The 1986-87 Paynesville incidents – an update

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Last summer, I met and interviewed Jared for the first time. He was the 12 year old boy from Cold Spring, Minnesota who was abducted and assaulted in a town just 12 miles away and only nine months prior to Jacob Wetterling’s abduction from St. Joseph. (If you missed Jared’s story, read it here.)

Not long after I met Jared, I discovered an article in a 1987 edition of the Paynesville Press that talked about five recent attacks on young teenage boys. In that article, local police were asking for the public’s help in identifying a man who had been attacking and accosting boys between the ages of 12-16. The first incident took place in the summer of 1986, followed by two more in the winter of 1987, and then two more in the spring of 1987.

The five incidents that were mentioned in the article sounded eerily similar to both Jacob’s and Jared’s attacks. In the article, Sergeant Bill Drager (now deceased) stated, “After this guy grabs the boys he tells them, ‘Don’t turn around or I’ll blow your head off.’”

Here’s a map I created so I could get a better sense of where all these attacks took place:


View Paynesville Incidents, 1986-1989 in a larger map

Since learning about these cases, Jared and I have been working very hard to find answers. In January, Jared wrote a Letter to the Editor of the Paynesville Press, asking for the public’s help in finding the victims of these attacks, or anyone with details that might link his case to these. After many months of gathering research, talking to residents, and tracking down victims, we finally have an update to report.

The stories are startling.

Victim #1 was attacked at about 12:45am on February 14, 1987… Valentine’s Day. He lived in an apartment above one of the downtown buildings, and had just returned home from dropping off a friend. When he opened the door to the building, a man was standing on the stairway that led to the upstairs. He was wearing a dark blue down-filled coat, and a “candy-striped face mask” that looked like it had been made out of short shag carpet. The suspect grabbed the boy by the neck and threw him to the floor. When he started to scream for help, the suspect told him to be quiet or he would kill him. After molesting the boy, the man asked what grade he was in, then stole his wallet and took off running. He was about 5’10″ to 5’11″, kind of heavyset, and spoke in a deep whisper. The boy guessed his age to be mid-30s and felt he had been waiting for him to come home.

Victim #2 was riding his bike home after dark on a weekend night and was attacked in the alley between the middle school and the hospital. He was dragged into some pine trees and molested. After the attack, the suspect pulled out a pair of scissors and cut off a lock of the boy’s hair. The man then told him to run away and not look back or he would blow his head off.

Victim #3 was attacked while he and his friend were riding their bikes just after midnight near the hockey rink at the Catholic church. The boy thought he heard someone running into the street when suddenly, someone grabbed him by the throat and pulled him off his bike. The boy screamed while his friend went for help. This time the man was wearing dark blue or black clothing and his face was blacked-out. The boy continued to scream, and finally the man let him go and ran away. (NOTE, there are two very important details about this attack. First, this victim is the same person as Victim #1. It turns out he was attacked twice. Second, the victim felt he was not the intended target for this second attack because he lived six blocks away, but his friend lived in an apartment just kiddie-corner from the Catholic church.)

Victim #4 was also attacked while he was returning home after dark. He was 14 years old and had been hanging out downtown with his 16 year old brother. It was September 1987 and their parents were away for the weekend, so their older brother (age 19-20) was staying with them to watch over the house. The family lived off River Street on Lyndall Avenue, just blocks from downtown. The younger brother was on his bike, and as he neared the alley that led down the hill to his house, he thought he saw someone dart across the dark alley. By this time, all the kids knew about “the molestor,” so he got scared and started biking slower, waiting for his brother to catch up. When he saw him coming, he continued on his way, left his bike in the yard, and started up the porch steps. Just then, he heard someone bump into the aluminum lawnchairs on the porch. Terrified, he took off running back up the alley, being chased by the suspect. When the boy reached his older brother up on the street, the suspect suddenly stopped when he saw there were two of them. Luckily, he was directly under a streetlight where the boys could get a good look at him. While they were unable to identify his face because it was blacked out, they have a vivid memory of what he was wearing. He had on an old 70s-era parka – the kind with a fuzzy hood and bright orange lining. It was unzipped, so they’re clear about the color of the lining. I’ve included a sample photo below. (NOTE, what’s important about this attack is that it occurred AFTER the original five incidents that were mentioned in the newspaper article. So, four months after police had already warned the public about this guy and asked for their help in finding him, he was STILL attacking kids in the same town using the same M.O.)

So, of the five cases mentioned in the article, we have now found the victims of three of them, plus a new one altogether. We are still missing information about the attack that took place at the middle school playground, and the one that was “down by the river.”

What’s most disturbing about these cases is that they were not random. In every case we found, the victim was either attacked at or near his own home. The suspect knew who the boys were, where they lived, and when they would be on their way home. Also, it’s interesting to note that the attacks all happened after dark on a weekend night, after the boys had been hanging out downtown. Papa’s Pizza was a popular hangout because of the arcade games.

Prior to these cases, there was also another incident that took place in 1986 by G&T Foods in downtown Paynesville. Here’s the text from the article that ran in the April 1, 1986 edition of the Paynesville Press:

On March 9, 1986, the police department received a report of a possible attempted child abduction. While walking near G&T Foods, a 12-year-old boy was asked if he wanted a ride, then asked if he wanted to go to “toyland”. The boy said “no” to both questions and continued walking. The suspect’s car was described as and old blue four-door, square in size.

We’re hoping that by sharing these stories, someone might come forward with a piece of information that could help solve these cases, and possibly Jared’s and Jacob’s as well. We are especially thankful to the young men who were willing to share their stories with us for this article.

Anyone with information is encouraged to leave a comment below, or call the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office at 320-251-4240.

Former Ben Franklin store, downtown Paynesville

Former Ben Franklin store, downtown Paynesville

Alley between the hospital and the middle school

Alley between the hospital and the middle school

"By the hockey rink" - south side of the Catholic church, looking east

“By the hockey rink” – south side of the Catholic church, looking east

Former G&T Foods building, downtown Paynesville

Former G&T Foods building, downtown Paynesville

Crow River

Vintage 70s-era parka with orange lining

Vintage 70s-era parka with orange lining

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