOUD -- An investigation, which Stearns County Sheriff Don Gudmundson says went off the rails quickly, is finally put to rest.
The Jacob Wetterling files were released Thursday by the Stearns County Sheriff's office. Over 41,000 pages are now available to the public, however, nearly 12,000 pages from the FBI are still confidential.
Gudmundson says investigators failed to make several connections in the Wetterling case to other similar sexual assaults and abductions in Stearns County in the 1980s. Including a key statement which came to light roughly 48 hours after Jacob was taken.
On October 24th 1989 at 3:40 p.m., less than 48 hours after the Wetterling abduction, a victim in the Paynesville incident appears at the sheriff's office and talks to Benton County Deputy Theis who is assigned to the task force. He speculates that the incidents in Paynesville are connected to the Wetterling abduction, because the way it was done -- quick, military, proficient.
Gudmundson says there were several red flags found in the files which show Heinrich should have been considered as the main suspect from the start.
He was in the military and wears camo around Paynesville (according to residents). In the military he would have learned to use mud or face paint to disguise himself (matches boys statement on Heinrich's description). His car matches the one described by the boy in the Cold Spring abduction (boy rated the car as a 9/10 to the one he was kidnapped in). A fiber was consistent on the snowsuit to the fibers found in Heinrich's car. The tires of Heinrich's car matched the tracks at the Wetterling scene, his shoe prints matched the ones at the Wetterling abduction.
Gudmundson says there are several time gaps in the files, which explains why Heinrich wasn't mentioned again until 2015 when his DNA was found on the Cold Spring victim's clothing.
Upon the conclusion of the news conference Al Garber, a former investigator in the Wetterling Case had other feelings about the sheriff's statements. He says the sheriff gives a third party opinion as he wasn't involved in any part of the case.
It's 20 years later, the sheriff gets up and writes all these things down that point to Heinrich and he tells you what we should have done. There's no other leads, no other suspects, we should have given up and just interview Heinrich again and again. That's ridiculous.
Jacob Wetterling was abducted in St. Joseph on October 22, 1989, by Danny Heinrich.
In 2016, he admitted to abducting, sexually assaulting and killing Jacob. Jacob's body was found buried on a farm site in Paynesville on September 2, 2016.
Heinrich is currently serving 20 years in prison for child pornography. Jacob was 11-years-old when he was killed.
The release of the files has brought pain to the Wetterling family. Jerry and Patty Wetterling, Jacob's parents, released a statement prior to the release of the files.
"It is difficult for us to relive those dark days. With time, our family is healing and getting stronger and we appreciate all of the efforts to make things better for future victims of crime, their families and for all of us. Our hearts hurt for anyone who is pained or hurt from the release of this file. Clearly, changes are still needed."
As a news team, WJON has decided to release the main facts of the Wetterling investigation presented by Sheriff Gudmundson. Although the full file is available to the public we believe the facts surrounding this case are best represented in Gudmundson's presentation.