Posts made in October 25th, 2010

Thinking Jacob

Maybe, just maybe…

October 23, 1989

As I mentioned in my last post, for the past few months I haven’t been able to shake the story of Jacob Wetterling from my brain. Suddenly, it’s all I think about. So, rather than fight it, I decided to dive in and learn all I could about the Jacob Wetterling case. Of course, I’m not so vain to think I might be able to discover something that the world’s best forensic investigators may have missed. It’s not that. It’s just… this feeling… a hopeful feeling that maybe they’re getting close to an answer. And maybe if we could all just “think Jacob” hard enough, maybe we can somehow help.

*Eye roll*

Yes, here we go once again. I’m sure you’re wondering why I suddenly care about something that happened 21 years ago to a family I know nothing about. And, once again, the answer is I don’t know. I can’t really explain it. All I know is, I can’t stop “thinking Jacob.”

So, I started Googling.

For those who don’t know Jacob’s story, here’s a little background. On the evening of Sunday, October 22, 1989, 11 year old Jacob Wetterling was home with his friend Aaron Larson (also 11), his 10 year old brother Trevor, and his 8 year old sister. His parents had been invited out to a dinner party in Clearwater (about 30 minutes away), and his oldest sister (13) was staying over at a friend’s house.

[Right away I wondered why the kids were having sleepovers on a school night, but it turns out they had Monday off for the state’s annual teacher’s conference.]

It had been a beautiful fall day, with sunny skies and a high in the upper 60s. Sometime before 9pm, Trevor called his mother to ask if the kids could ride their bikes to the Tom Thumb convenience store (about a mile away) to rent a movie. Patty Wetterling said no; it was past dark and she was concerned about cars not being able to see them. After she hung up, the boys revised their plan and called back, this time asking for their father, Jerry Wetterling. Jacob told his father he would wear an orange reflective vest, Trevor would carry a flashlight, and Aaron would wear a white sweatshirt. They also mentioned that their younger sister didn’t want to go, so they’d asked their 14 year old neighbor to come over and babysit her while they were gone. Jerry thought it was a sound plan. He also knew Jacob had had a tough day at hockey tryouts earlier in the day and could use a lift in his spirits. He relented.

So, off the boys went; two on bicycle, and one on a scooter. They made it to the Tom Thumb, rented the movie Naked Gun, then started on their way home. Around 9:15pm, as they neared a particularly dark stretch of road, a man with dark clothing, a face mask and a hand gun suddenly appeared out of the ditch and told them to stop. He had a low, gravely voice and told Trevor to turn off his flashlight, then told all the boys to throw their bikes in the ditch. Next, he told them to lie face down in the ditch, then asked each of them how old they were. After the boys replied, the masked man told 10-year-old Trevor to get up, run toward the woods, and not look back or he would shoot. Next, he turned the two 11-year-olds over and looked at their faces. He grabbed Aaron, Jacob’s friend, and told him the same thing he’d said to Trevor. Run toward the woods, and don’t look back or he’d shoot. He then grabbed Jacob by the elbow and began dragging him away. When Aaron caught up to Trevor, the two boys looked back to see that Jacob and the man had vanished. Neither one had seen a getaway car.

Aaron and Trevor ran the remaining two blocks to the Wetterling home and told the babysitter what had happened. She called her father, and he called 911. He also was the one who called the Wetterlings and told them they needed to come home. They left the dinner party immediately, without even saying goodbye.

Within six minutes of receiving the 911 call, a sheriff’s deputy was on the scene. He saw the boys’ bikes in the ditch and immediately called for backup, including help from the F.B.I. Throughout the night, officers searched for Jacob with flashlights, and a State Patrol helicopter searched the dense woods with a flood light. No luck. The search was called off at 3am.

The search resumed at 8am the next morning [8am??] and DNR officers used six ATVs to search the abduction site within a two mile radius. Bloodhounds from Minneapolis tracked Jacob’s scent from footprints on a gravel road that ended near some fresh tire tracks. The assumption was that Jacob had been taken away by car, and the focus quickly turned to existing sex offenders. Over 70 investigators were assigned to the case, following up on thousands of leads.

Weeks, months, then years went by. Still, there was no sign of Jacob.

Then, in 2003, a local man came forward to say he’d overheard the original call on a police scanner the night of the abduction. He drove to the scene, arriving before most police officers. He admitted to unknowingly driving across the crime scene, leading investigators to believe that the fresh tire tracks appearing in the driveway belonged to his car, and not a getaway car. This changed the entire way the investigators looked at the case. Suddenly, they realized the abductor most likely escaped on foot, making them switch their focus from outside suspects to local ones.

Another promising development came in 2004 when a 27 year old man named Jared (last name withheld) came forward and talked publicly for the first time about his abduction and sexual assault which took place in Cold Spring, a town just 12 miles from St. Joseph. The assault had taken place just 9 months prior to Jacob’s abduction, and the similarities between the two cases were chilling.

Jared was 12 at the time and had been walking home from a local cafe on a January night. A car approached him, and a man with a low, gravely voice stopped to ask Jared for directions. The man pulled Jared into his car, drove him to a remote area, and sexually assaulted him. On the way back to town, the man kept asking Jared if he recognized him. When the boy repeatedly answered no, the man let him out of the car, told him to run and said not to turn around or he would shoot him.

The details are eerily similar, and to this day, investigators wonder if the two cases are connected. <” target=”_blank”>(Jump ahead and read Jared’s full story here.)

Next time… a photo tour through St. Joseph gives me the lay of the land.

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