Let the questions begin…

If you’re like me, you probably have a ton of questions swirling around in your head after reading my last post about the Jacob Wetterling abduction that took place on October 22, 1989.

I’m going to try and list my questions here in some sort of coherent fashion. Hopefully they’ll follow some semblance of order. If not, bear with me; I’m a journalism major, not a private investigator.

The Babysitter?
First of all, the boys’ decision to rent a video that Sunday evening was spontaneous and impulsive. The only people who knew they were planning on going to the Tom Thumb that night were Jerry and Patty Wetterling (Jacob and Trevor’s parents, who were at a dinner party in Clearwater 45 minutes away), the 13 year old neighbor/babysitter who offered to come babysit the youngest Wetterling daughter while the boys were gone, and, presumably, the babysitter’s family. I wondered if someone in the babysitter’s family could possibly have been involved, but no. They were good friends of the Wetterlings, and the dad is the one who called 911 when his daughter called in a panic to tell him what had happened.

That means whoever took Jacob did it impulsively, acting quickly when they saw the opportunity.

The Scary Guy at the Tom Thumb?
There’s a theory that someone at the Tom Thumb saw the boys and stalked them on their way home. Reports from eyewitnesses say there was a strange man at the Tom Thumb earlier that day who walked in and glared at customers, then left without making a purchase. He was a large, older, bald man with a raspy voice. You’ve seen him before; we all have. That’s because he’s the one from the first sketch that was sent to the media. This same man was reported to have been seen at another area convenience store as well. He was never identified, never found.

Composite sketch of possible suspectSo, let’s entertain this thought for a bit. Could it be that this scary bald man was skulking around St. Joseph that day, looking for a random boy to abduct? OK, let’s just assume that could be true. He didn’t know Jacob; he didn’t know his family, and he didn’t know where he lived. That means, the stalker would have had to follow the boys out of the Tom Thumb in order to figure out which direction they were heading. Not only that, he would have had to quickly get ahead of them, change into all-black attire, put a mask over his head, hide his car, and get positioned in the ditch… all without being seen.

Impossible. Having now driven down that road myself, there’s no way the boys would have missed seeing a car coming down the road. No way. It’s a dead end road in a small town. When neighbors drive by, they wave. When non-neighbors drive by, you notice. If a strange car had passed them, then pulled into Rassier’s driveway, they would have noticed.

A Neighborhood Stalker?
That leaves us with the possibility that whoever did this saw the boys on their way TO the Tom Thumb, then made preparations to abduct them on their way back home. Whoever that person was had to know the boys, be familiar with the Rassier property, and have quick access to dark clothing, a face mask, and a gun. If they planned on using a getaway car, they would have had to take the time to stash it somewhere north of the dead end street where they could access Highway 75 and make a fast getaway.

A Getaway Car?
The only place I could figure to stash a car was either in the neighborhood behind the Rassier farm (to the north), or on the Rassier property itself (see satellite map of abduction site). However, the houses to the north of the Rassier farm look pretty new… early 90s perhaps, so I’m not even sure that neighborhood existed in 1989. And as for the theory of stashing a car on the Rassier property and then escaping on some back field road… it’s hard to believe investigators couldn’t have followed those tire tracks pretty easily. Plus, whoever was doing the “stashing” had to be pretty confident the farm family wouldn’t be home at the time.

In 2003, investigators discounted the theory of a getaway car after a local resident came forward to explain he had arrived early on the scene the night of the abduction, after hearing the call on his police scanner. He admitted the tire tracks found on the scene were most likely his. His story checked out. This led officers to believe the suspect probably escaped with Jacob on foot.

The “Person of Interest”?
Now, onto this “person of interest” named in the case last summer… Dan Rassier. Rassier is the 55 year old single son of Robert and Rita Rassier, owners of the farm property where Jacob was abducted. (If you didn’t see Rassier’s interview with KARE-11’s Julie Nelson last summer, view my last post.) Rassier is a band teacher at Rocori Middle School in Cold Spring and lives at the family farm with his parents. He is also an avid runner.

First of all, in Rassier’s defense, he does not have a low, gravely voice. In fact, if you watched the video interview, you’ll notice Rassier has a very distinct speech pattern. Considering the close proximity in which Trevor and Aaron were to their abductor, it’s hard to believe they wouldn’t have picked up on that. That was my first thought.

In newspaper reports, Rassier also admits to undergoing DNA testing, a lie detector test, and even hypnosis to help the investigation. And while we don’t know the results of these tests, you must admit, that’s pretty forthcoming for someone considered a “person of interest” in this case. To date, Rassier has never retained a lawyer either.

However, like many others, I do question Rassier’s actions on the night of the abduction. First of all, he admits to having no alibi and no witnesses. His parents happened to be on vacation in Europe the night of Jacob’s abduction, so Rassier was home by himself. In his TV interview with KARE-11’s Julie Nelson, Rassier said he went for a run the day Jacob was abducted. He remembers it being “a splendid day for running.” When he wasn’t running, he says he spent the remainder of the day typing index cards he used to organize his record collection. He went to bed early and was awakened by the sound of the dog barking outside. He looked out the window and saw people with flashlights out by the wood pile. He thought they were intruders and called 911.

OK, lots of questions here.

First of all, he awoke to the sound of the dog barking? How about the sounds of sirens wailing? I live in a town the size of St. Joseph, and when you hear a siren in a small town, any siren, you take notice. That’s because you just naturally assume you know the person who’s in trouble on the other end. Your heart leaps; and you pray to God it’s not someone you know, someone you love. However, on the night of Jacob’s abduction, there had to be SEVERAL sirens, all stopping right at the end of Rassier’s driveway. And yet, he was awakened by the sound of the dog barking?

However, maybe there were no sirens. What do I know.

But here’s what we DO know. Jacob was abducted at 9:15pm. A sheriff’s deputy was the first to arrive on the scene six minutes later. He immediately called for reinforcements. By 10pm, the Rassier property had to be in full-blown chaos. My question is… what in the heck time did Rassier go to bed? I’m all for getting a good night’s sleep, but 9:15pm seems a little early… especially for a 33 year old whose parents are gone on vacation.

According to Rassier, the 911 operator told him a child had been abducted near his property and law enforcement officers were combing the area looking for him. Rassier says he got up and searched all the outbuildings on his property with a flashlight. Hard to believe a police officer didn’t notice him during this time, giving him that much-needed alibi.

And hey… what about those police officers? Didn’t they knock on Rassier’s door and question him as an eyewitness? Wouldn’t that be the first thing you did, considering Rassier’s was the closest home to the crime scene? Didn’t they ask for his help in the search? Did they knock and receive no answer? Did anyone get a warrant to search his house that very night? These seem to be obvious details I couldn’t find in any news report.

And where was Rassier the next day? And the day after that? Did he have an alibi on those days? How about the next week? The next month? If Rassier had Jacob, wouldn’t he need to be attending to him somehow?

To me, it seems highly unlikely that anyone could be so brazen as to abduct a child right outside their own home. However, *someone* was waiting for Jacob outside the Rassier driveway that night. If it wasn’t Dan Rassier with the low, gravely voice… who else would have been on the farm property that night? Who else would have seen the boys heading toward Tom Thumb, then have the ability to quickly get the supplies they needed, possibly stash a getaway car somewhere, and wait for their return? If it was a stalker-stranger, how did they know how/where to escape so quickly?

Please add your own comments and questions below. Maybe all our thoughts and prayers can help somehow. Surely it can’t hurt to keep “thinking Jacob.”

Read next chapter

15 Comments

  1. Joy, this case has always intrigued me as well. Like so many of us, I raised my kids on a tight leash for fear they would end up like Jacob. Abductions happended many times before this, they just never happened this close to home and/or they were probably not publicized in such a manner.

    Have you considered inquiring about obtaining a copy of the police report from the responding agency? I’m not sure if any of it would be releasable because it’s still under investigation, but there may be certain documents that are deemed “public information” and therefore releasable to the public. If the media can get their hands on it, so can we.

    I highly doubt the police would have responded to this call “on the red,” meaning sirens blaring. They would have responded routinely to a missing juvenile and would have immediately gone to the Wetterling’s home or the place the call was originated to gather the necessary information. Maybe you could inquire with the sheriff’s dept/dispatch center in regard to obtaining a transcript of the actual 911 call(s).

    By the time the police gathered the appropriate information, talked with the parents and everyone involved, it could have been well past the time a normal individual would have gone to bed before the police started their actual investigation of the crime scene. You are thinking one-dimensionally and assuming everything happened in a millesecond with the police walking the actual crime scene with their flashlights upon reponding to the initial call. That probably happens in TV land, but not in real life.

    I question the visibilty factor of the evening in question. Was there a full moon or was it overcast? How far could have the suspect run with Jacob before the other two boys looked back to see Jacob wasn’t behind them? How much time passed before those boys reached the woods and looked back? Could they have seen shadows running up the Rassier driveway or down the road or was it too dark and too much of a distance for them to see anything? They were also panicked, scared little boys.

    I have no doubt the abductor was “prowling” for his victim at the Tom Thumb. I believe it’s where the crime originated. If this was a “seasoned” child abductor/sexual predator, I doubt he would have needed time to gather his supplies. He would have had them on the ready and have been prepared.

    Let me know what you need help with. I’m willing to go back to the crime scene with you to help you better visualize the event. It’s probably not a good idea now that deer hunting season is upon us, but I would like to see the scene first hand myself under the exact weather conditions as it was back then. Thanks!

  2. joy.the.curious |

    To “anonymous” (my police friend)… thanks for the great insight. You make a lot of great points. I’ll need to ponder the “scary guy at the Tom Thumb” theory some more. I can definitely see you’re right about the bedtime/timeframe theory.

  3. Very intriguing, Joy.

  4. Betsy Bonnema |

    Good detective work, Nancy Drew! I sense a mystery series coming on.

  5. I wonder why it would be a “routine call for a missing juvenile”. I would think the call to the police dept would be rather frantic! Was it?

  6. Very interesting. And if this guy took off on foot with Jacob, how could he have disappeared into thin air as it seems he had? This case is so strange in that I can’t believe after all this time they can’t find this boy, but it seems this is how a lot of missing cases are – that’s why it’s so frustrating.

  7. It is been said that Jerry W had the goosebumps and chills that something was going to happen to Jacob as they were skating somewhere. It is my belief that Jerry might have seen someone looking suspiciously at Jacob, only that that person is someone the family knows. All it takes is for Jerry to make a deep thought about who that person is and there you have Jacob’s captor.

  8. Have you guys listened to the 911 tape of the neighbor Mr. Jerzak making the initial police contact?? If not, google it – the call (or a decent length clip of it) is available publicly. After you listen to it, your views about police activity might change.

    It seems that Aaron and Trevor ran to the Wetterling house, and were very out of breath. One article I read stated Aaron collapsed into a corner. They told the sitter (who was about their age) what happened, and she called her dad next door. Mr. Jerzak ran to the Wetterling household, and called 911 to make the report. You can hear him on the 911 tape telling police that the boys went to Tom thumb, and on the way back, were attacked by a man with a mask and a gun. He goes on to say that one boy, Jacob hadn’t come back yet. He gives a description of the attacker, in consultation with Trevor who is audible in the tape. He gives information on where they are, and clearly says he is calling from Jacob’s house. We’re told police attended Jacob’s house right off the hop from the time of the 911 call. You can hear the operator in the background instructing police on where the incident happened, and the location of the Wetterling house. Leaving me to assume police sent a unit to the DR household, and a unit to the Wetterling house.

    On arriving at the Wetterling home, they’d have seen Aaron and Trevor, who were noted in a later article to be shaking, and one was practically hiding in a corner. They’d be concerned. Another officer would have seen the bikes in and scooter in the ditch where kids were ordered to leave them — you bet police would be in a panic! Even the candy one of the kids had been eatting (a sucker?) was in the ditch, as was the movie the boys had just rented (Naked Gun) – showing just how fast this happened.

    We should remember too that during the day, Mr. Wetterling took Jacob to the ice rink and couldn’t help but feel he was being watched — were they being stalked at the rink and followed??

  9. More to ponder:

    Aaron and Trevor didn’t see any car as they rode to the store (that we know of). They didn’t see one as they returned (that we know of). Following the attack, neither heard a car drive off. This makes me wonder:

    -> could the attacker have taken Jacob on foot?
    -> crime scene photos (publicly avail. via google search) show footprints that end in the driveway, one seems to show a struggle as its dug in. The footprint is believed to belong to Jacob. Tire tracks were in the driveway – were these belonging to the man named Kevin who apparently heard about the attack via his police scanner and drove to the scene to see what was going on? Kevin apparently talked to an officer at the scene, and then left. He came forward in 2003 or 2004 and apparently his story checked out (but we’re not told how police verified it). Its now thought the tire tracks on the driveway were HIS (could have erased valuable footprints!! grrr!!). But how come there is no official record of Kevin having talked to police anywhere?

    -> Could the abductor have gotten away with Jacob via a horse? Its farmland. Think outside the box.

    -> What about an escape via ATV? I don’t know how realistic it would be to carry gun, and a likely struggling boy onto an ATV or Horse. But its something to ponder.

    -> To me, the size of the gun matters. If it was a shotgun, it would be harder to handle the gun and an ATV / Horse and boy all at the same time while steering. A smaller gun might be easy to tuck away, but would evoke just as much fear. I have heard the gun was silver, and it glinted in the moonlight, which is when the boys realized it was no joke (according to an interview done in recent years with Aaron).

  10. First of all, I feel this case has been botched & bungled from the get go,so my *theory*you’re going to need to take with a grain of salt:

    I realize that this theory may sound a bit far-fetched, but I believe that Jacob Wetterling was abducted by a “survivalist”, (or the term used nowadays is “prepper”) & is being held captive in a rural,obscure area if the state.I believe that’s how he was able to navigate such a vast, dark rural territory so easily & swiftly with an 11-year-old boy in tow. Yes, I agree that Jacob was also taken on foot—especially if it was a survivalist kidnapping.

    There was a similar abduction case in 1966 in rural Shade Gap,PA where a 17-year-old girl named Peggy Ann Bradnick was apprehended by a masked gunman while walking home from school on a dirt road with her younger siblings. The man that kidnapped Peggy was on the run from the FBI,police, searchers & the National Guard for 8 days until he was caught. This man (an ex-con & mental patient) lived in a small cabin far from “civilization”, & was an experienced woodsman who could outsmart the authorities quite easily.

    The town drifter,named William Hollenbaugh (or “Bicycle Pete” as he was nicknamed around town) was the culprit. He stalked Peggy for 3 years prior to the abduction,even standing on the roof of her home at one time.His reason for stalking & kidnapping Peggy was simple enough:Loneliness.

    My theory is that Jacob’s kidnapper did the same,because this time, he was looking for a captive, not just a victim to abuse & dispose of. He wanted to know who he was abducting & keeping. I believe that he may have kept Jacob as captive in order not to the-offend against other boys. If the Cold Spring rapist also kidnapped Jacob,he had at least 10 months to stalk Jacob, create a hiding place for captivity & to map out the exact route of escape on a pitch black road. As we saw from the Elizabeth Smart case,abductors can still easily conceal their captives, despite the presence of dogs, police,search teams,etc. Peggy was also in earshot of her searchers,but went unnoticed. I feel that Jacob may have endured that same scenario, unfortunately.

    I do not believe that Dan Rassier is guilty of this crime, but that someone associated with him is. The abductor oddly seemed to appear where Dan worked & lived, not to mention, he seemed to have a fascination with farms. “Jared” reported seeing a silo at a farm from a distance from where he was being held & assaulted. Next, he comes to the Rassier Farm to abduct his next victim. I’m wondering if the kidnapper associates something positive or negative from his past life with farms? Just a thought.

    From what I heard, the Rassiers are very kind, charitable people who attend church in a regular basis. I’m curious to know if anyone in the Rassier household hired any handymen, or anyone to do odd jobs at their home/farm during the holidays.Or, I’m wondering did they show any charitable acts toward anyone, such as the homeless, or even financially struggling veterans. Since Dan was not always present at the home,his mother or father could have let this person in without his knowledge. I’m curious to know if they unknowingly allowed a person with a criminal record into their home–especially, if they were referred by someone else through their church. If so, this could be how the kidnapper spotted Jacob,memorized, & “cased” the neighborhood for his crime. Because of the excitement, panic & fear probably felt by everyone involved at the time of the abduction, perhaps the Rassiers weren’t asked this question;or they were too upset to even think about this possibility.Interesting that the abductor struck when Robert & Rita were on vacay. I guess if he was working for them, he would have been thought of immediately had the Rassiers been available for immediate questioning—especially if he was supposed to show up for a job that week,but never did(!)

    I believe that the man that kidnapped “Jared” in Cold Spring kidnapped Jacob as well. I believe that he is possibly a hunter, (former) soldier & survivalist (what people back-the-day called “Mountain Men”. )”Jared” described his abductor wearing green military style top, pants & black boots. I do not believe that these clothes were a disguise, but what the abductor wore on a regular basis. Two types of professions usually wear these clothes: Hunters & soldiers.

    I’m going to go out on a limb here & say that he may have also even served a tour-of-duty in Vietnam. If he was in his 40’s-50’s he sure would have been young enough to back in the mid to late 1960’s. That’s probably how he was able to navigate his way around such a dark,deserted area without a flashlight, & a hitch—particularly with a mask covering his face. Many soldiers in Vietnam fought at night with little to no access to light. This abductor was not your average criminal. He seemed to be a pro at stalking & hunting. He also dressed, spoke & acted like a soldier. The boys said he was “authoratative”, practically barking “orders”. Something to think about.

    I agree with Jerry Wetterling that Jacob was stalked,but I believe it was over a period of months,not days. This abductor, depending on when he began, may have had the entire summer & early Fall to stalk & shadow this family’s every move. I’ve seen the locale where the Wetterlings reside.

    It could have been easy for ANYone to eavesdrop on their personal lives & conversations out there in the rural without being noticed. At the end of the road, I believe this monster planned a home invasion style abduction of Jacob when the parents left for the party. I believe that he probably,due to stalking the home on a regular basis, saw Patty & Jerry getting ready, then leaving. He probably waited a while just to make sure they didn’t forget anything,then struck. What he didn’t expect though, was the boys leaving the house. Aaron Larson said that on the way to the store, he heard strange noises in the field beside them, but he was too scared to say anything. I believe that was the abductor waiting & perhaps listening to their conversation.

    Then, there’s that distinctive voice of the kidnapper: all of the boys described it as “low-pitched”, “gravely” & “raspy”. In my opinion, this was no fluke or coincidence. This guy’s voice was basically his calling card.

    In the end, poor Jake was stuck with this beast,because of fear & violence. Just a theory, but I think he looked at Aaron & Trevor closely as “collateral” against Jake. The abductor most likely threatened to harm both boys if Jacob attempted escape or struggle. Patty has repeatedly stated that her son had “a keen sense of fairness”, & didn’t like to see kids treated unkindly or unfairly. Unfortunately, Jake’s captor probably used this personality trait against him.

    I hope for his & the family’s sake, Jacob can be reunited with them soon, if he’s still alive. If his abductor is who I think, his chances of survival may have been better. Hopefully, sooner than later, this nightmare will come to end, & the Wetterling Family receives the peace that they truly deserve.

  11. So, if Jerry had felt that they were being watched (or particularly his son Jacob was being watched), could it then be suggested that the abductor knew Jacob’s age probably amongst other information? When he had them lie down in the ditch, it sounds as though he asked their age… then sent away the young one, then turned the two over in order to recognize Jacob’s face? Uff. This is making me feel sick to my stomach. I grew up about an hour northwest of St. Joe’s, so it is fighting to go over these details.

  12. I’m responding to everyone’s theory that ONLY Jacob was being stalked the day Jacob was abducted. I don’t believe this is true, because the kidnapper asked all three boys what there ages were. Out of the 2 that were 11 years old…. he (the kidnapper) chose Jacob and not Aaron. If Jacob was the only Target then he’d know exactly who he wanted to take and not waste the time to ask the kids their ages. That’s just my thought. I’ve been so sad over this story that I pray they find closure soon. I’m a Mother and I could not live without my children. 🙁

  13. Just another thought… plus, there was so much of your blog I overlooked, so, I’ve been reading more… we tend to think alike, so, I doubt I have anything new to add that you haven’t already thought of… I think you hit on something important about the hockey rink… both boys were there before their abductions… I wonder if the police interviewed the people that frequent the rink…

    One has to hope that there is a clue, something missed that would break the case… if only we looked harder, noticed more… read it one more time something might reveal it’s self… it makes stopping the reading and creating scenarios in my mind’s eye even harder. I hate feeling helpless and this story and others like it always leave me feeling small and insignificant and unable to help…

    You’ve done an amazing job documenting this case… but there’s a cost for being so involved… every time I learn of one of these tragedies in the world a little bit of my heart dies, I trust less and lose more and more respect for humankind. I hope you are well and, like Jacob’s family, can have peace… that you can find a way to get close to the fire without getting scorched.

  14. I remember hearing so much about this story of Jacob Wetterling’s abduction, and recently started looking at this tragic story again, when I saw this blog highlighted on a news show. My hope is that you will find the person responsible for this tragic event, or better yet, find Jacob.

    I used to have a police scanner in the early 80s, and it would pick up local phone conversations, including my own. Scanners were pretty common back then. It sounds like the boys were on the phone with their parents discussing going to the convenience store. Has any one explored this possibility?

  15. To echo what everyone else is saying, it feels as though the kidnapper may have been watching the family for a little while and was waiting for this opportunity. He might even have seen the the parents leaving and then waited for the boys to leave. It is possible that had Jacob, Trevor and Aaron not gone out that night, he still might have tried to kidnap Jacob in the ensuing days. It seems way too coincidental to have a kidnapper in an isolated field and to just happen upon three young boys alone. The kidnapper was also prepared with a gun and a mask. I am sure it is no comfort to the parents, but it might alleviate the guilt of letting the boys go to Tom Thumb. I think that the kidnapper could have spent a couple of days watching and then waited for his opportunity.

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