WCCO-TV features 1986-1987 Paynesville cases

Esme Murphy, WCCO

Esme Murphy, WCCO

New Developments Revealed In Jacob Wetterling Abduction Case
May 14, 2014 10:00 PM

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — There is a new development tonight in one of Minnesota’s most infamous unsolved crimes: the abduction of Jacob Wetterling.

A masked stranger grabbed the 11-year-old as he biked home from a store in St. Joseph nearly 25 years ago. Now, WCCO-TV has learned that a cluster of at least six unsolved sexual assaults on boys were never looked at as a possible lead in Wetterling’s case.

Those attacks happened two years prior to Wetterling’s kidnapping, just 30 miles away in Paynesville. They are now being investigated by the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office.

This new development in Minnesota’s most notorious kidnapping case begins in the most unlikely of places.

For four years, Joy Baker, a blogger from New London, has written a detailed blog about the Wetterling case. Last summer, her research uncovered articles in the Paynesville Press in 1986 and 1987. They detailed six unsolved sexual assaults on boys just two years before Wetterling’s abduction.

“The police chief is asking for the public’s help in finding this guy who has been assaulting 12-16 year old boys,” Baker said of one article. “What went through my mind is that they have to be connected. How many psychopathic pedophiles can exist in a 20-mile radius?”

WCCO-TV asked Patty Wetterling if she had ever heard of the Paynesville cases and showed her two of the original police reports from the Paynesville attacks.

“We did not know about these cases until Joy Baker put it on her blog, and it was like, ‘Wow,’” Patty Wetterling said.

Those reports, as well as the newspaper accounts, list a series of striking parallels with Jacob Wetterling’s kidnapping. He was abducted at 9 p.m. as he rode his bike home from a convenience store with his brother and friend. The Paynesville attacks also all happened at night as the victims were heading home.

In two cases boys were attacked while riding bikes. They were sexually assaulted. The attacker sometimes wore a mask, which in one case was described as made from candy-striped, indoor-outdoor carpeting. He had a low, gruff voice and he threatened the boys with a knife or a gun, saying he would blow their heads off.

“Some of these were taken from a group of boys. That is really rare,” Patty Wetterling said. “The threat of a gun, the age of the victims, they were close to Jacob’s age. I do think there is a strong possibility they are connected to Jacob’s case.”

While two of the Paynesville victims were questioned by law enforcement after Jacob Wetterling disappeared, one Paynesville victim, who is now 40 and did not want to be named, told WCCO-TV he and other victims he knows were not, and that to this day they feel their cases both individually and as a group were overlooked.

Patty Wetterling said it’s frustrating to learn so many years later about the Paynesville cases, but she is also understanding.

“It was a different world back then. We didn’t have the Internet, we worked hard so that each law enforcement agency had a fax machine,” she said.

Current Stearns County Sheriff John Sanner agreed the lack of Internet and the fact that small town law enforcement agencies often acted independently may have kept the Paynesville cases from becoming a significant part of the Jacob Wetterling investigation.

“We can’t look back. We are actively investigating these cases now. We want anyone with any information to come forward no matter how small. You could hold the key,” Sanner said.

Sanner stressed there is another unsolved case that investigators have always linked to the abduction. Just months before Jacob Wetterling disappeared, a stranger kidnapped a 12-year-old boy named Jared in nearby Cold Spring. Jared told WCCO-TV the threat his kidnapper left him with: “I was told to run, don’t look back or he would shoot.”
Jared is speaking out for the first time in years. On Thursday, hear why he’s convinced the same man is behind all of these unsolved crimes against boys.

If you have any information about any of these cases, please call the Stearns County Sheriff at (320) 251-4240. You can also call the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-THE-LOST.

NEXT: Part 2 – WCCO-TV covers Jared’s story…


  1. I understand there wasn’t an internet but the Wetterling story was all over the news. Why wouldn’t someone make the connection? It doesn’t seem to make any sense. Wouldn’t the FBI comb all local towns to see if they had similar problems? That’s where I’d start.

  2. Pam Spooner |

    Thank you for investigating this, Joy! My daughter was born three days after Jacob’s kidnaping and every year on her birthday I think of him. She is now 24 and it is time to bring this to a close!

  3. toevlugsoord |

    This is very exciting news. I have felt really connected to this case for a few years and think of Jacob now and then and check for updates. It’s so interesting — I suddenly thought of him yesterday and Googled his name and this news came up. I believe he wants the truth known and hopefully it will be in his parents’ lifetime.

  4. Yes, thank you Joy for bringing this to the attention of police and the public. Your effort on Jacob’s case is inspirational, and I hope others learn from what you have done.

    I directed my readers on Monday to your site–they need to read what is going on here.

    Keep up the great work!

  5. Just a thought here regarding the carpeting the man used. Have any of the victims been asked to try to identify the pattern of the carpet using Google images? Far fetched, but maybe if we could narrow down what it looked like, it might be worth it to find out if there are any carpet stores in the area from that time still operating. Paynesville is a small town, there couldn’t have been many at the time? Who knows, maybe one still exists and could potentially have a record of customers who had purchased/installed such carpet. Or might remember something useful. Very far fatched I know. Or talking to home construction companies that operated back then to see who their suppliers were. Or, if one of the victims can identify a pattern, a picture of it could be posted in the local press, perhaps triggering a memory. It’s probably been done before, just throwing it out there. Will do some digging… Thank you Joy for your blog!

  6. LegendaryHeart |

    If the same guy is really responsible for all these assaults, I wouldn’t be surprised if he got spooked and moved away after the Wetterling case blew up. Is there a law enforcement database that might show a cluster of new incidents popping up in another part of the country, beginning around 1990?

  7. Joy, thank you for being so diligent on this! Your blog brought to light Jared’s story. And that is ultimately what brought Jacob to be found.

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