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.

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 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 the attack, 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. The suspect had been hiding in some pine trees. After the attack, the suspect pulled out a knife 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 yell, 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. The friend is 100% certain the guy got the wrong kid, and that’s why he was let go.)

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.

NEXT: WCCO-TV features 1986-1987 Paynesville cases…

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

NEXT: WCCO-TV features 1986-1987 Paynesville cases…


  1. I’m thinking it may have been someone who was just a little bit mentally slow. Probably had a job where he was around kids but I’m thinking more like a janitor at the school, church or Hockey rink. Maybe someone who cleaned up at the pizza place or a gaming arcade. Someone who would be able to watch the kids but probably not necessarily talk or interact with them very much but listen to their conversations or possibly follow them to see where they lived. I feel like he was around the kids but not someone real noticeable in their lives like a coach or teacher. Could be a school bus driver since he knew where they lived and their schedules. T. Clark,….as far as why he didn’t let Jacob go (if it’s the same guy). I hope I have my facts straight but it seems to me that Jacob was the only one actually abducted with other witnesses around (please correct me if I’m wrong). The other boys, he just let them go and no one was looking for them. Maybe by the time he was ready to let Jacob go, there were already people looking for him and there was a higher chance of the guy being caught. If he couldn’t let him go, that would mean that Jacob spent way more time with him than the others and may have had the opportunity to see his face and be able to identify him. Since there was supposedly no vehicle used that night, I feel strongly that he took him to that farm.

  2. Sarah’s original supposition that cordless phones may have been listened in on (I believe) is right on. Jared claimed the perpetrator in his attack had a police scanner in the car. I did some thinking: back in around 1984 or so I used to own a portable police scanner from Radio Shack that was programmable. You could scan for frequencies that had activity on them. In a rural area, it could find things really easily. In cities, you could use a paper directory like a little phone book with lists of police, fire, military, highway patrol, coast guard and railroad frequencies. At the time, cordless phones, baby monitors, some kids walkie talkies and similar devices were using between 30-50 mhz in terms of the frequency used and once I not only was able to hear cordless phones but some families who had wireless baby monitors you could basically monitor what was going on in the room or rooms near the monitor. Kind of creepy! I think the baby monitors came later than the late 1980s but the walkie talkies but I could be wrong and cordless phones were definitely available around the time of the early 1980s. I wonder if we don’t have a creeper who was spending a lot of money on batteries and listening in to the cordless phones, walkie talkies and baby monitors of the time. The thoughts of it being someone with some peripheral involvement with athletic coaching (I keep hearing hockey come up again and again), religious teaching (after school bible class or religious oriented group?), school (janitorial/clerical/building maintenance), other ancillary safety related or social activities (snowmobile, bicycling, driving school, ski club), gun safety (hunting). The other thing that keeps coming to mind: these kids were basically all but tripping over the guy in the evening and kind of frequetly – did the guy have a day job that let him spend hours creeping around the streets? was he living by himself? I picture a guy who didn’t have anyone at home asking him “where are you going for hours in the evening?”

  3. Some years ago we had a local guy apparently interested in a certain young girl… drove his car to the school area and sat in it and watched kids at dismissal time. He gave her a gift once. He attended her sports activities.

    We were told to report his actions to the local law, not that he was breaking laws, but to get some documentation about him, so that if anything happened, the law would have ’cause’ to investigate him immediately. Everyone needs to be aware of their surroundings and help protect children by reporting. Anyone can attend a sports activity but we reported every time we saw him parked by the school.

    He was a person was living on disability so didn’t have any work schedule. Do counties have records of such people? where they live? could that be checked?

    I was a young mom of two young boys when Jacob was taken. I have hoped for answers for the Wetterling family too. I just stumbled onto your website… I have been thinking a lot about Jacob since I did. I wonder if Paynesville or St. Josephs have alumni websites you could put your link on. Someone knows something. I hope you can reach them.

  4. Have the Huber’s been counted out. I know that the elder Huber has passed away while in prison, but Tim is still alive and might know something. Both of them are strange.

  5. Find the parka owner, find the perp for all cases.

  6. Well now we know that Jacob died, we don’t know exactly when. We do know that Danny Heinrich led authorities to his remains. Unfortunately there were other victims of this man, not the least of which would be Jerod. Of course there are other victims. This monster had 19 3 ring binders full of child porn. It is hard to know if he kidnapped anyone else, but if I were in a position of authority I would be looking at other kidnappings to see if he could have been guilty of those crimes. I don’t believe a pediphile would go 27 years without trying to pull off the same crime. For all we know he could have certainly been the man who attacked all of the young men attacked in Paynesville.

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