A few answers

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In my blog post dated June 8, “The suspicious cars,” I included an article from the St. Paul Pioneer Press dated November 25, 1989. In the article, police were asking for the public’s help in identifying three suspicious cars that were seen near the Tom Thumb in the days and weeks prior to Jacob’s abduction. The article included two composite sketches, but it was unclear which sketch went with which car. I felt this was important, because after the article ran, an art student came forward to say he was the one driving the smaller, red car and had been in the area looking for things to sketch. He was quickly ruled out as a suspect.

So, which of the two composite sketches was the art student?

IMAG0056_revI was alerted to a similar article that ran in the St. Cloud Times that gives us the answers. It ran one day earlier than the Pioneer Press article, on Friday, November 24.

Here’s a transcript of the article:


FBI seeks tips on 3 drivers

Cars were seen near Jacob’s home

By Kirsten Haukebo
Times Staff Writer

Authorities are seeking information on three cars seen in Jacob Wetterling’s neighborhood before the 11-year-old was abducted at gunpoint Oct. 22.

Sketches of drivers of two of the cars also were released.

FBI spokesman Byron Gigler said the drivers were not prime suspects.

“After intensive investigation in that neighborhood, these vehicles are ones that were pointed out as not fitting in. We’re very anxious to identify the drivers of the vehicles,” he said.

Jacob was biking near his home with his brother and a friend the night of the abduction. The boys were passed by several cars on the dead-end road that evening. Only one of the drivers has been located by authorities.

One of the vehicles sought by investigators is an older maroon car with rectangular or square taillights, described as looking like a 1976 Pontiac Catalina. the rear-end of the car was jacked up. It was seen on 90th Avenue about six weeks before the kidnapping, two weeks before and one week before.

It was seen parked twice at night on the avenue and both times the car left after a resident approached. The driver was seen once in the daytime and had a dark, full beard and was wearing a cap.

A sketch of that driver (No. 1) was based on numerous interviews with witnesses, Gigler said.

A second car was seen in the week before the abduction near 95th Avenue and Seventh Avenue SE, a neighborhood which lies across a field and to the west of the scene of the abduction.

The car was a small, red, older model with white trim, about the size of an American Motors Pacer or Gremlin. It had large rear tires, or a jacked-up rear end. the car had a dealer logo-type license plate on the rear, possibly with a white background and red and blue letters.

An artist’s conception of the driver is sketch No. 2. He wore glasses and a cap and had medium-length hair.

The third car is a red-orange station wagon, possibly jacked up in the rear. That car was seen during the day on Oct 21 or Oct. 22 near Kiwi Court, where the Wetterling family lives. A similar car was seen after dark on 91st Avenue on Oct. 22 about the time the boys were traveling to and from a nearby Tom Thumb store, where they had gone to pick up a video.

Observers did not provide a good descrption of the driver of the station wagon, so no sketch has been done, Gigler said.


So, now we know “Sketch 2” was the art student who was ruled out as a suspect. He was the one driving the smaller, red Pacer/Gremlin. That leaves “Sketch 1” as the person who was driving the maroon car… the one neighbors I spoke to had a very bad feeling about.

St. Cloud Times November 24, 1989

It’s interesting to note that the person in Sketch 1 looks a lot like this sketch we’ve all seen a thousand times before, sans beard. This sketch was actually generated from a description given by “Jared,” the 12 year old Cold Spring boy who had been abducted and assaulted 9 months prior to Jacob’s disappearance:


Interestingly, the sketch above was the second composite drawing generated with Jared’s help. It was released on December 14, 1989, nearly a whole year after his assault. However, in the weeks immediately following Jared’s assault (which occured on January 13, 1989), there was a different sketch of the same man… also generated by Jared… and, presumably with a fresher memory:


And while we’re on the subject of composite sketches, it might be a good time to clarify a few others we’ve seen from this case, time and time again. Take a look at one more article from the St. Cloud Times, dated November 23, 1989:

St. Cloud Times November 24, 1989

St. Cloud Times
November 24, 1989

The guy in the first sketch was the mean, scary guy from the Tom Thumb who was seen outside near the ice machine just 15 minutes before Jacob was abducted. He leered at customers, never made a purchase, and was also seen at another convenience story in Avon, earlier the same day.

The guy in the second sketch was also seen at the Tom Thumb, but two weeks later, on November 5. He was laughing and joking about the abduction, and said something to the clerk like, “That boy will never be seen again.”

The guy in the third sketch tried to abduct a 9 year old boy in New Brighton on November 8.

Following the release of these three sketches, a fourth sketch was released which attempted to combine all three previous sketches of the gray, bald-headed, 50-something white guy. Here is that sketch:

A combination of three previously-released composite sketches (above).

A combination of three previously-released composite sketches (above).

I’m still trying to track down a few key people who I think could answer more questions for me. In the meantime, keep sending your thoughts and suggestions my way. I’m especially interested in speaking to people who have first hand knowledge of this case.

As always, thanks for following along and “thinking Jacob” with me.

NEXT: Jared’s story


  1. Look at the artist

  2. Where is this reference coming from: “who told an undercover agent that he wanted to pay to have his car destroyed”?

  3. Shortly after Jacob’s abduction, investigators were of the strong opinion that Jacob’s and Jared’s abductions were related. A car fitting the description of the vehicle used in Jared’s case was found. Fibers from the back seat of that car were linked to fibers from Jared’s coat.

    A man was arrested in the case but charges were later dropped.

    Were the charges dropped because there wasn’t enough evidence against him in Jared’s case? Or, were they dropped because there were already enough other charges against the man?

  4. Yes, but what I mean to ask is what is the source of that information – if you’d prefer to discuss it offline, perhaps you can reach me via Ms. Baker?

  5. Al Garber was the lead investigator for the FBI during the investigation into Jacob Wetterling’s abduction. He published a memoir of his career called “Striving to be the Best”. While Al credits many others for inspiration for the book, he indicates his compassion for Jacob and the Wetterling family with an official publication date of October 22, 2009.

    That book is the source of my other two posts on this blog chapter. I came across the existence of this book from the search efforts by another sleuther, whose digging came about due to a question from me. The sharing and building of information and ideas will be the foundation upon which this case will be solved.

  6. Thank you for the clarification and insight.

  7. I’m pretty sure there was DNA from the abductor so even if there was in fact a fiber the fact that the DNA didn’t match would pretty much rule out that guy.

  8. In reference to the sketches. I have created police sketches before and it must be noted that people who see the sketch must not expect an exact picture…it is a likeness. For example, if your cousin has similar facial features and reminds you of Tom Hanks, then that is a likeness. At the very least it is hopeful that a person will see the sketch and say “whom, he kind of reminds me of….”, and of course the best scenario is to get that look-a-like image. I have seen one witnesses get very close in their recollection to what the suspect actually looked like, however that is not always the case. Also, the sooner the witness can get the sketch completed the better, so the earliest sketch may actually look most like the actual suspect.

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