The party in the woods

For those who have followed this blog or studied the Jacob Wetterling case, there’s been one nagging question that we all seem to keep coming back to. Who in the world would have been waiting for those boys on that isolated dead-end road in the middle of nowhere?

I’ve always been of the belief that someone overheard the boys on their way TO the Tom Thumb that night and knew they’d be coming back that same direction. In my head, there was no way anyone could have had enough time to see them at the Tom Thumb, figure out where they lived, get ahead of them, stash a car, and then patiently wait for them to pass by. No way. In my head, it had to be someone who had some business being on that road that evening.

I’ve also never bought into the theory that someone had been stalking Jacob in the days, weeks, or months prior to his abduction. These boys had never been allowed to go to the Tom Thumb after dark before, so what are the chances an abductor who was stalking a specific child would get so lucky that his intended target would come waltzing right by on a dark, moonless night while his parents just happened to be away for the evening? Nobody gets that lucky.

But, here’s the deal. I’m rethinking things a bit. As it turns out, there were plenty of people on that dead-end road that weekend… and maybe even that very evening. There were twenty-five to thirty of them, in fact. High school seniors. At a party. In the woods.

Yep.

When I first talked to Kevin and he told me about the “party spot in the woods,” I had in mind that these parties had taken place way back in the early 80s. Kevin had been in his young teens when he remembered being there… around 1980-1982 or thereabouts. So, I figured this party spot didn’t even exist anymore in 1989.

It wasn’t until I recently heard from another group of young men and learned about “The men in the woods” that I even knew there was more than one party spot, or that they were still in existence in 1989. But again, I knew these boys weren’t old enough to drive at that time, so they mostly biked the trails and hung out in the woods during the day, not at night.

Fast forward to now. I recently heard from a 42 year old man who said, not only were those party spots still in use during the fall of 1989, but that he was actually there, at a party, on the very night Jacob was abducted.

Wait… what?

Here’s the message he sent to me:

On the night Jacob Wetterling was abducted, I and about 25-30 of my friends were at one of the party spots on the east side of 16th Avenue, across and north of the abduction site. We were drinking and partying, when all of a sudden we saw flashlights and I heard someone yell, “Cops!” This was probably about 10:30 or so.

We all took off on foot, some of the locals running home, and the rest of us running to our cars, which were parked off the road, in the woods, out of sight. We had no idea there had been an abduction. We just thought it was the cops busting our beer drinking, which was fairly common.

Someone must have squealed on us, because the next Tuesday at school (we had Monday off), we were all rounded up and questioned individually by the FBI. As far as I know, none of us saw anything, and it never went anywhere, but it surely doesn’t jive with some of your investigation and what the police have reported. The truth is, the woods around the abduction site were full of drunk and drinking high schoolers that night who scattered in all directions at a high rate of speed within an hour or so of Jacob disappearing. We could have left tracks down the driveway, along the shoulder of the road, on the bike trails, etc.

Wow.

I have tried very hard to verify whether this party actually took place the same night as Jacob’s abduction, or whether it took place the night before, on Saturday, October 21st. Either way, it seems significant, and it led me to rethink things a bit.

I asked the man who had emailed me if he could tell me exactly where this party spot was on a map. I sent him a historical map from Google Earth (thank you Jordan V.) that shows exactly what this area looked like in 1991, just two years after the abduction. (See map below.) You can see where the new roads are overlaid, but at the time, it was mostly just woods and farmland along 16th/91st Avenue. After some discussion, we figured that, most likely, the party spot was located in the woods where Jefferson Lane is now located (just north of Rassiers’ property). Click the map to view a larger version.

StJoe_SatelliteImage_1991

I asked if there was ever some random, out-of-place creeper who showed up at these parties, offering to sell drugs or alcohol to the kids. He didn’t think so. As far as he knew, they were all just beer drinkers… good, normal, high school kids. But, it was definitely possible, he admitted.

I also began to wonder whether some creeper may actually have been stalking THEM… hiding off in the woods and waiting for an opportunity to assault or kidnap an older teen. Then, when Jacob and the other boys happened along that Sunday night, he saw a new opportunity and decided to go to Plan B instead.

With everything I’ve learned about what was happening along that road in the days and weeks just prior to Jacob’s abduction, it certainly makes me wonder what was really going on. Suspicious cars roaming the neighborhood… strange men with notebooks lurking in the woods… young boys being chased by a car on their way home from the Tom Thumb earlier that summer. You have to admit. It’s a lot of weirdness for one little isolated, dead-end road in the middle of nowhere.

And here’s one more interesting tidbit that just adds to the weirdness. You may recall that Jacob’s friend Aaron was riding a scooter on the night of the abduction, while the other two boys were riding bikes. That’s because Jacob’s bike had actually been STOLEN the night before. He had been staying overnight at a friend’s house when his bike was stolen right out of his friend’s yard. (The friend lived just north of the woods on the WEST side of 16th/91st Avenue.) That’s why Jacob had borrowed his mom’s ten-speed that night and Aaron had taken the scooter. (For what it’s worth, the police eventually found and questioned the guy who had taken Jacob’s bike, but still… what a weird coincidence.)

I’d be interested in hearing from any other members of the Apollo Class of 1990 who were at this party and could verify whether it occurred on Saturday night or Sunday night. Drop me a line using the form on my Contact page. Anyone who gave a statement should be able to call and request a copy of it from the Records Department at the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office. The phone number is (320) 259-3700.

Of course, if you have important information to share, please contact the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office at (320) 259-3700, or the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-THE-LOST.

As always, thanks for #ThinkingJacob.

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